Today the road has brought me to Duluth, MN.
I was looking forward to this outing even more than normal. After getting fully vaccinated, I was ready to experience the most normal adventure I had enjoyed since the pandemic began and I wasn’t let down.
I started the journey by taking the scenic route through Fort Dodge where I enjoyed a quick bite to eat at Taco Tico before continuing my drive to my stopping point of Northwood, IA. Cashing in some points, I enjoyed a free night at the Holiday Inn where I was also upgraded to a suite which was much appreciated after a long day of work and driving. After a full night of uninterrupted sleep, I spent the morning puttering around before hitting the road again at 11:30am.
It was a gray day with sporadic, steady rainfall, but it didn’t dampen my spirits and I found myself in the North Shore town of Duluth and A.G. Thomson Bed & Breakfast, owned by Tim and Angie Allen, before I knew it.
I admit to being wowed when I pulled into the mansion’s parking lot. A.G. Thomson is a 1909 Dutch Colonial mansion, but looks absolutely pristine and brand new both inside and out. This property is so meticulously maintained that shoes are left on shelves at the front door.
The inn is absolutely immaculate and has loads of room to spread out with a massive living room, dining room and side porch. Wine is also sold by the bottle and a room under the staircase contains a refrigerator with water, soft drinks and wine (one complimentary glass per guest) along with a variety of snacks and a large DVD library.
The house had been built for William Ryerson for the sum of $17,000 (roughly $492K today) and passed through the hands of a number of prominent Duluth families. The name of the house comes from its second owner, Adam G. Thomson, who had a two story addition added to the rear, built the two story carriage house with a four room dwelling on the upper floor and a tool house.
My room was the Mayor’s Chamber, named for John Fedo who owned the house from 1986 to 1989. Fedo had been the mayor of Duluth and was one of the city’s most controversial figures. He is credited with the renaissance of Duluth’s lakefront, but was also the only mayor in history to be charged and tried for criminal offenses while in office though he was eventually acquitted.
The room contains the same elegance as found in the rest of the house. A queen-sized bed takes up a corner of the room. A tiled gas fireplace is set into one of the walls while the opposite side contains a 2 person whirlpool tub. The floral wallpaper lends brightness to the room and a leather chair and footstool takes up the center of the room where one can watch the TV set on the wall in comfort.
After getting myself set up, I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood. A.G. Thomson is located in the Congdon district AKA the Mansion district. The area practically shouted wealth as I wandered past the million dollar homes while occasionally communing with nature. Deer were plentiful and let me get within a few feet for photos before bounding away. I enjoyed a phone conversation with my best friend, Josh, but eventually called it quits as the late afternoon was becoming a real pea souper and I didn’t need to literally get lost in a fog.
I hopped in the car and made my way to At Sara’s Table/Chester Creek Café for some dinner.
Even without a full vaccination, I would have felt safe visiting this town as Duluth set the bar for social distancing with protocols set in place for local businesses and a strict mask mandate. At Sara’s Table is certainly no exception as seating is set six feet apart.
The bistro reimagines traditional American food and it is quite tasty. I was seated in the library and it does have books you can read. For my dinner I enjoyed a hearty Rachel with fries and tried a cream ale with has the smoothness of a black beer, but lacks the bitterness. After my fine meal, I returned to the inn where I organized photos and took a long whirlpool bath before collapsing on the softest mattress I have ever lay upon and didn’t crack an eye until morning.
At breakfast I met Chris and Jessie Peterson and enjoyed some conversation with them while enjoying a repast of chocolate chip muffin, warm butternut squash soup, herb and black pepper scrambled eggs, sweet potato mash and French Toast with a blueberry compote. A truly fine and filling meal which gave me the energy I needed to visit Glensheen.
Glensheen was the home of Chester and Clara Congdon and their family. Chester was a lawyer and investor who was one of the first millionaires of Duluth. He had Glensheen built on a 22 acre tract of land located by Lake Superior for the princely sum of $854,000 in 1908 (modern day equivalent of $22 million). The Jacobean style mansion contains a jaw dropping 39 rooms and the property also contains a boathouse, gardener’s cottage, carriage house, tennis court and a stone arch bridge built over Bent Creek.
In 1968, the property was given to the University of Minnesota-Duluth by Elisabeth Congdon through a life estate and it continues to run the property to this day. Tragically, Elisabeth Congdon’s life was cut short when she was killed by her son-in-law, Roger Caldwell. It was theorized that the crime was committed so Elisabeth’s daughter, Marjorie (charged with & acquitted of the murder), could obtain her $8 million inheritance of which he was to receive $2.5 million. Caldwell would end up accepting a plea deal for second degree murder, but recanted his guilt in his suicide note. He never received the money.
I was quite fortunate to get a last blast of Christmas as Glensheen was still decorated for the Christmas season. Twenty-five Christmas trees and a plethora of decorations adorned the mansion. For social distancing purposes, the tours are self-guided, but placards containing the tour information are present at every stop and an audio tour can be had courtesy of the Glensheen app.
The mansion has been lovingly maintained and I was floored by the luxury in which the family lived.
The Congdons were also noted for their charity and generosity. Most notable was that the servants were permitted to enjoy the same menu as that of the family at meal times which was not the tradition of the day. Chester was also known as a dutiful and loving husband who kept a spare room that he could retire to on nights he worked late so he wouldn’t disturb his wife and gifting her with $14K worth of pearls each Christmas.
All in all, I spent 2 hours at Glensheen before returning to the inn to post photos and begin writing.
For the first time since the pandemic started, I would finally attend worship services instead of taking in an online service. A six minute walk took me to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary. The chapel is gorgeous and I enjoyed a pleasant service.
Then it was time for a little dinner and I opted for one of the inn’s favorite restaurants, Tavern On the Hill.
Tavern On the Hill is a bar/restaurant and must be quite popular as it was packed to socially distant capacity. I ended up taking a seat at the bar where I enjoyed a Thai Chicken Tender Melt. The sandwich is served on sourdough bread with the chicken glazed in a Thai curry sauce and covered with swiss cheese and bacon. I contentedly nibbled away on the sandwich while reading my latest volume of Sherlock Holmes pastiches. Once satiated, I returned to the inn for a quiet night of writing, reading and another whirlpool bath.
Sunday morning found me polishing this article a bit before making my way to breakfast. Today’s repast consisted of a dark chocolate raspberry scone with fruit plate and a main course of spinach artichoke baked potato, grape arugula salad and mushroom & asparagus cheese encrusted quiche. I spent a bit conversing with Chris & Jessie who told me about their day and I spoke a bit with Kirsten, the innkeeper, who regaled me with a story of how she and a friend traveled from Alaska to Duluth. I also got to meet with Tim, one of the owners, who had once lived in Omaha when he was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base.
And all too soon, it was over. But I had an amazing time here in Duluth and it was a much appreciated return to normalcy. Rest assured, I will be back in the area again, possibly for my annual Christmas review. But take the time to experience the peace and tranquility of Duluth and enjoy a night or two at A.G. Thomson House. As an ornament says at the second floor, you’ll enter as a stranger, but leave as a friend and you’ll enjoy some world class dining and luxury.
Until the next time. . .happy travels.