This has been compiled by 300 Clifton Bed and Breakfast the premier Minnesota B&B, in order to distinguish between mansions, and important mansions. Not every big mansion housed an important person, and not every important person lived in a big mansion. Also, sadly, many important mansions have been torn down.
There are other huge mansions, and other important people in Minnesota history, these mansions are the only remaining mansions constructed by people who truly had a huge impact. So, these are the greatest mansions in Minnesota and the great people who lived in them. In order to make the list, the mansion has to be big first and foremost, but it also has to have been lived in my a person of greatness. Big mansions by people who did not have a significant impact, and people of import who did not live in great mansions, did not make the list. Every great accomplishment and every great person must be evaluated in the context of their place in time, and how their accomplishment has endured.
These are the Greatest Mansions in Minnesota and the Important Men who built them:
- James J Hill Mansion, St. Paul Minnesota
- Mayowood Mansion, Dr. Charles Horace Mayo, Rochester, Minnesota
- 300 Clifton Mansion, Eugene J Carpenter Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Alexander Ramsey House, St. Paul, Minnesota
- American Swedish Institute, Swan Turnblad Mansion, Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Glensheen Mansion, the Congdon Family, Duluth Minnesota
James J Hill House, St Paul MN
The James J Hill House is the second largest mansion in Minnesota at 36,500sq ft. The house consists of 44 rooms, and 13 bathrooms. This Minnesota mansion tops this list because of its sheer size and because of the outsize impact James J. Hill had on the Twin Cities and the United States as a whole.
James J. Hill and the Great Northern Railroad
James Hill built the Northern Transcontinental Railroad, the Great Northern Railroad. This earned him the fitting moniker “Empire Builder.” In building the Great Northern, Hill had a focus on making the railroad a viable business, not just a monumental human achievement. The route ran from Minneapolis/ St.Paul to Seattle through the Rocky Mountains in Montana. James J Hill’s focus was to build the West. He turned the sleepy fishing village of Seattle into a significant port city. Also, he moved to establish Glacier National Park to draw tourists, and enticed farmers, miners, loggers and townspeople to settle along the Great Northern Railroad and its spurs. The ruggedness and remoteness of the Northwest he championed made the building of the railroad, and the settling of the land around it a monumental undertaking worthy of acclaim.
Legacy of James J Hill
J.J.Hill certainly ranked in the top 10 richest in the United States. The infrastructure he built changed the American landscape and perspective. James Hill shaped the trajectory of Minneapolis and St. Paul with his political activism. Hill gave to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, including the first piece in their collection pictured here. Courbet, a pioneer in the realism movement of the 1800’s, painted the masterpiece. Most of Hill’s art was donated to MIA after his passing. James Hill also contributed to schools and other civic projects. That being said, James, J. Hill practiced less altruism than anyone else on this list. However, his impact superseded all others.
Wealth of James J Hill
James Hill amassed more wealth than almost anyone else in the world at that time. At his death in 1916, he had $63 million in net worth and $200 million in related assets which is $1.5 billion and $4.5 billion in today’s money respectively.
James J Hill Mansion Minnesota
You can tour James J Hill’s home on Summit Avenue in St. Paul today. The Minnesota Historical Society owns and manages the building today. The Catholic Church liquidated most of the furniture when they owned the mansion for 50 years. Although it makes the house look very bare, the Historical Society refuses to not furnish the house with anything but original furniture.
Note the grand staircase carved by the premier woodworker of that day, John Kirchmayer. James J Hill paid him a dollar an hour, an outrageous amount when other craftsmen earned 17 cents an hour in 1890. Also impressive, the pipe organ soars above a two story skylit gallery once full of art. Both are pictured above.
Some argue this is the largest mansion in Minnesota, but does it really matter?
Mayowood Mansion Rochester, Minnesota
Dr. Charles Horace Mayo, built his Mansion in Minnesota in 1910. The 23,000 sqft, 38 room mansion overlooks the Zumbro River, two lakes and thousands of acres outside of Rochester Minnesota. Dr Charlie fundamentally changed the practice of medicine, and founded the Mayo clinic in Rochester. The culture established in Mayo Clinic endures today, and continues to shape and propel modern medicine.
Founder of Mayo
Two brothers, William James Mayo and Charles Horace Mayo and their father, William Worrall Mayo, M.D., founded what became Mayo Clinic, the premier medical center in the world. The need arose after the tornado of 1883 killed 37 and injured hundreds. The Mayo brothers both served in WW1 and the Clinic saw 1 Million patients in their lifetime.
Dr. Charlie Mayo’s Impact on Medicine
Dr Charles Mayo changed the way the world practiced medicine and Mayo Clinic continues to do the same today. The Mayo family understood and pioneered sterility in the surgery room, a revolutionary concept at the time. Dr Charlie also promoted preventative health, and public health measures instead of reacting to disease. He believed in continuing education for doctors, for comprehensive charting and careful physical exams, all absolutely cutting edge concepts at the time.
Rochester Mayowood Mansion in Minnesota
Mayowood is both a museum celebrating the Mayo family and the accomplishments of Mayo Clinic. It is one of the most informative mansions in Minnesota. The Mayo family lived in Mayowood Mansion Minnesota for two generations from 1911 to 1969. After this time the house has been a museum. Inside the mansion, many personal artifacts from a half century of family travel decorate the rooms. The estate covered 3000 acres (now 10) with working farms and greenhouses. Mayowood Mansion is five stores, with a ballroom and an observatory. The mansion lies outside of town in the country, but is worth the trip.
300 Clifton Mansion Minneapolis, Minnesota
300 Clifton Mansion designed by Edwin Hewitt for Eugene Carpenter is the most important mansion in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Other great families built majestic mansions in Minneapolis, but they have all fallen to the wrecking ball. 300 Clifton boasts 65 rooms over 7 levels and 20,000 sq ft. Originally built in 1887, the Carpenter mansion design refaced and expanded an earlier Queen Anne style home.
Carpenters in Business
Eugene Carpenter asked his father to send him to art school, but Judson Carpenter refused and encouraged Eugene to enter the family lumber business. The Carpenter boy’s strategic marriage to wealthy Merrette Lamb catapulted the Carpenter Lamb Lumber company to the largest in the region, and multiplied their wealth. Although Eugene Carpenter masterfully orchestrated the complicated logistics and financing of a far flung lumber, banking, and railroad businesses, his impact is in the arts and civic responsibility.
Carpenter Changed the Perception of Art
Carpenter used his personal connections, deep understanding of finance and logistics to establish the Minneapolis of Arts in Minneapolis. Eugene Carpenter devised a unique public fundraising campaign which involved a scope of support and creative marketing never seen before. Simultaneously his brother Elbert next door started the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. Through deep systemic change, Eugene turned Minneapolis into an Arts town and put the City on a completely different trajectory than the dirty and hostile manufacturing town of the late 1800s.
His work in Minneapolis rippled out to other cities and helped to change the perspective on both the importance of Arts in Civic life and who could appreciate the arts. Eugene Carpenter said, “I grew up poor and gained an appreciation for the arts. Anyone can.” Minneapolis Institute of Arts celebrated ordinary patrons “wearing flannel shirts, with tussy hair, and smudges on their faces.”
Eugene J Carpenter’s Lasting Impact on Minneapolis and Other Cities
Minneapolis inspired corporations to support the arts which culminated in the 5% club and keystone club. This cultural foundation contributed to Minneapolis being the top philanthropy city in the United States and the World. This has fueled the arts which define Minneapolis. 5% of Minneapolis workforce is in the creative sector, and Minneapolis has the largest theater market outside of New York City. Other municipalities have emulated the work of Eugene Carpenter and have used the arts to increase livability, and in turn industry and commerce.
300 Clifton Expansive Urban Mansion Estate
300 Clifton, designed by Edwin Hewitt, is considered by the AIA the best example in the Twin Cities of Georgian Revival Architecture. Clifton Estate in Minneapolis spans four mansion levels, three carriage house levels, and nearly an acre of downtown Minneapolis property. Original floor plans of the house remain intact with expansive formal rooms, luxurious family bedrooms, servants’ quarters, a forge, hayloft, and five secret passageways. 300 Clifton encompasses five distinct gardens including a formal English water garden.
Top Mansion in Minnesota Today
Today Eugene Carpenter’s historic 300 Clifton Mansion remains the platform for broadcasting the importance of the arts in civic life. The mansion retained its 1900’s glory and is the top destination Minnesota Bed and Breakfast. Tens of thousands of guests have experienced the grandeur of 300 Clifton over the years through tours and living the life of the Carpenter Family by staying at the destination mansion Bed and Breakfast.
Alexander Ramsey Mansion, St Paul Minnesota
As the first Governor of Minnesota, Alexander Ramsey built his mansion between 1868 and 1872 styled after the Washington DC mansions he experienced as a Senator from Minnesota. The Alexander Ramsey Mansion overlooks posh Irvine Park in St. Paul Minnesota. The 11,000 sqft 15 room mansion is the best preserved Victorian Mansion in the United States.
Alexander Ramsey Politician
Alexander Ramsey is the most important politician ever from Minnesota. He was the first governor of Minnesota, but only for a short while. He was soon appointed as a State Senator and went to Washington DC. When he was there in DC the Civil War broke out and Ramsey was the first to commit State troops to the war effort. He was the Secretary of War and the Commissioner of Utah before it was State. Ramsey was a staunch and fiery Republican who fought aggressively against slavery, and after the Civil War fought hard against the Ku Klux Klan and other Democrat institutions that wanted to re-institute or uphold segregation.
Ramsey Mansion Exploratory Video
This is beyond the scope of this work,but Ramsey was such a controversial figure, two issues must be brought up for you to research on your own for a better understanding and to draw your own conclusions about Ramsey. First, his treatment of the Church in Utah is questionable as he pushed for Utah to gain Statehood and rescind polygamy. Second, Ramsey’s conduct with Native Americans in Minnesota is very controversial. Ramsey negotiated treaties with native Americans while he was Territorial Governor. Portions of these treaties were not upheld which contributed to the Dakota War of 1862. His actions before, during and after the Dakota War are certainly controversial today, but must be viewed in the entire cultural context of the time.
Ramsey was primarily a land speculator. He was in Minnesota Territory as the area boomed. Also, he was territorial Governor, then the first State Governor so he was wielding the levers of power over the area. As a politician, his decisions, most controversially with the Native Americans, likely benefited him financially. At the civic level Ramsey contributed immensely to try to improve the lives of Minnesotans, especially in St Paul.
Best Preserved of the Mansions in Minnesota: Ramsey Mansion
Three generations of Ramsey’s lived in the Ramsey Mansion at 265 Exchange St. in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Ramsey’s succeeding generations understood the importance of of Ramsey, so they changed little or Nothing in the mansion. When Alexander Ramsey’s daughter died, she donated the entire mansion and its century old contents to the Minnesota Historical Society. This donation included over 14000 personal effects including everything from letters to furniture. It is a historical treasure trove and it is why the Ramsey Mansion is considered the best preserved Victorian Mansion in the United States
Swedish Institute, the Turnblad Mansion Minneapolis, Minnesota
Turnblad’s Park Avenue mansion has 33 rooms, and the property spans 6 lots on a city block. It took him 4 years, and in today’s money, he spent $50 million building his French Chateau style mansion. The Turnblad Mansion is rumored to be 75,000 sq ft.
Swan Turnblad’s Rise to Wealth
Imagine being a Swedish immigrant in the late 1800’s. Swedes were treated as second class citizens and in general eked out a living at marginal jobs making low wages. Swan Turnblad’s family emigrated to the United States when Swan was 8. At 19 he moved to Minneapolis and worked at a Swedish newspaper printing company. He kept buying its stock until he had controlling interest and made all of his money in that one pursuit. A unique rags to rishes story. It showed that even thought there was discrimination, he had agency and was equal under the law, and he prospered. Turnblad is a truly American story.
The Altruism of the Outsider
But what Turnblad did next is what separates him from other successful industrialists of the Gilded Age. A little like Eugene Carpenter at 300 Clifton Mansion, Turnblad turned his gaze backward to where he had come from and sought to give hope. He built his incredible mansion, to celebrate all Swedes. He built a house that could be a beacon on the hill to all Swedish immigrants. The Turnblad family lived in his house for a few years, then donated the mansion and the newspaper to the American Institute of Swedish Arts, Literature and Science, later called the American Swedish Institute. From then until now, the building has celebrated and preserved Swedish culture.
Swan Turnblad’s Mansion in Minnesota
Little is known about Turnblad, because his mansion was not designed to be a celebration of him. It was designed to show Swedes the unlimited possibilities for them. Turnblad never furnished the entire house, and once his wife died, he lived in an apartment across the street with his grown daughter. The house was designed to be whimsical more than functional. He collected pieces, but also architectural ideas on his travels. The mansion was seen as gouache by his contemporaries, and in a way, that was the objective. He wanted the mansion to be an inspirational fairy-tale castle for American Swedes.
The Glensheen Mansion, Duluth Minnesota
The Congdon Family built the Glensheen Mansion and it is one of the best preserved mansions in MInnesota. It is 27,000 sq ft with 39 rooms in the main mansion sitting on 10 acres of waterfront property on Lake Superior. In today’s dollars the construction cost is approximately $30 million.
Chester Adgate Congdon practiced law in Dultuth at the end of the1800’s. He strategically used information he learned as an insider with his law firm to buy companies and make business decisions. The development of the Iron Range owes much to Congdon. As an industrialist he contributed mightily to Duluth’s economy and the region. As a politician, mayor of Duluth and representative of Minnesota, his legacy is marred for standing on the side of issues which in retrospect do not pass the morality test of today.
Contributions of the Congdons
Congdon’s philanthropic contributions were local. He donated the land where University of Minnesota Duluth stands today. Reciprocally, the U of M runs his mansion as a museum. His namesake park the Congdon park and Zoo was donated by the family and he built the main Duluth Hospital at the time, ST. Luke’s Hospital. Much of the significant philanthropy of the family occurred
Greatness of Glensheen
But the greatness of this house and the legacy of the family primarily lies in the preservation of the mansion. Glensheen Mansion is one of the best, if not the best, preserved examples of Edwardian Era living in the World. The house was lived in and gently updated until the late 1970’s. At that time the U of M began offering public tours of the mansion. What is clear and remarkable about Glensheen, is that it was a house that was used and lived in. Congdon had 7 children, and many of them lived in the house for years, leaving their mark, and their personal touches on rooms and spaces. These remain as a window into a different socioeconomic world and unique era.
300 Clifton Bed and Breakfast
If you would like to learn more about history, mansions, and the people who were shakers and movers, then stay at 300 Clifton Bed and Breakfast, an immersive luxury B&B where you don’t just read about history. You get to touch, feel, and live the history.
It would be nice to include these Mansions in Minnesota:
Semple Mansion in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Van Dusen Mansion in Minneapolis Minnesota
Linden Hill, the Weyerhaeuser Mansion in Little Falls
Joseph Forepaugh’s Mansions on Summit Ave
and many others, but the men who lived in these mansions in Minnesota may have housed industrialists who significantly contributed to the local economy in their time, but their impact was superficial and lacked vision.