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Culbertson Mansion

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Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site
1867–1869, Joseph and William Banes. 914 E. Main St.
  • (Photograph by Benjamin L. Ross)

The Culbertson Mansion is an outstanding example of French Second Empire architecture and a lasting testament to the industrial and philanthropic contributions of its owner, William S. Culbertson. The stately three-story brick residence is one of the most architecturally significant houses in New Albany’s Mansion Row Historic District, a collection of grand nineteenth-century residences built at a time when the city was one of the wealthiest in the state.

William S. Culbertson was born in New Markey, Pennsylvania, in 1814. At the age of 21, he moved to the New Albany area and worked as a clerk in the city’s largest dry goods firm. At the time, New Albany and Louisville, Kentucky, its sister city across the Ohio River, were experiencing an economic boom. Culbertson learned enough working for the Burnett firm that he opened his own dry goods business with his brother John in downtown New Albany circa 1840. Culbertson and Brother quickly became the city’s most successful dry goods wholesalers and retailers and William began to amass his fortune. His wealth increased as he started a utility company in 1854 and became a major investor in the Kentucky-Indiana Railroad Company in 1868. He remained active in local civic affairs throughout his career and funded the construction of the Culbertson Widows Home in the early 1870s and the Cornelia Memorial Orphans Home in 1882.

Culbertson built the mansion for his second wife, Cornelia, at a time when he was considered to be one of the wealthiest men in Indiana. He purchased an entire city block for the residence in the early 1860s, but completion was delayed until the late 1860s because of a lack of skilled laborers due to the Civil War. Cornelia died before the house was finished.

The three-story, 20,000-square-foot residence, which reportedly cost $120,000, features the hallmarks of the Second Empire style, including paired arched entry doors topped by a scrolled pediment, tall and narrow arched windows with molded stone frames, bay windows, and multiple porches supported by delicate cast-iron columns. The slate mansard roof features an iron balustrade, pedimented arched dormers, and a heavily molded eave with decorative brackets.

The interior is equally impressive with a three-story winding staircase carved of mahogany with rosewood newels and rails, rosewood doors on the first floor, marble mantelpieces, and a wooden Eastlake mantelpiece in the library. Decorative plasterwork appears throughout, including large ceiling medallions and heavy plaster cornices gilded with gold leaf. The first-floor ballroom is one of the most lavish rooms, with gilt pier mirrors that reflect the large crystal chandeliers. Ornate wall and ceiling paintings appear throughout the house, including trompe l’oeil works by German immigrant Ernst Linn. Each room is embellished with different colors and patterns from the Aesthetic Movement and Eastlake styles. The second floor features faux graining on the doors and floors.

Culbertson died in 1892. The family sold the mansion at auction in 1899, a time when New Albany was in an economic depression. John McDonald, owner of McDonald Grain Company, purchased the property for only $7,100. He originally planned to use the building as a hospital, but decided instead to use it as his family’s residence. The local American Legion purchased the building in 1946 and covered up much of the interior decoration as they converted the spaces for new use. In 1960, the mansion was threatened with demolition as a potential site for a new gas station. Historic New Albany, a local group of preservationists, purchased the home in 1964 for $25,000. The group transferred the property to the State of Indiana in 1976 and it has been open as a state historic site ever since.

The State of Indiana began the restoration of the exterior in 1980, with the Friends of the Culbertson Mansion beginning the interior restoration shortly thereafter. Historic photographs were used to reconstruct the first-floor veranda and to recreate the etched-glass panel in the front door. New carpets were woven using historic examples. Perhaps the most significant undertaking has been the restoration of the ceiling and wall paintings, which began in the 1990s. Most had been covered with paint at some point in the building’s history. Each layer of paint was carefully removed and paint historians analyzed the original appearances of each ceiling and wall surface. The rooms were then repainted as needed and gold leaf was reapplied to the appropriate cornices. The result is a series of dramatic restorations that reflect the tastes of the wealthy at the height of the Gilded Age.


Adams, Susan L., and Michael Newkirk, “Mansion Row Historic District,” Floyd County, Indiana. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1983. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.

Barksdale, David C., and Gregory A. Sekula. Historic Homes of New Albany, Indiana.Charleston, SC: History Press, 2015.

Divisions of State Museum and Historic Sites and Historic Preservation and Archaeology, Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Historic Structure Report for the Culbertson Mansion. Center for Historic Preservation, Ball State University, 2007. Available in the Drawings and Documents Archive, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana.

Peat, Wilbur D. Indiana Houses of the Nineteenth Century.Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1962.

Stem, Richard K., “Culbertson Mansion,” Floyd County, Indiana. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1974. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.

Writing Credits

Susan Lankford
Benjamin L. Ross



  • 1867

    Design and construction
  • 1946

    Renovations by the American Legion
  • 1980


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Susan Lankford, "Culbertson Mansion", [New Albany, Indiana], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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