Glensheen Historic Estate
Chester and Clara Congdon Estate
Lake side view of Glensheen.
|Location||3300 London Rd.
|Architect||Clarence H. Johnston, Sr.; Charles W. Leavitt, Jr.|
|Architectural style||Jacobean Revival, Other|
|NRHP Reference #||91001057|
|Added to NRHP||August 15, 1991|
The Glensheen Historic Estate is a historic mansion on Lake Superior owned by the University of Minnesota Duluth. Glensheen sits on 7.6 acres (3.1 ha) of lake front property, has 38 rooms and is built in the Jacobean architectural tradition, inspired by the Beaux-Arts styles of the era. The mansion was constructed as the family home of Chester Adgate Congdon. The building was designed by Minnesota architect Clarence H. Johnston Sr., with interiors designed by William French and the formal terraced garden and English style landscape designed by the Charles Wellford Leavitt firm out of New York. Construction began in 1905, and completed in 1908.
French exhibits Late Victorian, Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles. French also designed the furniture for the house to coordinate with the style in each room. The rooms are trimmed or paneled in Circassian walnut, mahogany, cypress, fumed oak and American walnut, with the furniture in each room made of the same wood used in the woodwork. The original furniture brought into the house in 1908 and '09 remains in virtually the same place it has been for 100 years. Some of the wall coverings and upholstery are also original. The hallways exhibit original stenciling in the Arts and Crafts style as well as beautiful wood carving. Wall and ceiling coverings are made of wool, silk, filled burlap and gold leaf. The doors throughout the home are made of two kinds of wood, with oak on the hallway side and the variety of wood used in the room on the other side. The furniture on the third floor is decorated with ebony inlaid motifs that are repeated in the oak paneled walls. Chester Congdon's art collection hangs in the home as it did when the Congdons lived there. The collection includes works by American artists Charles Warren Eaton, Henry Farrer, Childe Hassam, Albert Lorey Groll, Hamilton King, Lawrence Mazzanovich, Henry Ward Ranger, Peter Alfred Gross, David Ericson C. F. Daubigny, Henri Harpignies and many more. The house also contains a beautiful silk embroidery done by Japanese artist Watunabe.
In 1968, the estate was given to the University of Minnesota Duluth, which operates Glensheen to this day. At the time, Elisabeth Congdon (youngest daughter of Chester Congdon) was given a life estate, allowing her to occupy Glensheen until her death. It opened to the public in 1979. For years, the third floor and attic were closed to the public due to safety concerns over limited access. However, in 1992, both areas were opened to small group tours. The estate is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Aside from its architectural significance, Glensheen was the site of the murders of Elisabeth Congdon and her nurse, Velma Pietila, on June 27, 1977. Roger Caldwell, the second husband of Congdon's adopted daughter, Marjorie, was charged with the crimes, convicted on two counts of first degree murder and sentenced to two life sentences. Marjorie was charged with aiding and abetting and conspiracy to commit murder, but she was acquitted on all charges. Caldwell's conviction was overturned by the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1982. He was set to be retried, but pled guilty, submitted a full confession, and was later released from prison and committed suicide in 1988. In the intervening years, Marjorie Congdon Caldwell Hagen was twice convicted of arson, serving 12 years in prison and was once wanted for bigamy in North Dakota.
Although once prohibited from speaking about the murders, tour guides are no longer forbidden to discuss the mansion's murders. Upon request, many guides will briefly speak about them at the ends of tours and one can purchase books written about them at Glensheen's gift shop.
In popular culture
The American/Australian documentary television series "Behind Mansion Walls", on Investigation Discovery, dedicated half of episode seven, in its debut season, to the murders of the Elisabeth Congdon and her nurse.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.
- Deborah Morse-Kahn, Lake Superior's Historic North Shore, Minnesota Historical Society, 2008, ISBN 0-87351-621-4, page 50.
- Boegle, Jimmy, Tucson Weekly, January 1, 2004
- Kimball, Joe. "Twists, turns never end for Congdon murder case figure" MinnPost, http://www.minnpost.com/joekimball/2008/05/08/1786/twists_turns_never_end_for_congdon_murder_case_figure Accessed 16 March 2009.