I promised to share some details of our tour of Glensheen in Duluth. I’m not always good about following through on such promises, but today you are in luck (or maybe not if you were hoping for another furniture makeover post)!
Glensheen is a mansion that was completed in 1908 at a cost of $854,000 which was a lot of moolah back then. Wait, it still is, but back then it was really a lot! It was built by Chester and Clara Congdon. It sounds to me like Chester Congdon mostly made his money by making smart investments mainly in land speculation up in the Iron Range of Minnesota. Chester and Clara were both the offspring of clergymen, so I’m pretty sure neither of them started out with much money.
The landscape around Glensheen was designed by a New York City landscape architect named Charles Wellford Leavitt, Jr. He was instructed to maintain as much of the natural beauty of the property as possible, and he seems to have done a fine job of that.
But there are some more formal areas of the garden as well.
And of course, this property does sit right on the shore of Lake Superior.
In addition to snooping all around the grounds, we took the Expanded Tour of the inside. It’s the so-called Expanded Tour because you get to see a bit more on this tour as opposed to the Standard Tour, including the 3rd floor and attic. Another side benefit of taking this tour is that it is limited to 10 people at a time due to the tight space in the attic. Bonus! Less people to crowd around and make it impossible to hear your guide.
For those of you who are not local and have never heard of Glensheen, it has a dark past. In 1977 Chester and Clara Congdon’s daughter Elisabeth still lived in Glensheen. She was 83 years old at the time and was somewhat of an invalid. She was murdered in her sleep by her son-in-law, but her own adopted daughter Marjorie is the suspected mastermind behind the crime. The daughter is still alive by the way and she was never convicted for any connection to the murder. She has done time for other unrelated crimes however, and most people suspect she has gotten away with at least one and possibly two additional murders as well.
As if to mimic the dark history of the house, the first floor is rather dark and gloomy. Such was the style back in the early 1900’s. Lots of heavy dark wood paneling, deep rich colors and ornate furnishings. All designed to impress guests, of course. It makes picture taking somewhat challenging. but I think I may have captured Elisabeth’s ghost in this mirror. See her, there on the right side of the mirror?
The main staircase is quite spectacular.
Can I help it if I really just want to paint some of that dark wood paneling?
The leaded glass window and the view beyond it couldn’t possibly be improved upon though.
The first room we visited on the 2nd floor felt like a breath of fresh air. Finally we were seeing some rooms that spoke to me.
This is Marjorie’s room (for added confusion, this is the Marjorie that was Elisabeth’s sister and for whom Elisabeth’s murdering daughter was named). We were told that each of the Congdon children were allowed to decorate their rooms as they wished. Although calling them ‘children’ is misleading, all but the youngest two children were adults who no longer actually lived at home when the mansion was finished. So Marjorie never actually lived in the room, but she would have stayed here when she visited as an adult.
So kudos to Marjorie who decorated her room with gorgeous white woodwork paired with a lovely soft blue.
And just check out this sweet little room. You entered into the room where I am standing to take the photo, but the bed and desk are in a little alcove of sorts through the arched opening.
Isn’t this painted furniture totally charming?
Now, you are probably going to think I’m goofy, but I was really most drawn to the bathrooms!
I’m sure that many people find them quite utilitarian, but there is so much that I love about them. The white tile on the walls, the fabulous sink, the gorgeous grille over the radiator … and did you notice? a blue ceiling! Yeah, baby.
I love the hexagon floor tile in this one, and how about those subway tile walls? Over 100 years later and these features still have a timeless appeal.
What I was truly amazed by though were the stand alone showers!
What the what?! It was 1908! My house was built in 1904 and there definitely wasn’t a shower of any kind, just a tub. And are you checking out all of the body spray nozzles, and can you just see the giant rain shower head at the top of the photo? These people were definitely ahead of the game on the shower front.
Interestingly enough, in this mansion the servants also had rooms on the 2nd floor, unlike Downton Abby where the servants were all relegated to the attic. At the end of the hallway was a door that opened into the servant’s area. Granted, things were not as posh, but they definitely had some light filled rooms with beautiful views.
After touring the 2nd floor, we headed up to floor number 3. That was where the boys rooms were.
They were filled with classic items that most boys love, a telescope, hunting trophies, games …
And you can imagine that a little drool escaped me when I spied all of the cameras and movie making equipment.
But further down the hall, here is what really had me drooling …
Oh my goodness! A storage room full of vintage luggage. Be still my heart.
We next made our way up to the attic which was far too gloomy for photos, but lets just say it was filled with cast off furniture that I would have loved to get my hands on!
We then headed back to the main floor where we visited the kitchen which didn’t retain much of its original fixtures, but had a couple of fun details like the system for summoning the servants …
and the original intercom system …
The tour ended in the basement laundry room. I’d love to get my hands on that laundry table …
And that indoor drying rack system would be incredibly handy here in Minnesota in the winter.
I hope you enjoyed this little tour of Glensheen. If you are local and are ever in Duluth, it’s definitely worth a visit.
Meanwhile, I’ve got several pieces of furniture underway this week and hope to get them completed this weekend, so be sure to check back on Monday!