History and museums
Victoria Mansion, also known as the Morse-Libby House or Morse-Libby Mansion, is a landmark example of American residential architecture located in downtown Portland, Maine, United States. The brownstone exterior, elaborate interior design, opulent furnishings and early technological conveniences provide a detailed portrait of lavish living in nineteenth-century America. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971 for its architectural significance as a particularly well-preserved Italianate mansion.
This stately brownstone Italianate villa was completed in 1860 as a summer home for hotelier Ruggles Sylvester Morse. Morse had left Maine to make his fortune in hotels in New York, Boston and New Orleans. The house was designed by the New Haven architect Henry Austin. Its distinctive asymmetric form includes a four-story tower, overhanging eaves, verandas, and ornate windows. Frescoes and trompe l’oeil wall decorations were created by the artist and decorator Giuseppe Guidicini.
The building is recognized as one of the finest and least-altered examples of a large Italianate Villa-styled brick and brownstone town house in the United States. Gustave Herter created the interiors in a range of styles; this house is his earliest known and only intact commission. More than ninety percent of the original contents survive, including Herter furniture, elaborate wall paintings, artworks, carpets, gas lighting fixtures, stained glass, porcelain, silver, and glassware. The house has twin sinks in the guest bedroom on the second floor, a Turkish smoking room, carved marble fireplaces and a flying staircase. Morse had features incorporated into the house familiar to him from his luxury hotels including the soaring entryway and wall-to-wall carpeting. In its supporting technology, the house was remarkably advanced for the time, with central heating, gas lighting, hot and cold running water, and a servant call system. The water was provided by gutters directing rain water into an enormous tank on the third floor.
Ruggles Morse died in 1893. In 1894, the house and its contents were sold to Joseph Ralph Libby, a Portland merchant. The Libby family occupied the house for over thirty more years, without making significant changes to it.
The last of the Libbys moved out in 1928. The fate of the house was uncertain and there were plans to demolish it. However, it was saved by William H. Holmes who bought the house in order to preserve it as a museum. In 1941, Holmes opened the house as the Victoria Mansion (named for Britain’s Queen Victoria) as a museum. The Victoria Mansion is committed to the preservation and restoration of the house and its collections.