Glensheen Mansion, located at 3300 London Road in Duluth, is truly a sight to behold.
Constructed in the Jacobean revival architectural style - a type of English Tudor - the house was built over the span of three years: from 1905 – 1908. Upon its completion, Glensheen became home to one of Minnesota’s, and certainly Duluth’s, wealthiest men – attorney and capitalist Chester Congdon.
And, although today it is known as a “historic house museum,” Glensheen was the private home to Chester and Clara Congdon and their family for many years until it was donated to the University of Minnesota in 1979.
The magic of this classic home shines brightest during the holiday season. A Christmas visit to Glensheen is simply a “can’t miss it” Duluth activity.
Christmas was a significant time for the Congdon family. Through the astute management of Glensheen’s staff, the home still retains this holiday magic today. The Christmas season is perhaps the best time of year to visit Glensheen.
“Our Christmas experience is magical and enchanting,” said Glensheen’s Marketing Manager, Mike Mayou. “Of course, we have the historical house with so much history, such as the original furniture and artwork dating back to the Congdons.
“But we are also trying to meld the past with the present by offering things like themed rooms, Christmas trees with different colors, and an ‘I spy’ activity for children to locate the plush elves hidden throughout the house.”
“At Glensheen, we celebrate Christmas because that’s what the Congdons did,” noted Mayou. “But it’s an experience for everyone. We want to provide a place for folks of all denominations and all backgrounds to experience the season as a whole.”
Glensheen and the surrounding property are immense and require a lot of effort to prepare for the holiday season. Glensheen features 27,000 square feet - and 39 rooms - of living space. There is also a gardener’s cottage, a boathouse, and many stunning gardens - all set on twelve gorgeous acres.
Glensheen Mansion closes eight days in November so staff can prepare the home and property for the holiday season. It closes for another four days in January, so employees can take everything back down.
“It’s all hands on deck,” noted Mayou with a chuckle. “It takes all of us to hang the lights, garland, ornaments, and put up all the trees. But it’s a great bonding experience for the staff.”
Once complete, it’s a fully immersive experience well worth the effort. There are 27 beautifully lit Christmas trees at Glensheen, with the main attraction being an immense 15’ tree in the main hallway. Many of the original ornaments from the Congdon family will be on display – both on the trees themselves and in display cases so guests can get a better look.
Several themed rooms will be prepared for guest enjoyment, including a candy cane room, a gnome room, and rooms decorated in monochrome, such as the blue room and white room. As noted, Glensheen’s youngest visitors will enjoy doing the elf hunt, where they can search the mansion for various plush elves hidden throughout.
Guests of all ages will enjoy Christmas music during their visit, too. During their holiday season, Glensheen will be playing classic holiday tunes – all from 1950 and earlier.
In many ways, Glensheen will be decked out similar to how the Congdon family would have decorated in the early 1900s. This includes many original ornaments and stockings. The dining room will also be staged for a holiday meal, and guests can see some of the Congdons’ original silver collection on display adjacent to the dining room table.
Guests can view the family’s unique cookie cutter, which can cut twelve cookies at once. Guests can even take home a copy of Clara Congdon’s sugar cookie recipe.
New this Year
This year, Glensheen’s special candlelight tours will be expanded. People can choose from the “classic” candlelight tour, where they can explore the first three floors of the home. Or, folks can choose to tour the entire five floors of the mansion, all by candlelight.
Glensheen’s Christmas tours will be self-guided, and folks can go at their own pace. But plenty of staff will be on hand to answer any guest questions.
Mayou shared a couple of personal stories about Christmas at Glensheen, as told by members of the Congdon family.
“A Congdon family member has told us that the Congdon children would line up from oldest to youngest to receive their gifts. This happened in the living room on the main floor.
“And, we know that every Christmas, Clara Congdon would call her sister on the phone from the staircase landing. All of the children would gather around to listen to the holiday greeting.
“To me, this story really transcends time,” he added. “Now with today’s Zoom calls, we can all relate to getting together remotely to celebrate.”
Quintessential Duluth Experience
Whether you’ve lived in Duluth all your life or are just passing through, visiting Glensheen Mansion at Christmastime is simply a must-do experience.
“From the moment you walk on the grounds, you’ll feel the magic of the Christmas season at Glensheen,” Mayou said. “Visiting on a cold, snowy day will give you a warm, fuzzy feeling. People say that they love Glensheen because it doesn’t feel like a museum - it feels like a home.
“It’s so amazing to have this incredible historic home right here in Duluth,” he added. “As someone who has lived in Duluth my whole life, I recognize what a special asset Glensheen is. It has stood the test of time.”
Christmas tours at Glensheen will take place from November 17th – January 7th. Please visit glensheen.org to learn more.