The Morse-Libby Mansion in Portland Maine is a great place if you’re a fan of Victoriana. The house is quite intact to this day nearly 150 years after it was built having been owned by only two families before becoming a museum.
For those who are into architecture and interior design, this house is the only extant Gustave Herter (1839-1898) commission. While Victorian interiors are replete with many objects, furniture, drapes, etc., what sets this interior apart is that in having been designed by one person, it weaves together in a way that is different from other interiors of that era. While opulent and over the top as Victorians can be, there’s a sense of cohesion to the rooms.The Morse’s had the house built between 1858-1960 as their summer home. Mr. Morse made a fortune in the hotel business in the years during and after the Civil War. Although their museum souvenir book (A Guide to Victoria Mansion) states that they owned over twenty slaves, when I asked the question of the tour guide he told me that they didn’t own any. I’ve often encountered that civil rights and the history of slavery in our country is still avoided in these old house museums. Even in Savannah’s lovely city mansions, when I asked that question, the response was that there was a difference between house servants and plantation slaves. (Not convincing to me as any chair I own is a chair I own.)
Because Mr. Morse was in the hotel business, it’s also a bit fascinating to notice that some of the lighting fixtures, and stained glass (which is magnificent) were likely also in the hotels he owned. Of particular fascination is the “Turkish Smoking Room” – having been to Morocco, it’s a nice imitation of the wonderful tiles and colors of that part of the world. Like all house museums generally, the only thing I wish they would do differently is figure out a way for visitors to spend longer enjoying and inspecting the rooms. A walk through isn’t always a fulfilling experience – especially in a home so complete in its original furnishings! For some sneak peeks at the interiors, you’ll find a few pictures at the Mansion’s website and a few here.
Do go and enjoy this beautiful place.