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.


garden stairs

But there are some more formal areas of the garden as well.

formal garden

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?

Glensheen living room

The main staircase is quite spectacular.

Glensheen staircase

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.

Glensheen window

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.

marjorie's room 2

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.

marjorie's room

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.

sweet room

Isn’t this painted furniture totally charming?

sweet dresser

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.

bathroom 2

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.

maids room

After touring the 2nd floor, we headed up to floor number 3.  That was where the boys rooms were.

boys room

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 …

laundry room

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!

13 thoughts on “glensheen.

  1. We have been to Glesheen several times and have also taken the extended tour. We had the gkids over MEA last week and took a day trip to Duluth. We just took the standard tour. The extended was sold out. They were enthralled with the whole thing. They want to go back over Christmas Break and do the extended tour. When the lady who sells the tour tickets told me they have a Christmas tree in every room. I’m in!!! Loved your photos. I can’t wait to show Sohpie the “ghost” in the mirror. She is all into haunted houses and ghosts. I love your furniture blogs but your “family” excursions are fun a well. I’m reading the book A Will to Murder. Wow it gives you a whole different perspective on life at Goensheen.


    1. I tried to get through the book, but only made it about halfway. I grew so frustrated with the behavior of Marjorie (the bad egg) that I had to quit reading! But anyway, we saw all of those Christmas trees in boxes in the attic. When our guide told us they do a tree in every room, I thought of you! And I also thought it would be fun to go back and see the place decorated for Christmas.


  2. Fun tour! I was at Glensheen about 26 years ago, and there was little furniture in the house, the interior was in very rough shape, and the tour showed limited areas of the home. The guides were forbidden to discuss the murder even though that was the number one question of everyone on the tour. The guide did discuss the financial burden to the U of M when the house was gifted to them, and how they hoped tours would defray the cost of maintaing the home and paying the taxes. Looks like that plan is working! We also stayed at a house nearby (next door?), 3600 London Road, originally built for one of the Congdon children, which was then operating as a bed-and-breakfast. VERY Nice! Looks like we need to consider another Glensheen tour on our next getaway to Duluth!


    1. Yep, I remember the day when any talk about the murder was forbidden. My sister asked a question about the murder during the tour and our guide asked her to refrain from asking those questions until the end of the tour. But, he did stick around after the tour and answer her questions and also chat with just the four of us for a good 15 minutes about the house, how he ended up being a tour guide (he is a student at UMD) and how they are trying to finance continued restoration work. Also worth noting, we were not allowed to take photos in the actual room where the murder occurred. We were told it was because the room had some water damage (which it did), but that seemed like a flimsy excuse to me. Other rooms that had damage were still open to photos. It was rather disappointing to me since the room had some really lovely aqua and silver light fixtures, as well as being one of the only rooms with white painted furniture!


  3. Interesting tour Linda such a sad storyline. I agree the bathrooms were the best rooms. I too, loved that huge sink with those fab legs and the subway tile – classics just hold their appeal. I like the hex tile but it conjures up “the cleaning of the grout” to me which is not a pleasant thought. Lol! I have always dreamed of building on a lake lot and be able to listen to the waves serenade me to sleep at night. The collections of cameras and suitcases were pretty cool too. I found myself wondering if they, in fact, really belonged to the family and where they might have traveled to. There is just something about that era that seems magical. It reminds me of that old Christopher Reeve/Jane Seymour movie “Somewhere in Time”. Which I have to admit I have seen it many, many times. It’s a great love story.


    1. Have you ever read Time and Again by Jack Finney? If you like a good time travel story, this is one of my faves. I believed the Congdon’s were big travelers. Check out this post about Chester’s trip to Egypt in 1910 complete with photos.


  4. Thanks Linda looks like the trip was part vacation and part business research into irrigation for their orchards in Washington. Don’t you just love the hats people used to wear. I do like time travel books have read a couple by Jude Deveraux. I will see if my library has Jack Finney’s book.😊


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