The tiered garden is falling apart, as is the servants’ porch. The boathouse, the last of its kind along Lake Superior, also needs help. The Glensheen Historic Estate, one of the state’s most famous — and infamous — historic homes, is in desperate need of repairs, its site director said, and is turning to the state to foot the $26 million bill.
Dan Hartman, director of Duluth’s Glensheen, said $8 million of the funds would go toward those three critical repairs.
“We have three parts of the property that are in terrible shape,“ he said.
The rest of the funding would go toward repairs that Hartman said aren’t quite as urgent but still require attention, such as rewiring the fraying electrical system and repairing the fence along the street in front of the estate.
The home, now owned by the University of Minnesota Duluth, was built by iron ore magnate Chester Congdon and his wife, Clara, beginning in 1905. Last year, 100,000 visitors paid at least $15 to tour the 39-room mansion, also famous as the site of grisly murders. In 1977, Elisabeth Congdon, Chester and Clara’s last surviving child, was found suffocated with a pillow and her night nurse was beaten to death with a candle stick. The husband of Elisabeth’s daughter, Marjorie, pleaded guilty to the crimes.
At the Legislature
Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, authored a bill in March to add the funds to this session’s bonding bill.
Reinert said the century-old estate is important for his city. “It is, along with the lift bridge, one of the most iconic symbols of Duluth,” Reinert said.
Bonding bills are how the Legislature chooses to fund projects around the state. This year, Gov. Mark Dayton proposed $1.4 billion in funding for state projects, which would go toward roads, bridges and other big ticket items, leaving a limited amount for other smaller projects. Republicans in the House are looking for a smaller $600 million bill.
Normally the mansion would go through the university to get bonding funds, but the project was not highly ranked, which led the estate’s director to seek bonding funds separately.
If Glensheen can’t get at least the $8 million for urgent repairs, Hartman said there are no other options for the funding.
“We will sit and wait,” he said, adding that if Glensheen receives enough for the urgent repairs, officials could potentially look to other foundations for funding for the other fixes.
Hartman said the servants’ porch, which is attached to the mansion, has been breaking down for decades, and any further damage to the porch could weaken the building’s chimney, causing it to fall and potentially damaging the mansion’s interior. Repairs would fix the foundation and help to restore the porch.
The problems with the tiered garden have caused leaks into the room below the garden. A wall has gaps large enough to fit a hand through. A handful of people have even stolen loose bricks, Hartman said.
The pier and rocks that once protected the boathouse have broken away, leaving it open to the elements, he said. Repairs would replace the pier and fix up the building.
If not repaired, Hartman said the three pieces of the property could potentially collapse in the next five years.
Glensheen has an operating budget of about $1.6 million, largely funded by ticket sales, which have increased dramatically in the past few years. Hartman said most of the budget goes toward operating costs, but the mansion’s administrators are able to take on small restoration projects, such as repairing flood damage and restoring an old car at the estate. Currently, much of the estate is staffed by about 70 UMD students, including tour guides, office workers and interns.
In the past, the Glensheen murders were a huge draw for visitors, Hartman said, but now about 70 percent of attendees come to see the beauty of the mansion, which the bonding funds could help to preserve.
“People just want to see this beautiful home on the shore of Lake Superior,” he said.
Ben Farniok is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.