Chester Congdon (1853 – 1916) was born in Rochester, New York, and educated at Syracuse University before heading to Wisconsin to become a school teacher—but family financial pressures required a higher paying job. He became a lawyer and moved to St. Paul before moving to Duluth in 1892 to partner with William Billson. Congdon sat in for Billson during a meeting with officials of the Oliver Mining Company, who were so impressed they hired Congdon to oversee their land acquisitions on Minnesota’s Iron Range. He made a small fortune working for Oliver, then increased it with his own investments in Minnesota (iron mining), Arizona (copper mining), and Washington State, where he developed the Yakima Valley to irrigate his fruit orchards. In Duluth he built the city’s most famous home, Glensheen, and he served as an executive with the American Exchange National Bank of Duluth, the Marshall-Wells Company, the Gowan-Lenning-Brown Company, and other enterprises. He also served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1909 until his death in 1916 and donated the land that is now Congdon Park and the natural lakeshore along Congdon Boulevard. When he died he was considered the richest man in Minnesota. His obituary read in part, “Not because he was a rich man but because he was a good man with sound instincts and large capacities for service and with an ever increasing will to give his energy and means to wholesome public enterprises the loss of Chester A. Congdon is a great blow to the community, to the state and to the nation.”
Chester Adgate Congdon was born June 12, 1853, at Rochester, New York, and died November 21, 1916, at St. Paul, Minnesota. His father, Sylvester Laurentus Congdon, was a Methodist clergyman. His mother was Laura Jane Adgate Congdon. On the paternal side he is sixth in descent from James Congdon, a Quaker from England who settled in Rhode Island in the first half of the seventeenth century. On the paternal side all ancestors were of English origin. On the maternal side he is a grandson of Chester V. Adgate and Hannah Berger, the latter the daughter of Berger and Jane Van Horn. The Adgate family were from New England and presumed to be of English descent. The Berger and Van Horn families were from the Hudson River Valley and are of Holland origin. Chester Adgate Congdon obtained his education in the public schools of Elmira, New York, after which he attended the East Genesee Conference Seminary at Ovid, New York, and took the degree of A. B. at Syracuse University in 1875. His early occupation was school teaching, which continued for one year. He was admitted to the bar of the state of New York as attorney and counsellor-at-law October 13, 1877, and to the bar of the state of Minnesota, January 9, 1880. He practiced law at St. Paul, Minnesota, from January, 1880 until January, 1892, when he moved to Duluth, Minnesota, and became a member of the firm of Billson & Congdon, which firm was changed November 1, 1893, to Billson, Congdon & Dickinson. On the death of Judge Dickinson the title returned to the original style, Billson & Congdon, which continued until January 1, 1904, at which time both members retired from the forensic profession.
Mr. Congdon entered into various business enterprises and was an officer or director of numerous iron mining corporations, the Calumet and Arizona Mining Company and other copper mining corporations, also the American Exchange National Bank, Marshall-Wells Hardware Company, and Gowan-Lenning-Brown Company in Duluth. He also went into the fruit growing and cattle raising business in the Yakima Valley, Washington. He was assistant United States attorney, District of Minnesota, 1881 to 1886; a member of the House of Representatives, Minnesota Legislature, 1909 and 1911 sessions; a member of the Duluth Charter Commission from October 7, 1903, until his death; and at the time of his death was the Minnesota member of the Republican National Committee. He was a member of various clubs and college fraternities, including Psi Upsilon and Phi Beta Kappa.
Mr. Congdon was married at Syracuse, New York, September 29, 1881, to Clara Hesperia Bannister, the union being blessed with seven children: Walter Bannister, Edward Chester, Marjorie, Helen Clara, John (deceased), Elizabeth Mannering and Robert Congdon.
The following editorial appeared in the Duluth Herald of November 21, 1916:
“In the passing of Chester A. Congdon, Duluth’s and Minnesota’s loss is far greater than many people realize. It is not the loss of Minnesota’s wealthiest man, if Mr. Congdon was Minnesota’s wealthiest man, that counts, for in the hush of death riches have faint voice. It is the rich personality and the human possibilities of the personality that constitute the loss.
“Many, perhaps, knew Mr. Congdon as a man of stern and even rather grim exterior, of distance and aloofness; yet what they saw was not the man at all. Those who really knew him found in him a man of tender heart and warm human sympathies. That misleading exterior was beyond question the product of an unconquerable diffidence, strange as it may seem to many; and it was this same diffidence that kept secret his many beneficences.
“Mr. Congdon was a close student of government and state policies, a foe of waste and inefficiency, a friend of political progress as he saw it, a champion of clean public life and sound government. He was always the good citizen, eager to have his part in every forward movement in directions that he judged to be wise; and his share in the development of better things in public life in this state has been far greater than many people know.
“Not because he was a rich man but because he was a good man with sound instincts and large capacities for service and with an ever increasing will to give his energy and means to wholesome public enterprises the loss of Chester A. Congdon is a great blow to the community, to the state and to the nation.”