NEW ALBANY — Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series about the people and events that have shaped the 200-year history of New Albany. Read all installments by clicking on the bicentennial link under the “seasonal content” header at newsandtribune.com
Houses that are haunted demand a lot of attention. Even in New Albany, rumors abound about spirits of the dead spending their postmortem existence in the upper levels of Victorian mansions like the one owned by William Culbertson. After a time, these old manors start to be known more for their alleged ghost stories than their actual real-life history. That is, until someone sets the record straight.
Culbertson Mansion Program Director Jessica Stavros is such a person. During the week, she spends most of her waking hours all over the house, sometimes alone. She’s even stayed the night in the building with some ghost hunters.
So has Stavros witnessed any signs of the ghosts that supposedly lurk in its halls?
No. Not a one. And she hasn’t seen any other type of evidence of any phantoms either. Even though the dead might not rise, the history of Victorian architecture and culture sure does come back to life at the legendary Culbertson Mansion.
“I think Culbertson Mansion is part of New Albany’s identity,” Stavros said. “As far as New Albany’s culture, Culbertson Mansion is the crown jewel.”
Construction started on the mansion in the summer of 1867. Culbertson, a local businessman, built the three-storey brick building as a wedding gift to his second wife Cornelia. Stavros suggested that he always had plans to build on the land that spanned roughly a city block. After his first wife’s death and his subsequent remarriage, she believes Culbertson might have wanted a fresh start.
If a fresh start is what the businessman needed, Culbertson Mansion had more than enough room to provide it. Local architects James and Williams Banes designed the house in the Second Empire architectural style. Area artisans and builders worked two years to erect the 25 room, 20,000 square foot mansion which cost Culbertson $120,000 at the time to construct.