We have all wanted to escape the Minnesota winters. Some of us are lucky enough to take a trip to Florida for a week to thaw out, but the Congdons were a little luckier with their winter destinations. Chester Congdon and his family had found prosperity in northern Minnesota, through the region’s iron ore and Chester’s law practice. In 1910, Chester Congdon escaped the cold with a trip to Egypt for almost three weeks. Much of the information of the trip came from the trip’s photo album which is on display in the lower level hallway of Glensheen. The album was composed by the Heinn Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which specialized in binders. The company seal can be seen on the inside back cover of the book. The Heinn Company began business in 1855 and is still operated today under the name of Heinn Chapman Company. Other dates and names were provided by Clara Congdon’s personal journals.
With the photos below I have included the original caption that appears in the photo album. These captions are in quotation marks to the left of the photo, or below. Several of the places are spelled differently today, this may not have been an error by the writer, but may also be due to the names changing over time. I have also spelled out or added names when known travelers are present. After a while though, you will begin to recognize the hats and mustaches of the men involved in this journey. They made several stops along their journey, but I will only be highlighting a few of the most interesting.
Chester did not go on this adventure alone; his companions were his son Walter Congdon, George H. Emerson, and George’s son Ralph Emerson. George Emerson was in the business of lumber, and had been one of Chester’s business partners in Washington. Chester left Minnesota and headed to the east coast on February 13th to meet with the group and sail to Egypt. Once they had reached Egypt, at the base of the Nile river, they boarded the Victoria. This boat would carry them up the Nile, and be their vessel for most of their journey. Their entire trip would last from February 21st to March 11th.
After a quick stop in Karnak to see the local temples, Chester and his group made their way up the Nile to their next stop. Luxor was one of the major stopping points of Chester’s trip. They likely stayed at the hotel above. The Winter Palace is still around today and is an historic five star hotel. It was built in 1886, and earned its name for being a favorite retreat for the Egyptian royal family in the winter months.
After visiting the temples in Luxor, Chester and his group crossed the Nile for another adventure. This day trip was through the Valley of the Kings, but is referenced as being on the way to the “Tomb of the Kings.” Above is the Temple of Deir el-Bahari. The photo on the left is the photo taken during Chester’s 1910 trip, on the right is how it looks today. Although credited to Queen Hetesu in the album, the Temple was used as a funerary temple for Queen Hatsheput. Chester visited during the temples excavation, which started in the 1890s. The excavation process would last another twenty five years after the 1910 photo was taken.
Although Chester’s trip did not include many of the more iconic Egyptian pyramids that the country is known for, he did visit several temples and ancient ruins. Above is a carving at the Temple at Kom Ombo. The photo on the left was taken when Chester visited in 1910, the one of the right is what the carving looks like today. Through the restoration process, many of the original pieces have been taken out and replaced with smooth pieces. There is also a large section removed from the upper right hand corner. Although the restoration was likely to remove broken pieces, it loses some of the detail of the original piece.
One of the main themes of the journey were water systems. Chester and Emerson can be seen at quarries, dams, and at different water carrying or draining systems. Several photos containing these items can be found throughout the photo album. This is in part to Chester’s agricultural adventures in Yakima Valley, Washington. He had spent several years working with different forms of irrigation, and was likely observing how the Egyptians used the water from the Nile to irrigate their land. Late in 1910, the Yakima irrigation system, at the families Washington orchards, would undergo it’s final improvement.
Another water feature that Chester spent time visiting was the Aswan Dam, which was under construction at the time. It was originally built in 1902, but was undergoing the process of being raised, which would be concluded by 1912. This construction can be seen in several photos; many of them containing cranes. The Aswan Dam is located about ten miles upstream from the modern day town of Aswan. After the visit to Aswan Dam, Chester and his group began to head back down the Nile. Once they reached Luxor they boarded a train to Cairo on March 4th. Two days later they sailed from Port Said, Egypt and would arrive the next day at Jaffa in Israel.
The American Colony, as it was called when Chester visited in 1910, is today called The American Colony Hotel. Although there have been several more buildings added to the grounds of the Colony, the original building is still there, and is referred to as the “Main House.” The former palace was purchased by an American couple in 1895. They took in their first boarder in 1902. The American Colony eventually would became a haven for western travelers who did not feel their accommodations could be met by other hotels in the area.
Chester and his party spent March 7th through March 11th in Jerusalem, with the exception of a day spent in Bethlehem. They visited many biblical sites and spent some time learning about the customs of the local people. Chester would even spend some time at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
On their final day at the American Colony there was a snow storm. A March snowstorm is nothing of a surprise to people from Minnesota, but for those travelers more than six thousand miles from home, it may have come as a surprise. Chester left the snow in Minnesota, only to find it in Jerusalem.
After March 11th Chester did not race back to Minnesota; he would move on to his next adventure. Chester would meet with his children Marjorie and Robert in Naples, Italy. They were to go on a motor trip through the Italian country together. Clara would later sail on March 20th to meet with Chester and go on a similar motorcar adventure through Naples and Rome.