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New Albany Bicentennial

February 12, 2013

New Albany Bicentennial Week 7: Culbertson Mansion

(Continued)

NEW ALBANY —

During the Victorian era, Stavros said Americans began to shed their puritanical roots. Culbertson Mansion reflects this new age. Elaborate frescos adorned the ceilings and walls. Elegant furniture, especially chairs, filled every room. Hundreds of little displays best described as bric-a-brac-crammed, wallpapered walls. A conservatory was built to house exotic plants. Later, elaborate fireplaces were bought in Europe for the mansion during Culbertson’s honeymoon with his third wife Rebecca.

“Victorians were very in to material culture. It’s a term called conspicuous consumption. They liked to show off what they could afford. They liked to buy,” Stavros said. “Things that are typically Victorian, this house has in spades.”

After Culbertson’s death in 1892, Rebecca stayed in the house for another seven years. With no heirs wanting to buy the aging home, the mansion was auctioned off to John McDonald for $8,000 in 1899. He and his family of four lived there until 1946. The Bonnie Sloan Post of the American Legion in New Albany then purchased the house and would maintain its upkeep until 1964. During this time, the financial strain became too much on the organization. A buyer in 1961 asked the local zoning commission to allow a gas station to be built on the site. The community responded with a grassroots effort to save the old home, and the request for rezoning of the land was denied. 

In 1964, the historic preservation group called Historic New Albany bought the mansion. After evaluating its finances, the organization then donated the mansion to the State of Indiana in 1976 to be run as an Indiana State Historic Site. This remains its designation today. 

“I think it’s important for the people of New Albany to know that this house exists because of them. The citizens of New Albany saved it in 1967. It is here for them,” Stavros said. 

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