Morse-Libby Mansion (Victoria Mansion)
Victoria Mansion (also known as the Morse-Libby Mansion) was designed by architect Henry Austin and built between 1858 and 1860 as a summer home for Ruggles Sylvester Morse and his wife Olive Ring Merrill Morse, both Maine natives. Ruggles was a prominent hotelier who operated several luxury properties in New Orleans. Ruggles and Olive enjoyed this home and the Maine climate for many summers. At the time, this was purported to be the most expensive home in Maine, and the creation of this lavish summer home foreshadowed other wealthy families who also constructed summer homes in the area. After Ruggles died in 1893, Olive sold the house with most of its furnishings to New England merchant J.R. Libby. In 1940 the house was at risk of being demolished when it was purchased by retired educator Dr. William H. Holmes and converted into a museum. Today, the mansion includes artifacts and exhibits that showcase the pristine beauty of 19th-century Italian Villa-style architecture and demonstrate the trappings of the lifestyle of America's wealthiest families in the Victorian era.
Outside View of Victoria Mansion
Ruggles Sylvester Morse (1814-1893) and Olive Ring Merrill Morse (1820-1903)
(left) Turkish Smoking Room, Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) photo, 1935. (right) Turkish Smoking Room today. Photograph by J. David Bohl.
Front door of the mansion in winter
Parlor Room During Christmas
Backstory and Context
Neither Ruggles Sylvester Morse nor his wife, Olive Ring Merrill Morse, had children, leading Olive to sell the expansive property to J.R. Libby, a local merchant, when her husband passed away in 1893. Libby operated a large department store on Congress Street, just a few blocks from the mansion. The last of the Libby family moved out of the mansion in 1929, and the house was rarely used through the Great Depression. After years of neglect, the property was at risk of demolition in 1940 and might have been replaced with a gas station had it not been for the efforts of Dr. William Holmes. Together with his sister Clara Holmes, they purchased the property and donated it to a nonprofit organization that has operated the mansion as a museum since 1941.
The mansion is both nationally and internationally recognized for its architecture and interiors, and the museum has over 90% of the original 1860 furnishings. Exhibits and tours of the historic house include discussions of how the mansion was built with the latest technology of the era including hot and cold running water, flush toilets, central heat, wall-to-wall carpets, and a servant call system.
The architect for the Mansion was Henry Austin of Connecticut, who designed it in the Italian Villa style. The interior furnishings were planned and executed by Gustave Herter, a well-known furniture maker and designer from New York City. The walls are covered with decorative wall paintings from 1860, done under the supervision of Giuseppe Guidicini, an Italian painter with experience in theater design and decoration.
May, Stephen. The Height of Victorian Panache, New York Times. July 13th, 1997. Accessed May 25th, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/1997/07/13/travel/the-height-of-victorian-panache.html.
Morse-Libby Mansion, National Historic Landmarks Program. Accessed August 22, 2017.
About, Victoria Mansion. May 25th, 2023. Accessed May 25th, 2023. victoriamansion.org.