Built in 1908 by lawyer and mining industry magnate Chester Congdon, the 7-acre Glensheen estate is on the National Registry of Historic places. The estate is owned and operated by the University of Minnesota-Duluth and open for public tours and private events.
The majestic Glensheen mansion in Duluth has withstood its share of upheaval over the past 106 years: rugged winters, Lake Superior gales, a sensational murder, reputed ghosts, motion picture production crews and throngs of about 60,000 guests a year as the most visited historic home in Minnesota. But nothing has threatened the estate like the record rains and flooding in June 2012.
While sparing the mansion itself, flood waters inflicted severe damage on the grounds and historic designed landscape; toppling masonry, destroying embankments along two creeks, and casting debris and building materials hundreds of feet, some into Lake Superior. Left unabated, continuing erosion from the damaged embankments would have threatened the foundations of the house.
Fortunately, the landmark is in good hands. Kraus-Anderson is construction manager for the Glensheen flood damage restoration project, the largest restoration project ever undertaken at the site.
The project presents an unusual combination of challenges. FEMA provided a significant portion of the funding for the restoration, in conjunction with the Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management. In addition, because of the historic nature of the estate and its two waterways that connect to Lake Superior, a number of agencies have jurisdiction over the site: among them, the State Historic Preservation Office, Army Corps of Engineers, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Department of Transportation and the City of Duluth.
“It’s a very intense accounting and distribution matrix that goes to several sources for approval,” said Jim Litsheim, senior architect for the University of Minnesota, which now owns and operates Glensheen as a historic site and event venue.
Restoration has been handled in two phases over two consecutive summers. Phase I of the project took place September-December 2013.
Much of the restoration work has focused on Tischer Creek, which runs through the property.
“The tricky part is doing work in a nationally-designated trout stream on a historically designed landscape without causing further damage with construction,” said Litsheim. To prevent disruption to creek habitat during spawning season, crews may only work in Tischer Creek between July 1 and September 15, said KA Project Superintendent Wade Engebretson.
“Every effort is being made to leave specific trees, branches, etc. to allow for future cover and forage for the fish and wildlife,” Engebretson said.
Given the site’s environmental and historic sensitivities, much of the work of salvage and cleanup has been done by hand. For example, instead of bringing in heavy logging equipment to remove fallen trees and tons of brush and branches, the decision was made to cut fallen timber and brush into small pieces, which are now being burned on site in close cooperation with fire and emergency services. To prevent false fire alarms, the construction team daily alerts the 911 call center to their activity.
Phase I included salvage and restoration work on the 180-foot London Road brick retaining wall, which was almost completely toppled by the flood. In addition to the bricks, roughly a dozen granite capstones, each weighing 350-400 pounds, had to be hauled up 20 to 100 feet using an excavator, winches/come-alongs and an extendable reach all terrain forklift. Each was retrieved, cleaned and painstakingly pieced back together using historic photos of the wall as reference. The rebuilt wall now has modern reinforced CMU building block interior, with an exterior façade of historic brick; and includes high water flow-through holes to ease stress on the structure in future flood events. Glensheen has endured three or four “500-year floods” during its existence.
Phase I also included cleanup and repairs to Bent Brook, a concrete-and-stone historic designed landscape which was crumbling and had filled with silt. Also included in Phase I was restoration of the brick courtyard, including two deteriorated ornamental iron gates which have now been restored and re-anchored with a modern mechanism structurally compatible to the historical hardware. KA also cleaned and repaired the filtration pond that gathers runoff from the parking lot; and began salvage and repair to the brick serpentine wall adjacent to the main driveway.
“Harbor City Masonry’s ongoing attention to detail, and their desire to really do things the correct and historical way, has been very gratifying,” said Engebretson.
At this writing Phase II is well under way. Work is now being done restoring the historic peninsula overlook in Tischer Creek, and the stone walls along its banks.
The serpentine wall is being rebuilt for additional durability, while in keeping with allowable historic preservation treatments. For protection against groundwater, the existing wall foundation is being reinforced with helical anchors, a cementious parge coating, heated drain tile and a water proofing product.
Glensheen remains in full operation throughout construction, with the KA team taking a proactive role in keeping the public safe and informed with fencing, barricades, and informational signage describing the work that is taking place.
“(civil subcontractor) Ulland Brothers and KA have worked extensively with MNDOT and police and public works in rerouting the road traffic to have enough room to do the construction,” said Litsheim. “They have provided great circulation diversion barriers and also informational signage saying we’re still open.”
Regular progress meetings help keep everyone apprised of updates and progress and next steps. “We all have traded personal cell phone numbers, everyone knows they can call at any time,” said Litsheim.
The construction team is even keeping up with Glensheen’s active social calendar. “We’re mindful of putting away and closing up early on those Fridays so the weddings can move in and set up,” said Engebretson.
“The whole team is a blessing to have,” said Litsheim. Wade just has a way with people and they do a spectacular job for him. Working on a historic property is unique in itself and then to do it with such great sensitivity…they’ve done a stellar job.”
Completion is set for September 2014.