History of the Lake Vermilion Cultural Center and St. Mary’s Hall
In the mid 1880’s, Minnesota’s Soudan Underground Mine began producing iron ore to satisfy the needs of a rapidly expanding nation. In 1988 the Episcopal Church in Minnesota granted a charter to a group of English speaking residents in Tower, MN to organize St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, built in the summer of 1889.
Until 2016, no major changes had been made to the structure. The beautiful stained glass windows, curved front or apse end of the church and vaulted ceilings are reminiscent of the bow of a ship. St. Mary’s has the distinction of being the first Episcopal Church established in northern Minnesota and all indications lead to the probability that 19th century architect, Cass Gilbert, who also designed several Episcopal Churches in northern Minnesota, designed it. He is also well known for designing the Minnesota State Capitol, the United State Supreme Court building and numerous other notable structures.
When the mining boom ended and the population of Tower-Soudan was dwindling, St. Mary’s continued to marry, bury and serve the faithful in the community. The little Episcopal community continued serving their congregation until about 2012 when the church was deconsecrated and was given to a group headed by a Minnesota Episcopal Church trustee, Mary Smilanich Batinich. She and a group of friends formed a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation named The Lake Vermilion Cultural Center (LVCC) whose mission statement is: The Lake Vermilion Cultural Center is dedicated to community enrichment through education and the arts by offering quality programming and providing opportunities to showcase the rich cultural heritage of the area.
In 2015 St. Mary’s was moved to the historic center of Tower and was placed on a new foundation, which will allow the building to have a kitchen, lobby, bathrooms and meeting spaces that it never had before. An addition is being built with handicapped accessibility including an elevator. Great care has been taken to preserve the original facade of the building and feature the seventeen beautiful leaded glass windows that are secular in design. After the move of the original church, a separate carriage house was added on the grounds in the same style as St. Mary’s Hall providing much needed storage.
Since the move, the LVCC has offered a continuing education program of close to sixty presentations and has held many fundraising events to help finish this extraordinary facility. Each year the LVCC has a major fundraising event called Midsummer which celebrates the rich ethnic mixture of the immigrants who call this part of Minnesota their home. When finished, this architectural jewel will provide Tower, Lake Vermilion and this northern Iron Range area with a stunning facility that will provide an auditorium (St. Mary’s Hall), art gallery, reading room, and a place for weddings, reunions, dinners, dances and other events.
The grounds of the LVCC will feature serene gardens and memorial benches for visitors to enjoy. All of the windows and many of the rooms and benches are designated in honor or in memory of loved ones. A few major spaces of the compound are still available for naming rights as part of our ongoing fundraising efforts. In addition, there are four and five foot benches that can be underwritten in honor or memory of a loved one and will be located around the grounds of the LVCC.
If you wish to donate, you may do so on this website or by mailing a check made out to the LVCC to Lake Vermilion Cultural Center, P.O. Box 659, Tower, MN 55790.
Please help us realize this dream!