Cloquet High School

In honor of September and back to school month, we are sharing a recent project we worked on, the Cloquet High School in Cloquet, Minnesota. PVN was retained by a developer and client to produce a Part 1 of the Historic Tax Credit Application for this complex educational facility with multiple additions.

High School building 8x 10-Carlton County Historical Society.jpg


The Cloquet High School building (presently the Cloquet Middle School), located at 509 Carlton Avenue in Cloquet, Minnesota, was constructed in 1921 to replace a previous high school, which had been destroyed by fire in 1918. The Renaissance Revival style building was designed to be a state of the art replacement, differing in size and style from the previous school. The school building consists of four sections that represent four phases of construction and school expansion.

PVN determined that the Cloquet High School is locally significant under Criterion A within the context of education; the building is significant for representing secondary education in Cloquet as it served as the Cloquet High School from 1921 until 1968. When the city rebuilt its high school in 1921 after the a series of devastating fires swept through the region in 1918, it constructed a state of the art facility designed to meet all the needs of a new generation of students. Midcentury additions to the school that aimed to provide ample performance and increased gymnasium space, as well as assembly space, signaled the shift beginning to occur in education away from vocational and preparatory training, towards a more student focused approach.

The Fires of 1918 and the Cloquet High School

On April 2nd, 1918, Cloquet School District #7 built a $100,000 “fireproof” high school building. The district was only able to use the new high school for four short months. The devastating Fires of 1918 that began on October 12, lasted less than a day, but destroyed 36 towns and villages, 4,089 houses, 6,366 barns, 41 school buildings (including the brand-new ‘fireproof’ high school building in Cloquet), 4,295 farm animals, and 54,083 chickens. At least 453 people were killed, over 2,000 injured, and 52,371 people left homeless.

While the school buildings were properly insured, damages incurred by the school district as a result of the fires were high. Superintendent Olesen wrote an article following the fires concerning the state of the school district:

The city of Cloquet is one of the few larger towns of Minnesota that has never asked for any appropriations for state buildings…Had the loss been to the school buildings alone, the city of Cloquet would ask no help at present. It would carry its own loss with a strong spirit of fortitude, but the loss has been more than the loss of school buildings. Practically EVERY HOME IN THE CITY OF CLOQUET HAS BEEN DESTROYED BY THE FIRE. A GREAT MANY HAVE LOST THE SAVINGS OF A LIFE TIME [emphasis Olesen’s].

Oelsen’s request for federal and municipal support was granted and, in 1919, the Cloquet Board of Education undertook a school rebuilding campaign.

Residents of Cloquet banded together after the fire. On May 26, 1919, the Cloquet Board of Education called a special vote of the city taxpayers to determine whether the high school would be rebuilt; the vote received almost unanimous approval. Construction of the new high school was complete on February 25, 1921; classes commenced on February 28, 1921. Superintendent Olesen took great pride in the completion of the building stating at the dedication ceremony, “it is a building which will last until long after we are gone.”

The Need for Expansion

Cloquet High School underwent additions and expansions four times. The first major expansion took place in 1938 on the north side of the original building and included a gymnasium, a lunchroom, a band room, and a new domestic science room. By 1951 it was evident the Cloquet High School building could no longer handle the demands of the growing student population. After a special bond election was held 1951, voters approved funding for a “junior-senior high school building addition—including site, equipment, and remodeling to the present high school building—and approved the location of the site for the building addition.” Then the school district undertook interior remodeling projects in 1957. The areas that were “remodeled or improved” included:

the library, counselors’ offices, art room, biology and physical science rooms commercial department, women and men teachers’ lounges, vocal music department, audiovisual office, receiving room and custodians’ work and storage quarters, boiler room, dark room, the rifle and archery range, and girls’ and boys’ locker rooms.

The final building expansion was completed in 1958 and addressed the remaining goals of the 1951 high school expansion plan. The expansion included the addition an indoor pool and classrooms. The addition also added necessary cafeteria and kitchen space, enlarged the physical education facilities, and remodeled the senior high school home training department.

The school provided needed vocational training to its students and continued to do so throughout the changing educational climate beginning in the early 1900s. Significant additions were built at the school in 1954 and 1958 in order to accommodate both an increase in the student population as well as changing curriculum. Cloquet’s student population continued to grow through 1966, at which point the school was overcrowded and the site could no longer support expansion. In 1968, a new high school building was completed on 18th Street and the original Cloquet High School was transformed into the Cloquet Middle School, a function it maintains into the present.

PVN is now assisting the client and developer to extend the longevity and historical significance of this building for the city of Cloquet. 

PVN Staff