Cotton Mansion events invite public into Duluth’s rich history – Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — The historic home of Joseph Bell Cotton located in the Congdon Park neighborhood has received quite the facelift since

Mike Schraepfer of Heirloom Property Management bought it for $1.43 million

in summer 2022.

Under the ownership of Ken and Kimberly Aparicio,

the mansion at 2309 E. First St. served exclusively as a full-service bed and breakfast for 24 years. The property was previously owned by the University of Minnesota Duluth and housed its arts department in the 1960s.

Only recently has the historic home been opened to the public through various events — all tying back to its earlier years.

Cotton Mansion

Built in 1906, the historic home of Joseph Bell Cotton is located in the Congdon Park neighborhood in Duluth.

Jed Carlson / Duluth Media Group

In addition to an Easter brunch Sunday, there’s also a Scandinavian Migration dinner on the books. As part of a series, Chef Jeffrey Zervas will be cooking up 20th century Nordic fare to pay homage to the Finnish, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish immigrants who helped build Duluth.

Other upcoming events include an interactive prohibition-themed murder-mystery game, a Mother’s Day brunch and an Italian Renaissance dinner.

“There was a great opportunity there to bring history into Duluth to share this gorgeous space that has been closed to the public before, and just really create something special for the community,” said Kirsten Mason, events director at Heirloom Vacation Rentals for the Cotton, Barnum and Sellards mansions in Duluth.

Entry to mansion.

Guests who enter the Cotton Mansion wander back into the history of the home of Joseph Bell Cotton, built in 1906.

Jed Carlson / Duluth Media Group

All the properties are owned by Schraepfer, Heirloom’s president, and managed through his rental company.

Built with an Italian Renaissance style in 1906 and completed in 1908, the Cotton Mansion boasts a grand exterior with a more opulent interior. The steel and concrete structure is softened with decorative wood and ornate details.

Dining table ready for Easter brunch.

The dining room is set up for an Easter event.

Jed Carlson / Duluth Media Group

“This property was built at the same time as


and both of them were attorneys,” said Mason. “This being the second-largest; that being the largest.”

Cotton made his name working as a young corporate law attorney for the Merritt lumber and mining industry magnate family and later switched sides to represent Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller during a lawsuit against the Merritts in an attempt to maintain ownership of their mining lands on the Iron Range in the days of the robber barons, according to the Duluth Preservation Alliance.

Staircase in mansion.

The grand staircase leads to the second floor.

Jed Carlson / Duluth Media Group

“Maintaining a place like this, introducing people to this way of living, this style of private home,” Mason said, “is a little bit more eye-opening to people, and it really kind of drives the historical significance home to why the world is structured the way it is.”

A symbol of Cotton’s status, the 11,700-square-foot mansion was merely a “starter home” for the family, and eventually their summer home when they moved to New York.

Library in mansion.

Guests can enjoy the library of Joseph Bell Cotton.

Jed Carlson / Duluth Media Group

“Cotton was, I believe, in his late 30s when they built this house,” Mason said. “Just kind of goes to show the attorneys in the area maybe had a bit more sway and play within the overall community, and the way business was run.”

The Cottons were “big on entertainment,” so Heirloom is bringing that element back. The first Cotton Ball was held last year, essentially recreating the weeklong neighborhood celebrations hosted by the Cottons each summer in the early part of the 20th century.

Manager talks about mansion.

Kirsten Mason, assistant manager at Heirloom Vacations, speaks about upcoming events at the Cotton Mansion.

Jed Carlson / Duluth Media Group

The property is available for personal, family and corporate gatherings of all sizes. The mansion offers in-house catering and has a beer and wine license for an all-inclusive setup. There are also full audio and video capabilities for meeting use.

Now operating as a boutique hotel, there are 10 lodging units, including a 1,700-square-foot carriage house. Nearly all guest rooms have been remodeled, and some were added under its new owner.

New room in mansion.

The recently remodeled Speakeasy Suite.

Jed Carlson / Duluth Media Group

Last renovated in 1998, some of the spaces in the mansion had become dated and fallen into different states of disrepair, Mason said.

Most recently renovated was the basement level, which had served as the former owner’s private gym. It has transformed into the Speakeasy Suite.

The studio-style vacation rental unit features a full kitchen, living and dining areas, as well as an exquisitely tiled bathroom with a walk-in shower and large soaking tub. A Murphy bed will soon be added.

Bathroom at mansion.

A tiled bathroom awaits guests in the Speakeasy Suite.

Jed Carlson / Duluth Media Group

Historically accurate elements from the era are sprinkled throughout the hotel, mixed with other modern amenities. For example, the new Speakeasy Suite showcases a railroad cart from the early 1900s that was repurposed as a coffee table as well as a framed television that doubles as artwork when turned off.

“Some of it is modeled to look that way. Some of it is real vintage,” Mason said. “You still have the historical comfort of the place without it feeling like you can’t touch anything.”

Learn more about Cotton Mansion lodging and events at

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