Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Tony Dierckens Talks About His New Book Featuring Rare Photos of Historic Glensheen

Duluth's Glensheen Mansion is a highlight for many tourists to this region. The estate is historic on several levels, and for many reasons it's become an emblem of Duluth's history and legacy.

On June 1 Duluth’s Zenith City Press released a new book unveiling rare photos from the early years of its construction and development, titled Historic Glensheen 1905–1930. The book is essentially a photo gallery of the estate, filled with images captured from the time construction began in 1905 until 1930, when the grounds had become lush and full. Many of the photographs (there are 115 in all) were captured in 1909, the year the Congdons first moved in; they show the house newly decorated and the estate landscaped just as Chester Congdon had envisioned, a mix of formal gardens and rustic trail systems. Later photos, taken after Chester’s death, show how Clara Congdon allowed the grounds to grow wild because, it was said, she enjoyed the privacy provided by the natural cover.

The book takes readers on a trip through time and a tour of the house beginning with photographs of the mansion and other buildings under construction between 1905 and 1908. Once inside you will find images of more than half of the mansion’s 39 rooms, including showplace spaces such as the library, living room, and breakfast room as well as the bedroom of every family member. The book then goes outside with images of the boathouse and pier, gardener’s cottage, and carriage house, as well as four greenhouses that have been lost to time. It also tours the estate’s grounds, following Tischer Creek upstream through the estate and into Congdon Park, built on land donated by the Congdons.

I first met Tony Dierckens at the beginning of 2013 and interviewed him here at that time. He's has spent a career in publishing, initially capturing national attention with his Duct Tape book. He has since made a name for himself as a Northland historian, helping to documet and preserve our history and all that it teaches us.

EN: What prompted you to assemble a book featuring photos of the Glensheen?

Tony Dierckens: I have been working with Glensheen for well over a year on another project, a full-color “coffee table” tour of the house and grounds and history of the family accompanied by some historic photos. Last December we decided to hold that project while we have many of the photos reshot. But that left a hole in our publishing schedule, so I asked Glensheen’s director Dan Hartman if they had any more historic images. He and Creative Director Scottie Gordonio went looking, and discovered several caches of photos, most never before seen by the public, from the time construction started until 1930. We knew we had a unique opportunity to show Glensheen in its glory as a family home.

EN: What is the significance of this early Congdon story?

TD: This book is not the history of the Congdon family, but is essentially an extended photo essay showing the home and grounds from the time construction began in 1905 until 1930, 15 years after Chester’s death.

EN: Who will be interested in reading/owning this book?

TD: Those with an interest in Glensheen, the Congdon family, historic architecture, interior design, the Arts & Crafts and Beaux Arts movements, landscape design, Duluth history, etc.

EN: It would seem there are many similar stories (I think here of Fairlawn Mansion) in which we get a glimpse of how the other half lived. Do you see a relationship between the Congdon family history and today’s Occupy Wall Street protests?

TD: Not in the least. It was a complete different time, with completely different issues driving economics. Also, Fairlawn and Glensheen, like the Pattison and Congdon families, actually share very few similarities.

* * * *

The book’s text, written by Duluth author Tony Dierckins, is sparse. “These photos really tell the story of what the Congdons first envisioned for their home and how it changed during its first 20 years,” Dierckins said. “My job was to get out of the way and let the photos do the talking.”

Glensheen will host a book release with author presentation and signing at the estate on June 9, 2015, at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Title: Historic Glensheen 1905–1930
Subtitle: Photographs of the Congdon Estate’s First 25 years
Retail Price: $16.95 Publication Date: June 1, 2015

The book is available locally at the Bookstore@Fitgers as well as Barnes & Noble, and online at Amazon

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