There are MANY TOURS to chose from these days at Glensheen: 14 to be exact. One option allows you to see the estate through the eyes of the servants who worked here (SERVANTS TOUR). Or you can put on a life jacket and explore under the Stone Arch Bridge in a kayak (BEST DAMN TOUR).
But the one I chose on a beautiful Tuesday in July was the new SUMMER EVENING TOUR.
The shorthand for this new offering could be: FULL MANSION TOUR (all five floors of the house — even attic!), meets junior GROUNDS TOUR (vegetable, formal garden, off-the beaten path paths), meets Bonus Boathouse exploration (a delightful nook), meets fun beach bar at the end. Yes, you read that right. The tour drops you off at the LAKE SUPERIOR BEACH CLUB.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The tour started from the courtyard outside of the gift shop located in the Carriage House. The group was limited to 10 to keep it intimate, and also because we’re going into some close quarters like the attic and boathouse.
We were collected by tour guide Katie. She’s a theater and English major at UMD — and I can tell you, she loves giving this tour. In several spaces, she would call our her favorite object or story — and suddenly her interest and enthusiasm became my own.
One such place was in the garden area above the Carriage House and by the Gardener’s Cottage. Here Katie talked about how Glensheen donates 2,000 pounds of vegetables to Second Harvest food shelf.
But what really seemed to excite her was by the Tennis Courts. There’s a small rose garden tucked in just west of the sun dial. Here, Katie informed our group that they are developed by the University of Minnesota.
[ Emily, Glensheen’s head gardener, filled me in later that the roses in the four middle beds are actually from the University of Minnesota “Minnesota Hardy” Breeding Program. They are the “Northern Accents” when all of the roses are together. Individually they are ‘Sven’, ‘Ole’, ‘Lena’ and ‘Sigrid’.]
After a stop at shady Bent Brook where the Congdon’s picnicked during the warm months, we were headed for the mansion where Katie knocked on the large doors.
And this is where the real story telling about the Congdon family began. We learned about how the butler would great guests and take their calling cards. Then we toured Chester Congdon’s office and learned about his history as a lawyer and businessman.
What is notable was the details Katie added about all the finishes in the house — how they were crafted, why they were likely chosen. It made me feel that through the house, the personality of the family was revealed.
She referred several times to the family tree to help us all keep Chester and Clara’s children straight.
I loved little things — like that Katie shined a flashlight to allow us to really see all the silk threads in this embroidered piece that Chester purchased in Japan. It is called The Waterfall of Mino and is a favorite of the many visitors. The real life Waterfall of Mino is located near Osaka, Japan. Chester purchased this piece for $175 while on an Asian tour.
Katie took many questions throughout the tour and pointed out featured objects that could aid in really telling a narrative about the Congdons and the house.
And in each room, I felt like I got to know the inhabitants. The eldest daughter, Marjorie, had recently gone to finishing school in Florence before she moved into Glensheen. That’s why her room has many Italian accents.
In the dining room, we learned about the “maid’s nightmare” — a silver plated chandelier that takes hours and hours to polish. Now our historic housekeeping staff takes care of it and it doesn’t sound like they’re big fans either.
We also saw the clever “call button” integral to the table itself, so that one did not have to bellow for the butler. A theme in the house is all the state-of-the-art innovation for the time.
A favorite of mine is the third floor. This boys’ floor feels like it’s ready to live in with its warm woods and early Art Deco designs. The glass on the door heading up to the attic is swoon-worthy in my opinion.
I like this detail of the stationery set in the married guest room. How luxurious it must have been to be a guest and so at your leisure to pen an actual letter.
But it seems typing was an option, too.
The attic is the right place to explain how sturdy the house is with its thick cement walls and floor and steel beams. Plus, it feels very behind-the-scenes special to be there at all.
The south-facing door was used by guests who arrived to the estate by yacht. I love the evening colors that I was able to capture just using my cell phone.
After touring the lower level which included the amusement room, we walked into the formal garden. On a summer’s night, it just wowed me. The flowers were specular and with the gentle breeze off Lake Superior, the temperature was perfect.
My tour group walked out to the Boat House and we were invited in by groups of four to have a look around. You can see where the Congdon yacht, the Hesparia, was housed. There’s a giant gear for lifting it, but my cell phone failed to get a good shot of it.
After Katie was assured that we had no more questions — and reminded us that we were free to go taste the raspberries and visit the Stone Arch Bridge — we were released to the Lake Superior Beach Club.
After 4pm, there’s no admission to the grounds and families and couples were gathered to play games, order in food and enjoy an adult beverage or soft drink by the lake’s edge.
Honestly, it was throughly indulgent to lie in the hammock by Lake Superior. I felt like I had cornered Duluth’s best kept secret — one that you leave wanting to tell the world! While there were about 50 people that feels like hardly anyone on such a large shoreline.
All in all, I felt like I got an excellent grasp on the Congdon narrative, how the estate functioned and the beauty of the house. Now, I’m interested in taking the NOOKS & CRANNIES TOUR!
Putting my feet up was a wonderful ending to a perfect Duluth Day.
For more information on the Summer Evening Tour, CLICK HERE.