Built in 1898 and designed in the Georgian Revival style, Rockcliffe Mansion is one of the largest and most beautiful buildings in Hannibal. It was built on a bluff overlooking the city and the Mississippi River by wealthy lumber baron John J. Cruikshank Jr. in 1898. The exterior of the house features numerous interesting design elements including Corinthian columns, a two-story portico, arched windows, and a cupola on the center of the roof. As one may expect, the interior is elaborately designed, specifically in the Late Victorian and Art Nouveau styles. There are 30 rooms, 10 unique marble and tiled fireplaces, Tiffany-designed stained glass windows, chandeliers, hand-carved woodwork, and antique furnishings and fixtures, most of which are original to the mansion. The mansion now operates as a museum and bed and breakfast hotel.
Backstory and Context
John J. Cruikshank Jr. learned about the lumber industry beginning at a young age as his father was a successful lumberman. John Sr. moved his business to Louisiana and Missouri in 1856 to take advantage of the Mississippi River, which was used to float lumber from Minnesota and Wisconsin to mills downriver. The lumber would then be shipped via railroad to markets to the western and southern states in the U.S.. John Jr. took over the business in 1864 and oversaw its dramatic growth. The company went from processing one million feet of lumber in the first year to 40 million feet by the late 1880s. It is estimated that John Jr. owned half a million dollars in 1883.
John Jr. built the mansion in 1898 showing his standing in the community and hosted many gatherings here. At the mansion's opening reception in 1901, an orchestra serenaded 700 guests. His daughter, Gladys, got married twice here and famous writer Mark Twain gave a speech to 300 guests in 1902 at a reception of the Hannibal Society. However, John Jr. passed away in 1924 and his family moved away which left the mansion vacant for 43 years. Eventually, it was scheduled for demolition.
Fortunately, three local families saved the house and began working on it to give it more care after years of vacancy. After the work was completed in 1968, a member of John Jr.’s family returned many of the original furniture that was in the mansion when it was finished the first time. Despite the decades of no one living there, the mansion has remained in good shape even before renovations. Future plans are to keep the mansion looking like it did when it first opened. The mansion now operates as both a public museum and a hotel.
Hamilton, Esley. "Rockcliffe Mansion." September 18, 1980. https://dnr.mo.gov/shpo/nps-nr/80002378.pdf.
"History." Rockcliffe Mansion. Accessed July 2, 2019. https://www.rockcliffemansion.com/history.html.