The Silberstein House has some of the best connected, intact and surviving history of any place in the Twin Ports. Here is the backstory:
Honeymooners Bernard and Ernestine “Nettie” Silberstein arrived in Duluth in 1870 on the shore of Minnesota Point—aka Park Point. By some accounts, Nettie is considered “the first white bride” and the couple were the first Jewish settlers of Duluth.
The Silbersteins came to Duluth from Detroit, MI, and shortly there after, Bernard started the dry goods Silberstein & Bondy department store, located at 9-11 West Superior Street—more on the business later. Bernard had previously worked for Marshall Fields department store at Detroit. “He was told he might do better if he started his own store.” –Unknown original source
The house has a very enduring story… Upon the evening of their Golden wedding anniversary, after dinner at a nearby relative’s house, the couple walked home and when they got to the corner of N 21st Avenue E and E 1st Street; then Oregon Street at the time, Bernard stopped and asked Nettie, “Do you like this house?” She replied, “I like it very much; I don’t know whose it is; I’ve watched it being built for two years now.” Mr. Silberstein pulled the original key to the house from out of his pocket, which the present owners possess, and presented it to Mrs. Silberstein and said, “We’ll this is your house, Happy Anniversary dear.”
And so, as the story goes, the Silbersteins named the house “Highpoint.”
Built 1914 at an unknown cost, the 5 bedroom, 4 bathroom, under 5,000 sqft. single fireplace residence was designed by renowned local Architect, Frederick German in the Colonial Revival style. The most ubiquitous feature of the house is via its construction; the skeleton or the bones. The house was built using commercial grade materials, as Bernard used the same architect who designed the department store. German’s design pays homage to Classical proportions; the usual: symmetry, modillions, cut limestone banding to include: watertable and beltline (aka midline banding), unique limestone lintel trim, and Tucson columns. Unique to all of Duluth architecture is the Palladian dormer (extremely rare) that accentuates the hip roof. German also designed alternative exterior renderings:
Unfortunately, the keystones and gable roof with trio of dormers did not make the final cut, yet both versions are equally nice. The hip roof is especially appropriate for the location and overall aesthetic.
Bernard Silberstein, whose life record covered more than a century of successful business operation and public service in Duluth, was seventy-six years of age when called to his final rest on the 4th of September, 1922. He was the owner of Duluth’s general store and the head of the Silberstein & Bondy department store for fifty years, developing this into one of the largest mercantile establishments in the northwest. His birth occurred at Budapest, Hungary, on the 4th of March, 1846, and his education was acquired in the grade schools and in the high school at Vienna. When eighteen years of age, he came to America and after a short stay in Detroit, he made his way to Duluth, “only to look around,” as he often expressed it, but the place so attracted him that he decided to make it his future home. He was twenty-two years of age when he reached Duluth and started his business career here by selling goods from house to house. A few months of this was followed by the organization of Duluth’s first dry goods store by Mr. Silberstein and William Farrell, an uncle of former Commissioner J. A. Farrell. It is interesting to note that MR. Silberstein and Mr. Farrell were elected members of the city commission at the same time, in April, 1915, while the partnership between the latter’s uncle and Mr. Silberstein was started eight years before the former commissioner of public works was born. Mr. Silberstein got his first credit to start the general store back in 1870 by going to St. Paul and calling on one of the large wholesale houses there, with the request for a line of twenty-five hundred dollars credit. He offered no references whatsoever, as he had none. However, he told the credit man there that he was honest and would pay. Mr. Silberstein was eventually given the credit and an opportunity to establish himself in Duluth as the pioneer merchant of the city. Duluth was a small village in 1870 and the old Silberstein-Farrell store sold everything imaginable. Shortly after this partnership was formed the two young merchants were anxious to expand and a Mr. Whicher joined the organization. This trio conducted the first big “general” store in this section of the country. After a few years this partnership was discontinued because of MR. Silberstein Company, and in 1881 he organized the Silberstein & Bondy Company, which is still the firm name. Mr. Bondy died a number of years ago, but the firm name has been retained.
Mr. Silberstein was on the park board for nearly twenty years and it is claimed that to him is largely due the credit for Duluth’s splendid park and boulevard system. With great foresight and optimism as to the future of Duluth, he often advanced the money to the city for the purchase of park property. It was the cash that brought the best deals and in those early days, the city had very little money with which to do any high financing. Mr. Silberstein advanced the money that Duluth might have a park system of which to be proud. He was a thirty-third degree Mason and one of the leading men of this fraternity in the northwest. In the earlier days, he took an active part in lodge work and was instrumental in the organization of several lodges. His last public appearance was in the spring of 1922, at a weekly dinner of the Scottish Rite, when he participated in the installation of officers in the Lodge of Perfection.
In 1913 Mr. Silberstein was a mayoralty candidate at the first election held under the commission form of government, but was defeated by W. I. Prince by eight votes, after one of the closet political contests in the history of Duluth. Two years later he was a candidate for the office of city commissioner and was elected by the largest majority ever given a candidate in the local city elections. Both he and Mr. Farrell, who had also been defeated in 1913 by a small margin that was decided only after a fight in the courts, swept Duluth in 1915 with tremendous majorities. Although sixty-seven years of age at the time of election as city commissioner, Mr. Silberstein was one of the most active men in office and took a prominent part in helping establish the commission form of government, then but two years old. He was given the post of commissioner of public safety, holding this office until the election in 1919, when he refused to run for another term. He also served as president of the commission and often acted as mayor in the absence of Mayor Prince. It is interesting to note at this time that Mr. Silberstein bought for the city the present city hall site at Second Avenue East and Superior Street, closing the deal for about eighteen hundred dollars. Previously the city had been doing its business in an old building and an agitation for a new structure had been started when Mr. Silberstein offered to negotiate for the purpose of a site.
It was while in Detroit, just before coming to Duluth, that Mr. Silberstein met his wife. After having located here and established the new partnership, he returned to Detroit, where he and Mrs. Silberstein were married. Later they came to Duluth to make their home. For many years, they lived in the corner house at First Avenue West and Second Street, where all of their children were born. Shortly before their golden wedding anniversary in 1920, they moved into their new home at No. 21 North Twenty-first Avenue East, where Mr. Silberstein spent the last days of his life. He is survived by his widow and one son and three daughters: Edward A., who is associated with the Silberstein & Bondy store; Mrs. J. M. Gidding of New York; Mrs. Leonard Traubman of Duluth, and Miss Elsie Silberstein of Duluth.
A few months after the golden wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Silberstein, the Silberstein & Bondy store observed the golden anniversary of its organization and Mr. Silberstein was the recipient at that time of hundreds of letters and telegrams of congratulation from all over the country. Within the same year, Covenant Lodge of the Independent Order of B’nal B’rith entertained at a golden jubilee banquet and ball in honor of Mr. Silberstein’s half century membership in the order. The occasion was the most brilliant ever staged by the Hebrews of Duluth, Superior and Northern Minnesota and in a small measure indicated the esteem with which he was held by the people of his faith everywhere. Up to a few months prior to his demise, Mr. Silverstein was at his desk in the Silberstein & Bondy store daily, busily engaged with the various business duties that fell to his attention. He attended lodge meetings and was often present at public functions. He was one of the most active men in Duluth, participating in almost every event of importance in the city. His record contains much of inspirational value. Through such memorials as this at hand, the individual and the character of his services are kept in remembrance and the acknowledge. His example in whatever field his work may have been done thus stands as an object lesson to those who come after him, for though dead, he still speaks. –Minnesota and Its People, Vol IV, 1924, page 444; rll
Located at 21 N 21st Avenue East
Updated: 7/10/22 at 7:00 P.M..