Glensheen Historic Estate
Chester and Clara Congdon Estate
Glensheen Historic Estate
Lake side view of Glensheen
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|
Glensheen, the Historic Congdon Estate is a 20,000 square foot mansion in Duluth, Minnesota, United States, operated by the University of Minnesota Duluth as a historic house museum. Glensheen sits on 12 acres of waterfront property on Lake Superior, has 39 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 A. French Co. 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. The home is a crowning example of design and craftmanship of the Midwest in the early 20th century.
Glensheen offers a variety of tours throughout the year.
William French's interior exhibits Late Victorian, Arts and Crafts, Federal Style, 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, enamled birch, 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 110 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 in the eldest son's room, for example, 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 silk embroidery done by Japanese artist Watunabe. In addition to the main mansion, the estate has its own Carriage House, Gardener's Cottage, and Boathouse on Lake Superior.
In 1968 the estate was given to the University of Minnesota Duluth, which operates Glensheen to this day. At the time, Elisabeth Congdon (Chester Congdon's youngest daughter) was given a life estate, allowing her to occupy Glensheen until her death. In 1979, two years after Elisabeth's death, the mansion opened to the public. For years, the third floor and attic were closed to the public due to safety concerns over limited access, but both areas were opened to small group tours in 1992. The estate is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Aside from its architectural significance, Glensheen is noteworthy for the murders of Elisabeth Congdon and her nurse, Velma Pietila, on June 27, 1977. Roger Caldwell, the second husband of Elisabeth's adopted daughter, Marjorie, was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and received two life sentences. Marjorie was charged with aiding and abetting and conspiracy to commit murder but was acquitted on all charges. In 1982 Caldwell's conviction was overturned by the Minnesota Supreme Court. He was set to be retried but pleaded guilty and submitted a full confession. He was later released from prison, and in 1988 he committed suicide. In the intervening years, Marjorie Congdon Caldwell Hagen was twice convicted of arson, for which she served 12 years in prison, and was once wanted for bigamy in North Dakota.
In respect of surviving Congdon family members tour guides will not speak about the “incident in 1977," during tours, but can answer questions about it after the tour has been completed. A book about the murders is for sale 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 Elisabeth Congdon and her nurse.
The American television show Mansions and Murders featured the story of the murders of Elisabeth Congdon and her nurse Velma Pietila. The show also spoke of some of the crimes that Elisabeth's adopted daughter Marjorie committed, such as arson and forgery as well as her acquittal of the murders. The title of the episode is "Goodnight Nurse". It is the 3rd episode of the 1st season and aired on May 6, 2015.
The movie Girl Missing, starring Francesca Eastwood, was partially filmed at Glensheen, featuring the grounds, the shore of Lake Superior, and the exterior of the house.
- National Park Service (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- "Property Details Report 010-1370-07230". St. Louis County.
- 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
- "Twists, turns never end for Congdon murder case figure" Kimball, Joe. MinnPost, Accessed 16 March 2009.
- Jeffrey Hatcher, Chan Poling turn Congdon murders into musical 'Glensheen'
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