Monday, August 5, 2013

The North Shore Drive

Looking up the shoreline
Earlier this week we took a scenic drive up Minnesota's North Shore. As you may know, we spent a number of years living on the island of Oahu, which also had a North Shore. If you stood on the North Shore of Oahu and walked north, you would end up in the Pacific Ocean. Similarly, where we are staying now is on the North Shore of Wisconsin. If you walk north from here you will end up in Lake Superior. However, if you stand on the North Shore of Minnesota and walk north you will end up in… Canada. Don't ask me why, that's just the way things are.

As you leave downtown Duluth driving along Minnesota Highway 61, the first thing you will see is about 4 miles of beachfront property where the industrialists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries spent their exorbitant excesses of money on elegant mansions to flaunt their wealth. The flauntiest of the lot is a little place called Glensheen, the former home of the Congdon family. Chester Congdon was a lawyer working for the Minnesota iron mining interests. Part of his job was to buy properties with high grade iron ore for them, which he conscientiously did. While he was at it, he also bought up some less high-grade ore deposits for himself. Twenty years later, when all the high-grade deposits had been mined out, he turned around and sold his second rate iron deposits to his former employers at about 20 times what he paid for them. Neat trick.

The Congdons had five children, the last of which was a spinster named Elizabeth who gave the entire property, including furnishings, to the University of Minnesota on the condition that she could continue living there for the rest of her life. That lasted until 1977, when Elizabeth's adopted daughter and her husband got tired of waiting for their inheritance and bumped the old lady off, creating a local sensation. Now the University gives tours of the property about every half-hour six days a week at $15 a head. The tour guides are University students who help finance their education this way.

The dining table had 16 removable leaves
We took the standard tour, which includes the first two floors and the recreation areas in the basement. You had to pay extra to go to the third floor and see the boys rooms and to me that was just another flight of stairs I didn't really need. The main floor had the kitchen and dining areas in the north wing and the library and living room areas in the south wing. Interestingly, the entry Hall ran between two front doors. We went in through the front door facing the highway, but Mrs. Congdon felt it was uncouth to bring guests in through a side or back door, those were for trades people. So they installed another "front door" on the opposite side of the house for guests who arrived by boat, which I gather was a fairly common occurrence.
 The front "front door"
The master bedroom, hers
The master suite on the second floor had two bedrooms with a dressing room and a bathroom in between them. Why rich couples can't share a bedroom is kind of a mystery to me, but every mansion I have ever toured had separate his and her bedrooms. One wonders where the five kids came from. The bathroom had a tiny tub for Mrs. Congdon to do her daily bathing from the neck down as well as a fairly modern looking full bath for use when she washed her hair once a month (yech). Mr. Congdon had a walk-in shower with nine (count 'em - 9) showerheads. I found this fairly
The nine head shower.
surprising given that we are talking about 1908. It was impressive enough just that they had indoor plumbing.

The house had a staff of about 10 servants. We saw the women's quarters and they looked pretty nice. The men bunked in a dormitory on the second floor of the carriage house. Their rooms are now used for administrative offices. The gardener, who was responsible for the 7.5 acres of grounds, got a separate cottage about the size of a two-bedroom house. The original gardener's son inherited the job when dad died. Part of the deal when Elizabeth gave the house to the University was that he got to stay in the gardener's cottage for the rest of his life as well, which ended up lasting until 2004. He lived on the estate for over 80 years, longer than most of the Congdons.
The gardener's cottage

A real smokehouse
Further up the road we stopped at a smokehouse and picked up some smoked trout and white fish and also some smoked cheddar cheese. I guess these places used to be fairly common but this is the last one on the North Shore. They seemed to be doing a fairly brisk business while we were there.

Antique tug at Two Harbors
Our next stop was in Two Harbors, a nice little town about 30 miles north of Duluth. They have a still-working lighthouse there and a functional harbor where they were loading some kind of big transport vessel with what sounded like either coal or ore of some sort. Anyway, it made a heck of a lot of noise as they dumped it into the ship's hold that you could hear from all the way across the bay. It seemed like a very pleasant little community which is hovering on the brink between being a working town vs a tourist town. I assume tourism will win in the end.

The Two Harbors lighthouse
Gooseberry Falls
Another 12 miles up the highway is Gooseberry Falls State Park. We ate a late picnic lunch out on the lake and were essentially the only ones out there. It was very serene and I only wish I had taken a more comfortable chair out there with me. After lunch we hiked to the middle falls, taking the dogs along to annoy the other tourists. It was a pleasant walk of about a third of a mile and the falls were quite impressive. We were not, however, alone at the waterfall. There were probably 60 or 70 people competing for the same view. We got our requisite photographs and headed back to the car.

Split Rock lighthouse
Our last stop of the day was at the Split Rock Lighthouse. This lighthouse is no longer in service and it turns out the best view of it is from a roadside turnout about a half mile before you reach the road to the lighthouse. There is a state park adjacent to the lighthouse but Minnesota does not own the building itself. A private company gives tours but we did not feel like spending either the time or money just to climb the stairs, so we poked around the state park a bit and then turned around and headed back towards Duluth.

Next week we will be staying in Grand Marais for a few days, which is another 60 miles up the shoreline.  So while we are there we will see the rest of the North Shore up to the Canadian border.

Bonus pics:

Train on display at the old Two Harbors station

The eldest Congdon daughter's room

One of the 16 fireplaces, all for show.  The house had central heating.

The carriage house

Two of the six conveyances in the carriage house, which included two sleighs.

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