A MASTERPIECE OF VICTORIAN ARTISTRY
William Culbertson moved to Indiana seeking a new life and eventually became one of the richest men in the state. His mansion stands as an example of the tastes, ideals and lifestyle of people during the late 1800s.
With its hand-painted ceilings, carved staircase, marble fireplaces and elaborate plasterwork, the Culbertson Mansion reflects the affluence of a man once considered to be the wealthiest in Indiana. In 1867, William S. Culbertson spent about $120,000 to build his grand home in New Albany.
The three-story, Second-Empire mansion encompasses more than 20,000 square feet and contains 25 rooms. The facade, east elevation, and west elevation all feature semi-circular bays, allowing plenty of light into the rooms. Built by the brothers William and James Banes, it was, by all accounts, one of the most striking homes on Main Street.
No expense was spared in decorating the interior of the home. The family hired artists to paint the designs on the walls, ceilings and cornices of the first and second floors. Artists used the technique of trompe l’oiel in several rooms to mimic paneling, molding or other textured surfaces. Special tools were used to create the look of wood graining. Many of the floors were hand-painted with this “faux bois” graining. Other rooms were covered with wall-to-wall carpets.
In 1964, Historic New Albany purchased the home and, in 1976, it was accepted as a state historic site. The Culbertson Mansion represents the lifestyles of the Victorian fortune-makers as well as the lifestyles of the servant staff.
William S. Culbertson
At age 21, William S. Culbertson left his hometown of New Market, Pennsylvania, to seek his fortune in Indiana. Settling in New Albany, he found employment as a clerk in a dry goods store. Culbertson possessed exceptional business sense and energy and, in 1854, started his own utility company, eventually becoming a prosperous, independent businessman. In 1868, Culbertson retired from the dry goods business to invest his money in new ventures, including the Kentucky-Indiana Railroad Bridge Company.
Culbertson invested much of his wealth in New Albany. He involved himself in civic affairs; funded and supervised the construction of the Culbertson Widows Home; served as a Trustee of the First Presbyterian Church; and founded the Cornelia Memorial Orphans Home, named for the second of his three wives. Culbertson was widowed twice and married for the third time at age 70.
He died in 1892, at the age of 78, achieving a net worth of $3.5 million dollars — about $61 million in today’s economy. William, his first two wives, and several of his children are buried in New Albany’s Fairview Cemetery.
Restoration of the mansion
The Culbertson family sold the house and its furnishings in 1899 and, over the following decades, the passage of time and changes in ownership left their mark on the mansion. When the state of Indiana took over the house in 1976, much of it would have been unrecognizable to the family. The state started exterior renovations in 1980 and, shortly afterward, the staff and the Friends of Culbertson Mansion began working to restore the original interior.
Restoration requires careful analysis of the remaining materials so that the artists and craftspeople involved can re-create the originals as accurately as possible. Textiles such as carpeting and window coverings are chosen for their appropriateness to the time period. In some cases, historic photographs are invaluable, as in the rebuilding of the first floor veranda and the re-creation of the etched-glass panel in the front door.
The Friends continue to raise funds for restoration and other projects around the mansion through annual special events. In addition, the Friends have received many generous grants from local foundations with an interest in preservation. Today, visitors to the mansion can see the results of these restoration efforts, as well as the works-in-progress.
Culbertson Mansion is open:
January - March
Monday - Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Weekends by appointment only.
April - December
Tuesday - Saturday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday, 1p.m. - 5p.m.
Closed on Mondays
Tours begin at the mansion’s front door; please ring the bell and wait for a guide to assist you. Admission fees will be collected at the conclusion of the tour, in the Gift Shop.
|Children under 3||FREE|
Indiana State Museum members and members of other State Historic Sites Friends Groups get FREE admission and a 10 percent discount in the gift shop!
*Child: ages 3 through 12
*Senior: age 60 and older
Group/School Tours: Special rates are available for groups of 10 or more and for school groups. Call 812.944.9600 to schedule your group.
DIRECTIONS AND PARKING
Where to park
Parking is available on Main and 10th Streets. Handicapped parking is available in the circular driveway behind the mansion; please call if you need to use the handicapped lift or if you need other assistance.
Kick off Derby Week at the Culbertson Mansion. Enjoy light hors d’oeuvres and cocktails while learning about how Sam Culbertson, a former president of Churchill Downs, helped shape the race we know today. Guests may also show off their stylish side by entering the Derby Hat Contest.
Kick off the summer season at one of the state’s finest historic homes. In a community partnership with the New Albanian Brewing Company, the Culbertson Mansion continues the home’s Garden Party tradition, featuring a talk on local history, live music & entertainment, a cash bar and light refreshments – all in true Culbertson style.
Funeral Murder Mystery
This Murder Mystery takes place in 1892 with the death of William S. Culbertson. As people pay their last respects at Mr. Culbertson’s wake, there is great speculation about “who will inherit what” from one of the richest men in Indiana. Little did anyone know that lawsuits would be filed after the reading of his last will and testament, and as tempers flare, greed can always lead to murder. Advance payment & reservations are required. Guests can enjoy heavy hors d’oeuvres and an interactive history experience.
EDUCATION EVENTS & STANDARDS
AT CULBERTSON MANSION
William Culbertson moved to Indiana seeking a new life and eventually became one of the richest men in the state. The Culbertson Mansion is a reminder of the tastes, ideals and lifestyle of people during the late 1800s.
Academic topics covered:
- Decorative Arts
- Late 19th Century Life
- Servants and class structure
- Historic Preservation
Grades K – 12
Culbertson School Group Tour
Tour features William Culbertson’s rise from a dry goods clerk to the leading entrepreneur in New Albany; philanthropy, community, class structure and family life of the late 1800s; French Second Empire architecture and decorative arts of the
Grades K – 12
Culbertson Education Outreach
You may request speakers in historical
Grades K – 12
Free Insights Curriculum Kits
Available only for local pickup directly from the Culbertson Mansion. Available kits include Cornelia's Victorian Insight Curriculum Kit, Architecture Insight Curriculum Kit, Culbertson Insight Curriculum Kit (1850-1880).