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Minnesota’s Glensheen shining in bid for return tourists

Millionaire Chester Congdon built Glensheen mansion to foster his thriving iron-mining business. The Minnesota mansion was started in 1905 and finished in 1908.

BRIAN PETERSON, MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE/TNS

By PAM LOUWAGIE | Star Tribune (Minneapolis) | Published: February 17, 2017

Millionaire Chester Congdon built Glensheen mansion to foster his thriving iron-mining business. The mansion was started in 1905 and finished in 1908.

Just a few years ago, the historic Glensheen mansion perched on Lake Superior’s North Shore struggled to lure tourists through the door.

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 again and again. It has worked so well that recently, Glensheen was recognized as Minnesota’s Visitor Attraction of the Year for 2016 by Explore Minnesota, the state’s tourism promotion office.

The Duluth estate’s offerings now include a popular nighttime flashlight tour, elaborate holiday displays and summer concerts on its pier that juts into the lake.

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, too, from $693,680 in fiscal 2013 to $1,419,868 in year 2016, 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.

“Restoration and preservation is still a huge priority of ours,” Pederson said. “All of the excess revenue that we’ve made has gone right back into the estate.”

Glensheen is asking for state funding 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.

This month, they’re hosting talks on how to better use social media, playing on Glensheen’s attitude encouraging tourists to take and post photos of the property while they’re visiting. It complements Glensheen’s social media strategy, which grew its Facebook followers from less than 10,000 to 40,000 over three years.

In March, the estate will host local musicians for acoustic concerts in the mansion’s lower level. In June, visitors will be invited to beer garden Wednesdays, hearkening back to the 1890s when the property hosted a beer garden before the house was built.

Pederson said the estate staff is concentrating on “giving people reasons to come back to Glensheen and not just making it a once in a lifetime visit.”

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