Wedding Guy, Bruce Vassar takes us to Duluth, Minnesota:
They travel from around the world, even descendants of the family come back to see their ancestor’s historic home. Known in Minnesota as The Glensheen but it’s officially known as Glensheen – The Historic Congdon Mansion, Glensheen meaning “shining glen”, was named for Chester Congdon’s ancestral home in Surrey, England. The 39 room, 20,000 square foot Jacobean mansion characterized by its gables, turrets, window bays, and grand staircase was the most affluent home in Duluth at the time and is still considered so even today.
Most of us in Minnesota know the terrible incident which took place in the early morning hours of June 27, 1977. As a rule, the tour guides don’t speak about it while on tour but will answer some questions on a one-on-one basis following the tour. The day I was there, they had descendants of the Congdon family touring the home at the same time, hence why they don’t talk about it.
I think we have all adopted the Congdon family home as if it was our very own. In 1905, Chester A. Congdon and his wife Clara hired Minnesota architect Clarence H. Johnston Sr. to design the home situated on 12 acres of Lake Superior lakeshore property. The interiors were designed by William A. French Co. and the terraced garden and the English-style landscape were designed by the Charles Wellford Leavitt firm out of New York. The home was completed in 1908 and in 1916 only eight years after its completion, Chester Congdon an attorney and developer in the iron and copper mining resources of the Lake Superior country passed away.
In 1982, I remember touring this great home and I was looking forward to touring it again. It has been thirty-six years since my last visit and I know there have been changes and new discoveries. Back in 1982 the third floor, known as the “boy’s bedroom”, was not open to the public and the attic was completely out of the question. In 1980 (July 1, 1979 – June 30, 1980) they had 95,455 tourists (July 1, 2017 – June 30, 2018) they had 141,000 visitors. Prior to last year, Fiscal Year 1981 was the year of the highest attendance at 139,871.
When I arrived and met with Scottie Gardonio, Director of Creative, and Jane Pederson, Marketing Manager we had the greatest time talking about all things Glensheen including all the new discoveries and new plans for the future. And, of course, the interesting facts you may not know. But, when it comes to weddings at Glensheen it’s a world all on to itself. You and your guests may not be staying overnight at this destination but if you want to take a step back in time with a lavish experience of The Great Gatsby or the setting of a garden wedding at an English manor, believe me when I say you will never forget it.
A tremendous experience will be waiting for you and your guests with a possible rental of the entire home and gardens. Yes, it’s available at the right time of the year and for the right number of people, you will want to contact their events department if this piques your curiosity. Going to Glensheen as a total experience can be fascinating with their “Best Damn Tour” which is one of 12 new tour experiences added in the last five years.
The tour begins with an hour-long kayak experience, launching from Glensheen’s historic Lake Superior shoreline. There are fantastic views of the beautiful rock face and glimpses of two neighboring mansions once owned by Chester and Clara Congdon’s children. Guests then come ashore to enjoy a sunset over Lake Superior next to a bonfire complete with s’mores. Then just when you think it can’t get any better, surprise, in the dark of the night, you will experience the mansion in a different light with a guided Flashlight Tour to round out the evening. Can you imagine a wedding where you can take part in all these types of fun activities — oh and you can be guaranteed, your guests will be talking about your wedding for a long time to come.
Tenting in the gardens is available for guests over 120 people. The Winter Garden is where the celebrating begins for your guests if your guest count is under 119. The ceremony is always beautiful on the home’s back terrace around the fountain. I think it would be beautiful to have a ceremony procession walking down the terrace steps and say your vows by the lake.
So what are the secrets about this amazing Glensheen Mansion and the Congdon family?
- Chester Congdon gave the State of Minnesota one-million dollars to start the Northshore Drive also known as Hwy 61. When construction first began there were three paths, one for a carriage, one for a car and one for bike/walkers.
- I was able to go up into the attic which I understand is now open to the public to see all the fascinating rugs, travel trunks, etc.
- There is a little path to Tischer Creek that goes alongside the house and through a tunnel underneath London Road. Sammy with Glensheen thought it would be an area used by the family for picnics.
- Alfred, Chester and Clara Congdon’s nephew who lived with the Congdon family sailed their 53 foot Hesperia yacht from New York to Duluth!
- And, there are 25 trees from different countries the family brought home from their many travels abroad and I swear this is the truth, there is one pine tree off the side of the terrace and if you break off a pine needle and snap it in half you can smell citrus peaches! I kid you not!
With all this fascinating history who needs to talk about June 27, 1977.
Photos courtesy of Glensheen