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February 5, 2013

NEW ALBANY BICENTENNIAL: William S. Culbertson

(Continued)

In addition to his dry goods profession, Culbertson decided to follow other pursuits. Not only was he president of the First National Bank in New Albany, he also invested in a myriad of industries.

“I think Mr. Culbertson had his hand in everything,” Stavros said. “He had his hand in the banks, the utilities, the railroads, down to what people wore. He was also a major investor in making the K & I Bridge happen, a Victorian entrepreneur by every sense of the word.”

Culbertson was more than just a businessman. Like many, he also was a husband and a father. Around the same time he was establishing his dry goods business, he married his first wife, Eliza Vance Culbertson of Corydon. They had a total of eight children. After 25 years of marriage, Eliza died of typhoid pneumonia, never having lived in the grand mansion Culbertson is best known for today. 

Two years later Culbertson married Cornelia Warner Eggleston, a widow who had already lost two children by her previous husband at an early age. As a wedding present, Culbertson gave her the 20,000 square foot yellow mansion. In the following years, she birthed him a son who died in infancy and a daughter. In 1880, Cornelia died of cholera. 

During this time, Culbertson contributed extensively to charitable projects throughout New Albany. Daily he passed out meal tickets at the bank to people who craved a good meal. 

“He was kind of the first philanthropist here,” Stavros said. “I think the legacy of William Culbertson really lives in the idea of giving back to your community. That is what he did. He took extra money to build brick-and-mortar buildings to house and feed people.”

Culbertson's marriage to Cornelia also influenced his charitable endeavors. After the Civil War, he built and maintained the Culbertson’s Old Ladies Home, an institution that helped women who, due to financial difficulty, couldn’t care for themselves. Stavros said Culbertson even personally did their grocery shopping and left a sizable endowment to the organization after his death. Likewise, he built the Cornelia Memorial Orphan’s Home in 1882 to house and to educate local children in need. 

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