April 29, 1854: Birth of Clara Hesperia Congdon

On this day in 1854, future Duluthian Clara Congdon was born Clara Hesperia Bannister in San Francisco, California. Clara’s parents hailed from New York. Her father, Reverend William Bannister, went to California as a missionary of the Methodist church to set up a college. He founded San Jose Academy (a forerunner of the University of the Pacific) before going to work for California Wesleyan College in Santa Clara—from which his daughter’s name may have derived. When Bannister died in 1871, Clara’s mother Elizabeth brought the family back to New York, moving to Syracuse to be close to her own mother. At age seventeen Clara Bannister enrolled at Syracuse University; so did Chester Congdon. The two fell in love, graduated, eventually married, had a family and moved to Duluth, where Chester struck it big as an attorney for the Oliver Mining Company. Clara and Chester built Glensheen on the shore of Lake Superior as their family estate; it included a boat house that held the family yacht, named Hesperia after Clara’s middle name. Clara, a devout Methodist, was a loving mother, but not demonstrative. She told one grandchild, “In the old days, we didn’t believe  it was proper to fill our children with love and affection. We had to be stoic and teach them to be good sports and overcome all obstacle.” Clara Congdon died July 7, 1950, at age 96. You can read more about here and her family here.

Clara Congdon ca. 1914. (Image: Glensheen Historic Estate)