St. Louis County’s Duluth Depot building has an amazing history from being the “Ellis Island” of this region to serving as community refuge during the 1918 Fires, to even recently serving as a vaccination site in early 2021. “Beyond the history, it is a space today where all are welcome,” said Kristin Johnson, in charge of Depot Marketing and Events, for St. Louis County.
Offering a potpourri of programming, exhibits, events and educational opportunities to the region and state, the Depot is a regional cultural center and on the National Register of Historic Places. Their vision is to serve as a cornerstone of arts and cultural organizations and to entertain, educate, inspire and provide space for a diverse group of guests.
Mary K. Tennis, Director of the Depot and Extension Services, said, “The Depot is many things to our community: a historic building, a contemporary art gallery, a performance center, an educational resource and a welcoming event space. We connect culture with curiosity and creativity blossoms!”
Housing a number of tenants/collaborators devoted to arts, cultural, and educational opportunities, the building has become the regional hub for the programming they offer. These organizations include the Arrowhead Chorale, Duluth Art Institute, Minnesota Ballet, St. Louis County Historical Society, Duluth Playhouse, and the Lake Superior Railroad Museum/North Shore Scenic Railroad.
Admittance to The Depot is free, as are most of the community events hosted here. Three floors of the Depot are free to experience with donations suggested and appreciated. Many tenants offer shows, camps and workshops at a ticketed price.
Hailey Eidenschink, the Depot’s Tours & Program Coordinator, said, “The Depot is uniquely positioned in that we are a St. Louis County asset. Therefore, we can provide services that uplift community members.”
The Arrowhead Chorale is an auditioned symphonic choir whose vast repertoire includes Medieval music, to world premiers – sacred and secular, folksong and art song, opera chorus and jazz – as well as music traditions from across the world.
“We love being part of the arts community at the Depot, and one of our favorite things is our annual Holiday Traditions and Jubilations concert, which takes place in the Great Hall every December,” said Rachel Bartell, Business Manager for the Chorale. They also host The Great Hall Marketplace during the holiday season where over 60 local and regional vendors set up their craft goods in the Great Hall and other areas.
The Duluth Arts Institute (DAI) is a fine arts organization serving artists, art enthusiasts and art learners. They offer art classes and camps in painting, pottery making, tapestry, and open studio time. The DAI is home to three galleries. They also host exhibitions in the St. Louis Depot Great Hall, and select works displayed in the Depot entry and in the Duluth City Hall.
Christina Woods, DAI Executive Director, noted, “The Depot is the only community collaborative providing arts, culture and history under on roof. The humanities are the cornerstone to the understanding of complex issues we face as a community.”
The Minnesota Ballet is the premier classical ballet company and dance education organization in the upper Midwest region, providing high-quality performances, pre-professional ballet training and outreach programs. The School of the Minnesota Ballet offers fine ballet training and performance opportunities for children, young people and adults.
“The Depot is such a community asset providing a stream of people coming through the doors that benefits all of the organization,’ said Kelli Latuska, Executive Director for the Minnesota Ballet. “We love having our rehearsal space here for our company, having classes here and holding staged performances and fundraisers in the Great Hall.”
Since its inception in 1922, the St. Louis County Historical Society has sought to discover, preserve and disseminate knowledge about the history, and prehistory, of St. Louis County as well as the state of Minnesota. The Society maintains and operates a museum as well as participates in the collections and operations of a historical research center.
JoAnne Coombe, the Historical Society’s Executive Director, said, “We are proud to be home in the Depot. We offer visitors an opportunity to see our permanent exhibits including the immigrants waiting room, the Depot Square shops, temporary and traveling exhibits and the Veterans Memorial Hall.”
The Duluth Playhouse has two Depot theaters, one houses their Family Theater, and the other is the Underground. The Family Theater is a place for the entire family to enjoy the magic of live theater together with plays and musicals. The Underground is a one-of-a-kind performance space, located in the lower level of the Depot, presenting cutting-edge plays and musicals.
Amber Burns, Family Theater Artistic Director, explained, “In addition to our performances, we offer classes year-round and summer camps. We are very happy to be in the great artistic community that the Depot provides. The County has offered several building-wide community events and the collaborative energy here is wonderful, all in a beautiful space where people can experience art and culture.”
The Lake Superior Railroad Museum and North Shore Scenic Railroad are both exciting draws to the Depot. They house a collection of several hundred major artifacts including the world's most powerful steam engine, the first steam locomotive ever in Minnesota, a rare box cab electric motor and beautiful private railcars. There is a charge for the Museum and for the various train excursions.
According to Executive Director and General Manager, Ken Buehler, “The North Shore Scenic Railroad safely carries over 110,000 passengers a year and is a major tourist destination in the Northland. Better Homes and Gardens Magazine picked our railroad as ‘One of the 10 Best Family-Friendly Scenic Train Rides in North America.’ USA Today rated our Fall Color Trains ‘One of the Five Best in America.’”
“For 130 years (our birthday is in March), the St. Louis County Depot has acted as a hub for the region. Our team is now striving to continue to honor that history by creating future opportunities for the people of our area to make connections with this amazing building,” said Johnson.
“It's more than what meets the eye! No one expects to walk into an old, gorgeous train station, see a play, view beautiful art, or learn the history of the area all in one place. There’s so much to do at the Depot - always something exciting going on,” added Bartell.
Go to experiencethedepot.org to learn more about the St. Louis County Depot.