William Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site
William S. Culbertson was reportedly once the wealthiest man in the state of Indiana. He was also the father of Samuel A. Culbertson, former president of Churchill Downs and creator of the Garland of Roses, which is now a time-honored Kentucky Derby tradition.
William Culbertson amassed most of his fortune primarily in dry goods – working his way up from being a dry goods clerk to eventually co-owning a dry goods company with his brother.
When William Culbertson died at age 78, in 1892, his net worth was $3.5 million – that would be approximately $61 million today.
A stately mansion at 914 East Main Street is where William lived and raised his family.
The Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site sits on New Albany’s historic Mansion Row. The home’s architectural style is called French Second Empire.
It was completed in 1869, a time when New Albany was the largest city in Indiana. It has 25 rooms, 20,000 square feet and was built for a cost of $120,000.
Saved from demolition in the 1960s, the William S. Culbertson Mansion is being carefully restored to its former glory.
The Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site offers tours of the grand parlors, dining room, kitchen and more.
Highlights of the home are its unique, handpainted ceilings and walls. The site also includes a museum, gift shop and a “haunted” carriage house.
- Born February 4, 1814 in Pennsylvania, William relocated to New Albany, Indiana at the age of 21.
- The company William Culbertson owned along with his brother John was called Culbertson & Brother Dry Goods. The store was located on Pearl Street near Main Street in downtown New Albany. Dry goods are items such as cotton, cloth, buttons, needles, and threads.
- William Culbertson retired from the dry goods business in 1868. Later ventures included purchasing managing stock in the Kentucky-Indiana Railroad Bridge Company and establishing his own utility company – New Albany Gas, Light, and Coke. He also earned money in banking. He helped start The First National Bank of New Albany (1865). His youngest son, Samuel A. Culbertson (who later became president and Chairman of the Board of Churchill Downs), was elected cashier; he later became president of the bank.
- William S. Culbertson was widowed twice and married for the third time at age 70. His second wife, Cornelia, was the first to live in the mansion. His first wife, Eliza (the mother of Samuel A. Culbertson), died of typhoid pneumonia before the mansion was completed.
- Culbertson’s third wife, Rebecca, sold the mansion at auction for only $7,100 in 1899.
- Mr. Culbertson impacted his New Albany home through philanthropy, as well as business. He opened the Culbertson Widows’ Home in 1873 to provide food, clothing and shelter for the town’s destitute widows … and provided support for the home in his will. The structure, which also sits on Mansion Row Historic District, was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. He also donated money for the construction of an orphanage, which he named in honor of his second wife. The Cornelia Memorial Orphan’s Home no longer stands.
- In 1886 William S. Culbertson had a home built next to his mansion. It was a wedding gift for his son Samuel. Known today as Culbertson West, the home is where Samuel started his family. The first son was named William Stuart Culbertson, after his grandfather.
- The William S. Culbertson Mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974; it became an official Indiana state historic site in 1976.
- According to New Albany – Floyd County Consolidated School Corporation, local shipbuilders crafted the wood staircase and the tin roof was imported from Scotland.
- Each October the carriage house at the Culbertson Mansion is turned into a haunted house. This annual fundraiser, which has be going on since 1985, has brought in over $700,000 to help restore and maintain the Culbertson Mansion.
Learn more about Samuel A. Culbertson and his ties to the Kentucky Derby, in our Louisville Life History segment.
- Program 518
- "Louisville Life" saddles up for a special Derby edition! We visit the home of a former Churchill Downs president, which is now a bed and breakfast. Plus, Derby artwork, shoes to spur-on dedicated Derby marathoners and more! (#518)