Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site

I typically find historical sites managed by the Indiana State Museum to be wonderful places to tour. Docents tend to be passionate about the people and history attached to the site, and it shows.

The Culbertson Mansion was a bit different. Maybe my timing was off.

I showed up, hoping to snag the first tour of the day. Normally these historic sites are buzzing with docents. Nobody was around. That was not a good sign.

A docent did eventually appear but indicated that today was going to be a day of school children. Did I mind having a tour with children? Not so pleasant images filled my head. Well, she volunteered, perhaps she could give me a quick 30 minutes tour.

I was both disappointed and thankful. Disappointed because Culbertson Mansion was well out of my way; I likely would never be in the area again. Thankful because she was willing to give me a tour, albeit an abbreviated one.

And off we went on a speed tour, ever cognizant that busses of children could show up at any moment.

The Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site in New Albany is just down the Ohio River from the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site in Madison. Both families moved to the area around the same time to make their fortunes in similar ways.

James Lanier‘s (1800-1881) father established a dry good store. James Lanier himself made his money in banking and railroads. Similarly, William Culbertson (1814-1892), slightly younger than James Lanier, made his money in dry goods and then in investments (gas, water, infrastructure, railroads).

Their houses are completely different. The Lanier Mansion is Greek Revival style. The inside is a bit restrained though the carpets and wallpaper are heavily designed as was the style of the times. The Culbertson Mansion is Second Empire style. The inside is over the top—gilded and ornate.

William Culbertson moved to New Albany in 1835 and acquired his initial wealth by 1860. His wife Eliza died in 1865, leaving behind five children. In 1867, he married Cornelia and had two children with her. Cornelia died in 1880. In 1884, he married Rebecca.

The house was built from 1867 to 1869 for his second wife, Cornelia. The 20,000 square foot house cost $125,000. (The lot itself cost $5,000.) After William died in 1892, Rebecca auctioned off the house and contents to a John McDonald for $7,100 (!). (I am not sure why Rebecca auctioned off the house and contents for so little money. William was worth $3.5 million when he died. But an economic panic lasted from 1893 to 1897. Perhaps the family was in dire financial straits due to the economic panic?)

When McDonald died after WWII, his daughter sold the mansion to the American Legion, who made numerous changes to the house. The mansion continued to change hands, and in the 1960s was in danger of demolition. In 1964, Historic New Albany purchased the mansion for $24,000 and turned it into a museum. In 1974, the mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1976, Historic New Albany gave the mansion to the state, and the mansion became part of the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites.

Given its history and the numerous owners, not much of the original furnishings remain. The inside of the house is a bit worse for wear but slowly the Indiana State Museum is restoring it—now in its 36th year (!) of restoration. Restoration has been completed on the first and second floors but stops at the top of the stairs where McDonald walled off the third floor. (In some respects, walling it off helped preserve the third floor.)

The walls and ceilings sport elaborate designs. However, when the Indiana State Museum acquired the property, layers of paint covered the walls. After removing the paint during the restoration, experts discovered the original designs. To protect the original designs, the renovators recreated the designs on top of boards that they placed over the original designs to protect them. So the designs you see on the walls and ceilings are not originals but conservation creations of the original designs.

The docent quickly took me through the rooms. The informal parlor contains a piano and harp, much like the Lanier Mansion. The fireplace in the dining room is Italianate marble. (All the fireplaces downstairs are original. Only one fireplace upstairs is original.) The dining room includes original gas lamps. (And I spied a stereoscope, ever-present in houses of this era.)

The formal parlor is left unfurnished because it is rented out for events. The study behind it includes a solarium.

I was warned that the rooms upstairs changed functions over the years. (For example, the morning parlor was a bedroom in a previous incarnation.) The first restored bedroom that we saw is for daughter Blanche. The second bedroom at the front of the house is a suite of rooms for daughter Annie, called the “blue room” in documents about the house. The master bedroom, the “rose room”, includes a fireplace with a large wooden mantel and scenic tiles—identical to the mantle in the study downstairs.

(Side note: I discovered that Blanche was known as “Scandalous Blanche Culbertson”. She fell in love with a man from the circus who was a womanizer to boot. She stood to lose her inheritance if she married this man, Leigh Hunt French, “a scalawag of the first water”. Her father William Culbertson died in 1892 and in 1893 Blanche married Leigh. She moved to New York and successfully sued for her part of the inheritance. On a separate note, Blanche was a suffragette and the President of the Equal Franchise League of New Rochelle.)

The third floor, which McDonald had walled off, really did feel like a time capsule. The children’s playroom would have been on one side and the servants’ quarters on the other. Only one room has been staged as a bedroom of sorts. Behind it I was shown the servant stairs and a small lattice room. (The walls of the room, or closet, are made of lattice work, of the sort that you might use to train climbing plants.) What was that? The room where they locked the children when they misbehaved. Excuse me? Yup. This was the time out room for the children. I stood dumbfounded. Some practices just do not age well.

The house required many servants in order to function. None of servants were indentured servants (as opposed to the indentured servants at the Jeremiah Sullivan House and Lanier Mansion in Madison). All were paid weekly wages plus room and board. In fact, one servant, Mary Ann, served at the mansion her entire adult life and the Culbertsons paid for her funeral.

The tour guide actually stressed how benevolent Culbertson was. In 1873, he established a home for widows a few houses down from the mansion. His will stipulated that the financial support of the home would continue after his death. In 1882, he also built a home to house and educate orphans. (One historic marker pointed out that he insisted that inhabitants follow strict rules. Ah, charity with strings.)

Due to the hurried nature of the tour, I wasn’t able to pepper the tour guide with my normal quota of questions. Given the close proximity to the Confederate south, I had to ask: what side did his sons fight for? (One of Jeremiah Sullivan’s sons presumably fought for the south; the other fought for the Union.) Only William Arthur was old enough to fight. He paid for a replacement. Ah, one of those. To be part of the wealthy definitely has its benefits.

Dr. William Hutchings’ Office and Museum

During my visit to Dr. William Hutchings’ Office and Museum, I felt a bit discombobulated.

The tour was a mishmash of bits that I had to cobble together. I arrived when a tour was in progress and tried to follow along. Then when that tour ended, I started back at the beginning, got partially through it when more people showed up, and the tour guide started all over again.

Even in spite of this, the explanation of Dr. Hutchings’ life and the buildings was a bit non-linear. My confidence in the information took a dive when the tour guide mentioned that the organization and she had told people misinformation for years. (For example, they relayed that the room we were standing in was an examination room and the floor was painted red so that bloodstains wouldn’t be so noticeable. In fact, after they reviewed documentation about the building and Dr. Hutchings’ practice, they discovered that the good doctor made house visits. He never saw patients in this room. The room was in fact his dispensary.)

But I am getting a bit ahead of myself.

I was visiting Dr. Hutchings’ office in Madison, Indiana, down by the Ohio River. This Greek Revival building was constructed between 1838 and 1848 by Michael Bright, who used it as his law office. (Side note: It turns out that after Michael Bright came to Madison, he read law with Judge Sullivan. Yeah, that Judge Sullivan—Jeremiah Sullivan. Early Indiana was a small world.)

Histories show that Michael Bright retired and moved to Indianapolis in 1850. (Another side note: Michael Bright’s brother was Jesse Bright, a Southern sympathizer, a landowner and slave owner in Kentucky, and an Indiana state senator. The good senator was expelled for addressing Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederate States in a letter where he suggested that the South should buy guns from Indiana gun manufacturers (!). After his expulsion, Thomas A. Hendricks, whom we met (sort of) at the Jeremiah Sullivan House, replaced him as senator in 1863. Early Indiana was a very small world.)

At some point, the building became the law office of Judge John. R. Cravens. (Cravens married a daughter of J.F.D. Lanier. Early Indiana was a very, very small world.)

But back to Dr. Hutchings.

In 1873, the doctor started practicing in Madison. In 1883, he bought this building that Michael Bright built, using the bottom two rooms as an office and dispensary. The front room—the office— has a small coal-burning stove. The back room—the dispensary—has an herb cabinet (which looks suspiciously like a card catalog to those who remember such things) and floor-to-ceiling shelves housing all manner of bottles still containing medicines.

The doctor was apparently very interested in electricity and electrotheraphy. (As a student, he saw Asiatic cholera up close during the 1849 Asiatic Cholera Epidemic along the Kentucky River. In his thesis at the Indiana Central Medical College, he theorized that Asiatic cholera was caused by electrical phenomena in the atmosphere.)

The dispensary room holds several medical devices for electrotheraphy. One is an electro-magnetic machine. I had a vague uneasiness about this. (Before dying of cancer in 2008, a friend was approached by someone who claimed that an electro-magnetic machine could cure him. Many years ago, the FDA banned electro-magnetic machines, and advocates of them were tried for fraud. I never expected to be looking at a 19th century ancestor of this machine.)

The upstairs contains two small boarding rooms. One of the rooms houses a painting by William McKendree Snyder. Apparently the doctor acquired several paintings by Snyder. (Snyder paid the doctor for his services in paintings.) The docent seemed amazed that I did not know of William Snyder—a famous Madison painter. (Seeing how I enjoy art and have encountered the works of many famous Hoosier artists, I was surprised that I had not encountered what was apparently so famous a Hoosier artist. Perhaps he is not so famous, or perhaps my familiarity with Hoosier art is not so wide. Probably the latter.)

Dr. Hutchings practiced medicine from his office in Madison until his death in 1903. (Side note: He is buried in Fairmount, Indiana, home and burial place of James Dean.) After his death in 1903, his daughter packed up everything in the office—equipment, bottles of medicine, and patient notes—and closed the office. The office became a time capsule, opened only in 1969 when the doctor’s granddaughter gave the building and its contents to Historic Madison, Inc.

Dr. Hutchings and his family (11 children—only 8 of which survived to adulthood) lived in a house next to the office and dispensary. This house was built in 1840. The Hutchings family owned it from 1882 to circa 1965. The house was torn down by the King’s Daughter’s Hospital between 1969 and 1972 to build, of all things, a parking lot (!).

At some point the hospital got rid of the parking lot and moved a historic building built circa 1840—around the same time period as the house that the Hutchings inhabited—to the same spot as the original Hutchings house. In 1999, the hospital gave the land and house to the Historic Madison, Inc. to serve as an extended museum for Dr. Hutchings.

The museum contains exhibits about different medical devices and displays information about Civil War era medicine, illness, and lives lost. One of the rooms also displays artifacts about his daughter Lida (1878-1968), who was an avid photographer and worked among the Sioux (Lakota) in the 1890s on the Lakota Sioux Reservation. (The destruction of Sioux culture is on display; Sioux children were given to white families to be raised as white.) Lida’s cameras, glass negatives, and postcards are on display.

In one respect, Dr. Hutchings’ Office and Museum was the complete opposite of the Jeremiah Sullivan House. The latter is the original Sullivan house and includes a few belongings. But Sullivan was not a hoarder and the house passed through different hands before reaching Historic Madison, Inc. In contrast, Dr. Hutchings kept everything, his daughter carefully stored its contents, and his granddaughter bequeathed it to Historic Madison, Inc. I have a feeling that Historic Madison, Inc. will be discovering new things from Dr. Hutchings’ archives for decades to come.

Jeremiah Sullivan House

I realized at the Jeremiah Sullivan House that I really do not know the movers and shakers in early Indiana. I walked into the Jeremiah Sullivan House blissfully unaware of Jeremiah Sullivan (1794-1870) (and pretty much walked out still ignorant of his importance).

Sullivan was a Virginia lawyer moving west as the country expanded. On his way to Louisville, someone persuaded him that he wanted to go to Madison instead of Louisville. At the time, Madison was devoid of lawyers. Perfect for a lawyer wanting to hang out a shingle.

Sullivan settled in Madison and went on to become a state legislator, an Indiana Supreme Court Justice (1836-1846), and a Jefferson County judge (1869-1870). He also helped found Hanover College and the Indiana Historical Society.

His 1818 Federal-style home was the first brick mansion built in the Northwest Territory. It isn’t clear to me what happened to the house after his death in 1870. At one point, it was a bed and breakfast. In the 1960s, it became a museum. (Our docent talked about accompanying her mom as a child when her mom was a docent at the house.)

The house is in decent shape but given that the building changed hands, little of the furniture is original to Sullivan.

The house consists of three floors and a basement. The first floor includes a front parlor, an office behind it, a dining room to the side, and a kitchen behind it. The docent pointed out a few items that Jeremiah’s son Algernon presumably sent from New York.

The office contains a curious bookshelf with glass doors. Noting that lawyers couldn’t always rely on courthouses to have the books they needed for a case, our docent mentioned that lawyers had to take their own books. She pointed to the handles on either side of each shelf of the bookshelf. You could literally remove a shelf of books and haul the entire shelf to court with you. (Seems like there had to be an easier way to haul books to court.)

In the dining room, the docent pointed out the dishes in the cabinet—Sullivan’s dishware from the Indiana State Museum. She also noted the silver on the sideboard—a gift from Governor Hendricks. I was confused. (The only Governor Hendricks I knew was Thomas Hendricks who was governor 1873-1877. Later I learned that his uncle, William Hendricks, was the third governor of Indiana from 1822-1825. Witness my ignorance of early Indiana history!)

More confusing is the placard in the room that indicated the silver was a gift of Frances Hendricks Ketcham, a descendent of Hendricks. So…was the silver gifted long after Sullivan was dead by either Governor Thomas Hendricks or his descendent Frances Hendricks Ketcham? Or was it a gift from Governor William Hendricks, a contemporary of Sullivan’s?

The kitchen is, well, not the real kitchen. (What?) It was a serving kitchen, where food was brought before being served. Oh, kind of like a staging area or a butler pantry. Interesting. And totally believable given the small hearth.

The docent pointed out a few items. A wooden contraption by the window was a lunchbox from the 1800s. And on a water bench sat the strangest looking homemade device—three square blocks of wood that could be lifted. Any ideas, she asked us? Nope. It was three connected mouse traps. The little rodents would unsuspectingly enter the wood box and trigger the blocks of wood to fall on them, crushing them. (At this point, I am wondering why they didn’t just get some cats.)

The Sullivans used indentured servants. I winced. Indentured servants in early Indiana were just another form of slavery. (Slavery was illegal according to the 1816 Indiana Constitution. However, people got around that legal technicality by forcing slaves to sign lengthy contracts of indentured servitude. In 1821, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled against the indentured servitude of Mary Clark, which helped contribute to the end of indentured servitude in Indiana.)

No, no. The docent insisted it wasn’t slavery. The indentured servants that Sullivan used were apprentices. When they were freed, they were given two sets of clothes, money, and references. (I heard similar stories at other historical sites.)

Well, I thought, indentured servitude did exist as separate from slavery (witness early immigrants who paid for their passage to the New World with servitude limited to a certain number of years). Given some southern Indiana support for slavery and the use of forced indentured servitude as slavery under a new name, it is really hard to know if the Sullivan servants were servants or slaves.

The docent then sent us downstairs to look around. (She doesn’t do stairs.) Two rooms are open: the actual kitchen (with a larger hearth) and a storeroom full of every sort of implement you can imagine. We walked through the storeroom trying to determine what different items were.

The house consists of two other floors. The second floor has only three bedrooms: the master bedroom, one for Jeremiah’s parents, and one for the children.

The third floor is set up as an exhibit area with some information about the family. One woman on the tour discovered an oddity in the family tree. The daughter Charlotte was married to a man with the same last name. (How convenient! She didn’t have to change her name.) Was it just a coincidence or were they distantly related?

In the information about the family, I learned—though it shouldn’t have been a surprise—that the son Algernon fought for the South. (Note: I have found no evidence of this; Algernon did defend Confederates as a lawyer in New York. He was a southern sympathizer and was married to a southerner.) One of his other brothers fought for the Union.

In 1988, Historic Madison Inc., which owns the house, created replicas of the smoke house and bake house that existed out back. A little square brick-lined area in the ground near the house is where milk could be stored to keep it cool.

If you go, be sure to stand next to the stairwell and look up. You’ll get a really cool view of the three stories of stairs.

TV movie review: Hoosiers: The Story of Indiana–Split Rails to Steel Rails

Hoosiers: The Story of Indiana is a PBS documentary series based on the book by famous Indiana historian James H. Madison. The documentary series is split into four parts: Birth of a State, Split Rails to Steel Rails, the 20th Century, and the Next Indiana.

Split Rails to Steel Rails covers the period of time from the Civil War to World War I and focuses on war, business, and culture. The documentary is narrated by Madison and includes interviews with various people, like the Editorial Page Editor of the Northwest Indiana Times (Marc Chase) and a retired Chief Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court (Randall J. Shepherd).

War seems to hold a special place in the Hoosier state, and Indiana has more than its share of war memorials. Indiana sent the most men to fight in the Civil War, second only to Delaware—two-thirds of eligible-aged Indiana men served in the Civil War. Troops were organized by ethnic groups and counties, which meant that they were often fighting side-by-side with family and neighbors.

Lew Wallace, later known as the author of Ben-Hur, selected the site of what was the State Fairgrounds—and what is currently Military Park—as the site for training volunteers. This training site—Camp Morton, named after the governor during the Civil War—morphed into a POW camp.

From 1862 to 1865, Colonel Richard Owen managed this camp of 3,000 POWs. Despite 50 prisoners dying per month, after the end of the war, the prisoners raised funds to have a sculpture of Owen made in honor of the humaneness he showed told the Confederate soldiers in the camp. (You can see the sculpture in the Indiana Statehouse.)

Governor Morton had a decidedly difficult time financially supporting the Union and funding the government. Democrat Copperheads, or those Democrats who didn’t support the Union, controlled the legislature and blocked the state contributing money to the Union cause. In a seemingly modern-day move, the Republicans fled the legislature so no quorum was possible. In retaliation, the Democrats decided not to dispense ANY money, which meant that the Indiana government risked grinding to a halt.

In an attempt to keep the government running, Governor Morton turned to the Madison banker James Lanier for funding. In 1861, the two decided that Lanier would buy $400,000 worth of bonds—perhaps not quite an above-board tactic—to prevent government shutdown.

How much of the war was waged on Indiana soil? Not much. The only battle was Morgan’s Raid in 1863, when Confederate troops crossed the Ohio River at Corydon. They blazed a path of destruction, mistakenly thinking that sympathizers to the Southern cause would rise up. None did. (I recently learned of another foray across the river, by Adam “Stovepipe” Johnson at Newburgh. Basically, Johnson’s foray was a hit and run excursion, intent on gathering supplies and firearms before retreating back over the river.)

Originally, Indiana settlements existed by waterways, the quickest means of transportation that connected communities. But in the second half of the 1800s came the railroad, which changed the pattern of population in the state. The steepest incline was in Madison; the Reuben Wells steam engine, specifically made for the Madison incline, can be seen at the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis became a transportation hub for the railroads. In 1853, the first Union Station, meant to be one station shared by all railroads, was built in Indianapolis. By 1890, 120 trains were stopping in Indianapolis every day.

An equally impressive system of interurbans crisscrossed Indiana towns. Eventually, with the rise of the automobile (that had an incredible early history in Indiana) came the demise of the interurbans. (The only one that exists today is the South Shore.)

Indiana was a big center of business, from the Ball Company in Muncie to Eli Lilly, L.S. Ayres, and Madam C.J. Walker in Indianapolis. The limestone of southern Indiana was quarried for buildings such as the statehouse (1886) and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument (1902). In the 1870s, the coal mines suffered through strikes and unions, resulting in the firing of workers and the hiring of their children. (Children were less apt to cause trouble or unionize, and could be paid less.)

Into this maelstrom came Eugene V. Debs. Originally he believed that the best course of action for workers was to do a good job; managers would recognize the good work with good pay. Eventually, faced with reality, he changed his views and organized unions (the railroad union in 1894) and strikes (think the Pullman strike). Change, he saw, was only possible through politics. In his core, he believed in the dignity of all people.

In the late 1800s, 13% of the population in Indianapolis was German. German immigrants looked around at the culture and traditions around them and concluded that it was lacking in refinement (ouch!). Instead, they created their own vibrant society with German organizations, clubs, symphonies, theatre, and schools.

World War I destroyed the German culture in Indiana. Kurt Vonnegut, famous 20th century Hoosier author, described how he was raised ignorant of the rich heritage of German music, literature, culture, and language—all because Germans in the early 20th century assumed that ignorance of their culture and traditions was necessary in order to be patriotic. Bits and pieces still exist today as German festivals or the Athenaeum (Das Deutsche Haus, which incidentally Vonnegut’s father was an architect for) in Indianapolis.

The documentary continues with a third part that looks at Indiana from World War I to the present time.