Chester Congdon did not grow up wealthy, it wasn’t until he became a self-taught lawyer who worked with Henry Oliver the owner of the Oliver Mining Company. As his attorney Chester rose to be one of the wealthiest people in Minnesota. After the Oliver Mining Company was sold, Chester started two new mining companies, the Congdon formed two new companies Chemung Iron Company (with Henry Oliver) and the Canisteo Mining Company (with Guilford Hartley). These companies continued ti build Chester’s wealth and solidify him as one of the most influential citizens of Duluth and Minnesota. With Chester’s fortune he owned many properties with the pride and joy being the Glensheen estate built in Duluth Minnesota. This mansion was completed in 1908 and is a 32,000 Sq. ft, 22-acre estate on the shores of Lake Superior.
The Smoking Den at Glensheen doubled as Chester Congdon’s office. The design of this room is currently attributed to John Bradstreet, a famous interior designer from Minneapolis. Throughout the room the wood you see is a Japanese cyprus. Another part of the den that many people notice is the water lily motif lights that were made by the Handicraft Guild of Minneapolis. The walls of the Smoking Den are also very unique, they were originally golden bronze burlap paper, today they are a grasscloth wall covering. There is also a state of the art intercom system that was closed circuit and could communicate with guests and servants all over the estate. The Smoking Den is filled with unique artifacts that speak to Chester’s taste and interests, to learn more about these artifacts, keep reading.
The first item you might not know a lot about is the bronze sculpture on the fireplace mantel. This statue was made by Cyrus Dallin as a part of his “Epic of the Indian” statue group. The statue on the mantel is known as the “Medicine Man”. Dallin is also known for the famous Paul Revere statue in Boston and the Angel Moroni in Salt Lake City. Dallin was a man of many talents and is also the proud winner of a bronze medal in archery in the 1904 Olympics. Chester bought this statue from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1914 for $425.
The second item we want to highlight is the lion’s head and foot andirons. These bronze and iron andirons were designed and manufactured by the E. F. Caldwell Company of New York, NY. The Congdon’s most likely heard of Caldwell at the 1893 World Fair where much of Caldwell’s work was displayed.
The third item we think is worth mentioning is the colored photograph of Mt. Shasta in California. Clara grew up in California so this may be why Chester took a liking to this particular photo. It is important to note that this photo was hand colored film. The ability to produced colored film was not possible until 1935 when Kodak’s Kodachrome was available to the general public.
The last item we are going to take a look at is one that is often missed due to its size, but once seen demands the attention of the onlooker because of its unique and talented creation. This item is the framed wood carving by Steiner. The Steiner family carved folksy sceneries after paintings from famous German and Austrian painters of the 19th century. They did the carvings in different sizes and small editions. The woodcarvings of Steiner were exhibited in some world exhibitions and can be found in several museums today. This one was purchased in Europe in 1905 for 250 francs. If you look closely you can see the ridges and talent required to make this wood slab come to life.
Thanks for diving into some of the awesome parts of the Smoking Den with us. To learn more about the awesome parts of Glensheen (hint, it’s all the parts) head here. To schedule a tour of Glensheen and learn more about what we offer head to https://glensheen.org/tours/.