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The Glensheen mansion in the midst of greenery.

Along the shores of Lake Superior is a castle in Minnesota, and almost 40 years ago the historic Glensheen was bequeathed to the University of Minnesota, Duluth.

A castle in Minnesota

UMD's historic mansion continues to draw visitors

By Pauline Oo

July 18, 2006

Yes, it's true. There is a castle in Minnesota, and it belongs to the University of Minnesota, Duluth.

Glensheen, aka the historic Congdon estate, is a 7.6-acre, 39-room mansion complete with a landscaped garden that's perched on the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth. It was built in 1905 for the family of Chester Congdon, a lawyer who wanted a home that would reflect the family's English heritage.

The property is modeled after English estates of the early 17th century. The name "Glensheen" is derived from two words: "glen," which means a secluded narrow valley, and "Sheen," the village in Surrey, England, where the Congdon family had its roots.

Located at 3300 London Road in Duluth, Glensheen comprises more than seven acres of manicured landscapes with formal gardens, a carriage house and carriage collection, boathouse, clay tennis court, and gardener's cottage. The estate is listed on the National Register of Historic Places--which means that it's protected from state and federal projects that might adversely affect it; it has appeared on A&E's Home Video series America's Castles; and it was the backdrop for Patty Duke's 1972 thriller You'll like My Mother.

Glensheen was bequeathed to the University of Minnesota, Duluth (UMD), in 1968 after the death of Elisabeth, the last Congdon child to live there (see sidebar). Since that time, more than two million people have visited the estate, which is a self-supporting organization that relies on revenue from ticket sales, donations, and events.

"To this day, the property closely resembles the way it looked when the Congdon family first moved in," says Lori Melton, Gleensheen marketing director. "The majority of the furnishings are original to the time the estate was first occupied."

When Glensheen first opened for tours, visitors were only allowed on the first and lower levels. Now the second and third floors and attic are open. The mansion showcases exotic woods, rich textiles, and beautiful art glass, as well as the finest intact collection of Arts and Crafts furnishings in the Midwest on the third floor and attic. (If you look closely enough in the attic, you'll find a 1908 issue of National Geographic and a 1913 copy of The Chicago Sunday Tribune.) Tours last approximately 75 minutes.

Docents have been an essential part of Glensheen's tours since day one. They are animated and they really know their stuff. On a recent tour, a docent explained with great detail the symbolism behind the pineapples and lion head carvings throughout the house--in short, the pineapples signify hospitality and the lion heads royalty. Also, ask about the fragrance in the den, and a fascinating story unfolds. Basically, someone treated the walls with lemon and cyprus oils to give the wood a driftwood-like appearance.

A view of the Glenshen study
Woodwork dominates the Glensheen study room.

Several of the docents who started in 1979, like Mary Pat Higgins, are still volunteering and speak of the Congdons as if they were family.

"Glensheen is like my second home," says Higgins, "I feel very protective of Glensheen, it holds a lot of memories for me, and I want to preserve it for generations to come."

Glensheen is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. from May 27 to mid-October. Admission is $12 for adults, $11 for seniors, and $7 for children ages 6-12 (5 and under are free). Family and grounds passes are also available for $35 and $5, respectively. Parking is free.

To learn more about the estate and events that are regularly held there, visit Glensheen.

Hear Lori Melton discuss Glensheen's unique qualities.


Historical buildings at the U There are 13 buildings on the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the Armory, Nicholson Hall, Burton Hall, Pattee Hall, Pillsbury Hall, Eddy Hall, Shevlin Hall, Folwell Hall, Wesbrook Hall, Jones Hall, Wulling Hall, and Eastcliff, the residence of University of Minnesota presidents. To learn more about historic U buildings, visit University Services. Additionally, at the heart of the Morris campus is a 42-acre historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The district encompasses the former West Central School of Agriculture and Experiment Station, a boarding high school and research facility that opened in 1910. Visit UMM.