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.

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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.

Lanier Mansion State Historic Site

I passed this house and grounds a few times before I was able to take a tour. After seeing the Francis Costigan House, I was even more eager to see the Lanier Mansion, which Costigan designed. The house did not disappoint. It has been beautifully restored.

James Lanier was born in North Carolina in 1800. In 1817, his father brought the family to Madison and opened a dry goods store. (They apparently lived in what is now known as the Schofield House.) After studying law in Pennsylvania, James returned to Madison and worked as a legal clerk when the Indiana General Assembly was in session. (Nearby Corydon served as the state capital from 1816 to 1825.)

James later turned to banking and finance, becoming the president of the State Bank in Madison. He invested in the first railroad in Indiana. He was successful enough to hire Francis Costigan to build a great mansion on the Ohio River. The mansion, which took three and a half years to complete, was finished in 1844. However, James did not enjoy it for very long.

In 1849, he formed an investment bank, Winslow & Lanier, which was based in New York City. In 1851, he moved to New York City, leaving behind his grown son Alexander to care for the Lanier Mansion. Alexander was the force behind the creation of the formal gardens between the house and the river.

The house is imposing but as a Greek Revival house, it is not over the top and gaudy like some Victorian era houses. The foyer is large and runs the length of the house. A twin to the front door opens to the river-facing side of the house. (Because the river was a major transportation avenue, visitors often showed up on the side of the house facing the fiver.)

Reminiscent of his own house (built later in 1850), Costigan used 10-foot doors with the 14-foot ceiling (vs. a 12-foot ceiling on the second floor and a 6.4-foot ceiling on the third floor). As a nod to the curved walls and doors in his own future home, a curved door, perfectly hung under the stairs, separates the foyer from the dining room.

On one side of the first floor are the parlors: formal in front, informal behind it. Large double pocket doors separate the two rooms. Like Chief Richardville’s house, the door frames in this house sport “ears”. (Another visitor pointed this out to the docent just a few days prior.) Molding at the ceiling is in alternating shapes of eggs and arrows—birth and death—symbols that seemed more Egyptian than Greek to me. Mike, the docent, pointed out the symmetry that was de rigueur in Greek Revival house—and opened every fake door. (Fake doors abound to provide symmetry to real doors in the rooms.)

Strangely, only the windows on the west side of the house—which included the parlors—have storm shutters on the outside. (Later during a stroll of the grounds, I noticed some on the southern windows of the kitchen.) The windows also have inside shutters, which could be folded and tucked away into a pocket in the walls, a Costigan feature that the docent pointed out.

Wild patterned wallpaper and carpeting reflect the style of the times. The formal parlor includes an Italianate marble fireplace. The informal parlor is a music room with pianoforte, harp, and harmonium. The harp came from Paris in the 1790s (!) and the harmonium arrived a few days prior from the Indiana State Museum. (The museum runs the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site and typically outfits historic sites with period appropriate pieces.)

The Laniers had 8 kids total—five girls and three boys. A portrait of the youngest boy, James, hangs in the informal parlor. He unfortunately did not make it to adulthood. In the portrait, James is a small child, dressed in a smock. Apparently, in the days of buttons rather than zippers, young boys wore dresses. Easier and faster to disrobe for the urgent calls of nature. (Ah! Now it makes sense why clothes for young James Whitcomb Riley at his childhood home included dresses—or smocks.)

On the other side of the house, looking out at the river, is Lanier’s study/library. The bookcase full of books is original. Next to the fireplace is an early, pre-Barcalounger chair that moves into a reclining position with an attached wooden tray to hold books or papers.

The room to the front of the house, across the foyer from the formal parlor, is the dining room. The dining table was set for the dessert course of a meal. Above the table hangs an oil chandelier—an argon chandelier. A container in the middle of the chandelier contained the oil that flowed to the lights thanks to gravity. (The house did move to gas lighting after the city received a gas charter in 1850.) In a corner stands a cellarette, a zinc-lined wine cellar. I looked at the small squat piece of wooden furniture with claw feet. I suspected that I had seen these before without realizing what they were.

On this side of the house, with an entrance between the dining room and study, is the breakfast room with stairs to the servant quarters and a kitchen behind it. Both rooms are in the process of being restored. The fireplace in the kitchen seemed incredibly small. But strangely no kitchen in the basement or a summer kitchen exists.

According to the docent, the Laniers did not have slaves; they used indentured servants—Maggie and David. (Similar to the Jeremiah Sullivan House.) I always wonder about claims like this. Technically slavery was illegal in Indiana but things were a bit loosey-goosey early on. Slavery. Indentured servitude. Tomato. Tomaato.

Apparently though the Laniers had a contract for David, a twelve-year-old African-American boy whose mother signed a contract for his indentured servitude. According to the contract, David was to be taught to read, write, and do basic math. When his servitude came to an end at the age of 21, he was to be release with a suit of clothing. (I wonder what happened to David.)

Before we ascended the beautiful circular staircase (Costigan really was a master architect), Mike had me stand so I could look up at the three flights of stairs. At the top were skylights covered by a cupola. On cloudy days, Mike said, the area around your feet would be bright and sunny. (The day of my visit was sunny so, strangely, I was not bathed in bright light.)

The second floor consists of bedrooms, a small study, and a nursery. The bedrooms seemed big, even though they were filled with large furniture. May and Louisa shared a front bedroom. Mike pointed out the top drawers in the dresser that overhung the lower drawers. Quilts were stored in these overbig drawers. (Huh. That’s why the first drawer is larger on some antique dressers! Interesting.)

Charles, one of the sons, occupied the other front bedroom. In 1851, when Lanier moved to New York to run his investment bank, he took his wife and young son Charles. After Lanier died in 1881, Charles took over the business but was not quite the businessman that his father was. No fear though. He had a good friend to help him—J.P. Morgan.

In between the two front bedrooms is a small study with an original Lanier desk. Odd to think of this space being used as a study.

Alexander, the elder son who was 30 and a graduate from Yale, took over care of the house when his father left for New York. He slept in the room on the riverside, across from May’s and Louisa’s room. Alex didn’t marry until he was 60. He was in love with Stella from his youth. Stella, for unknown reasons, had married someone else. When she became free later in life, the two of them wed.

The last bedroom is the master bedroom. In between it and Alexander’s bedroom, directly opposite the small study, is a nursery. Clearly, the Laniers expected more children. In 1846, just two years after the house was finished, his wife Elizabeth died. In 1848, James married again. It doesn’t seem that the nursery was used.

The third floor consists of rooms for the servants and a playroom for the children, complete with a large 1840s rocking horse. At the top of the stairs is another double curved door. Alexander converted a small closet between the playroom and the servants’ room into a water closet. All of the windows on the third floor are oculus windows that swing open. (They reminded me of the beautiful oculus window in the Samuel Plato house in Marion.)

So what happened after Lanier left the house in 1851 and moved to New York with his wife and teenage son Charles? Lanier in many ways financed the Civil War for the state of Indiana. The legislature was packed with Democrat Copperheads who opposed the war and sided with the South. They blocked all financing of soldiers for the war effort. Governor Morton turned to Lanier, who loaned the state $400,000 and later another $640,000. By 1870, five years after the war ended, Indiana had repaid Lanier with interest.

Lanier died in 1881. Alexander, who occupied the house since 1851, died in 1895, and Stella, his wife and life-long love, died in 1900. The deed passed to her daughters (from a previous marriage). By the early 1900s, Charles, the thirteen-year-old who traveled to New York with his father, managed to buy back the house for $5,600 (!). In 1925, the house was donated to the Indiana State Museum.

As with other Indiana State Museum sites, the Lanier Mansion was a delight to tour. The tour only lasted an hour. Like many tours, I was the sole attendee, which has its benefits. I wonder though what it would have been like to tour with the group of women I encountered at the Jeremiah Sullivan House. (They were quite inquisitive and liked to discuss different items that they encountered—they had toured the Lanier Mansion the previous day and highly recommended it.)

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.