Millionaire Chester Congdon built Glensheen mansion in 1905 to foster his iron-mining business.
Just a few years ago, the historic Glensheen mansion, perched on Lake Superior’s North Shore, struggled to lure tourists.
It was a problem facing many such houses-turned-museums: Visitors who had seen it once didn’t feel a need to see it again.
So the staff at Glensheen started to get creative, coming up with new tours and events to draw even local residents back. It has worked so well that Glensheen recently was named Minnesota’s Visitor Attraction of the Year for 2016 by Explore Minnesota, the state’s tourism office.
The Duluth estate’s offerings now include a nighttime flashlight tour, elaborate holiday displays and summer concerts on its pier.
The mansion saw 106,792 visitors in fiscal 2016, up from a low of 62,000 visitors in fiscal 2013. It is on track to increase that number again this year, marketing manager Jane Pederson said. Tour revenue has been rising, as well, to $1,419,868 in fiscal year 2016 from $693,680 in fiscal 2013, Pederson said.
The resurgence comes at a time when funds are desperately needed to maintain the property, leaders there have said. The ground beneath its tiered garden is shifting, and its boathouse — the last of its kind along the lake — has been battered.
Glensheen is asking for state funds to help with the restoration. In the meantime the staff is continuing to come up with new ways to bring people onto the property.
This year they are promoting Wednesday night events with different monthly themes.
In March the estate will host local musicians for acoustic concerts. In June visitors will be invited to a beer garden on Wednesdays, recalling the 1890s, when the property hosted a beer garden before the house was built.