Visitor's Guide 2022-2023

TIME CAPSULES Historic museum homes help us to envision the lives of past generations.

T ucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood just outside of Portland’s bustling Old Port lies one of the country’s most significant surviving buildings from the Victorian era. Dubbed “Victoria Mansion” when it transitioned from lavish private residence to museum eighty years ago, the house embodies the highest achievements in American art and architecture on the eve of the Civil War. Built between 1858 and 1860, Victoria Mansion began as a summer residence for Ruggles and Olive Morse, Maine natives then living in New Orleans, Louisiana. Ruggles, who made his fortune running some of that city’s most luxurious hotels, spared no expense for his summer retreat, commissioning three of the country’s towering creative talents to design and decorate the building. Architect Henry Austin, then in mid-career, drew up the plans for what would be his most remembered design, a building widely

recognized today as a defining example of Italianate architecture.

Decorator Gustave Herter, only 28 years old in 1860, used the commission to launch a storied career. Herter designed the house’s furniture and interior architectural detailing, all made to his specifications by artisans in his New York City workshop and shipped to Portland for installation. Painter Giuseppe Guidicini, decorator of some of the grandest theaters and opera houses in 19th-Century America, travelled to Portland to execute an elaborate program of wall and ceiling paintings throughout the mansion’s principal rooms. Even at the time of its construction, Victoria Mansion was a special building, with only a handful of peers in wealthy cities like Montreal, New York, and Philadelphia. Its importance has only grown through the years as similar buildings were torn down, gutted, and altered beyond recognition. While Herter furniture is admired in

museums across the country today, Victoria Mansion is his only fully intact commission, with over 90 percent of the house’s splendid furnishings sitting in the very rooms for which they were designed. For the once renowned Guidicini, Victoria Mansion stands as a final legacy, his other commissions all having given way to fire and the wrecking ball. Victoria Mansion, along with Tate House (1755) and Longfellow House (1785-86) welcome visitors to learn about the lives of those who occupied these remarkable, well preserved homes. Guided tours available May-October, and at special times during the holiday season. See listings on pg. 26.



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