October 15, 2010

Victoria Mansion

It was a rainy and cold day at The Maine House! However, we selected to brave the wind and rain and toodle downtown to visit The Victoria Mansion.

A few history facts of this beauty.....known as Victoria Mansion.....originally referred to  as the Morse-Libby House, the Mansion was built between 1858 and 1860 for Ruggles Sylvester Morse and his wife, Olive Ring Merrill Morse. A native of Maine, Morse made his fortune as the proprietor of luxury hotels in New Orleans during the 1850s. His experience as a hotelier shaped his taste in design, and when the time came to build a" summer home", he sought out some of the nation’s leading designers.

Morse selected Henry Austin of New Haven as the architect. Victoria Mansion is considered not only his masterpiece, but also the finest surviving Italian villa style house in America. Composed in brownstone, the powerful, asymmetrical composition is organized around a soaring four-story tower, and features deep overhanging eaves, graceful veranda's, and ornately carved window surrounds.

The house was built with such modern technologies as central heating, gas lighting, hot and cold running water, and a servant’s call system – making it one of the most sophisticated private homes of the period.

Colonel Morse during a long residence in New Orleans, commanded the respect of everyone who knew him. He was known to have great administrative ability with unswerving integrity and uniform courtesy. During the Civil War, when poverty and hunger were in the midst of our country, he opened his doors to the unfortunate and hundreds of people were cared for, fed and clothed .

The Morses had no children, and after Ruggles Morse died in 1893 his widow sold the house with its contents to Joseph Ralph Libby, founder of a prominent Portland department store. The Libby family occupied the house for over thirty years, carefully preserving the building and its contents. In 1928 the Libby children moved out of the house, leaving its future uncertain. The building was saved from demolition in 1940 by a retired educator, William H. Holmes, who recognized its importance and used his own funds to save it for posterity. In 1941 he opened the house as a museum named for Britain’s Queen Victoria, and in 1943 transferred ownership to the Victoria Society of Maine. Victoria Mansion has operated continuously as a museum for over sixty years, and today the organization remains committed to the preservation and interpretation of the Morse-Libby House.

The Sitting Room at Christmas

After we completed our tour, we headed straight back To The Maine House for a most delicious and steaming bowl of Estelle's squash soup....it was an incredibly delightful day!

Estelle's Squash Soup
2 T olive oil
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 butternut squash, peeled and diced (about 2 cups)
1 acorn squash, peeled and diced (about 2 cups)
2 T thyme, halved
3 cups chicken broth
2 T heavy cream
1 t sugar
Salt to taste
Coarse ground black pepper

Prepare all vegetables. Heat oil over medium high heat. Saute onions and garlic until onions are translucent. Add butternut and acorn squash. Stir. Add thyme. Stir. Add broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until squash is soft, about 20 minutes.
Puree the soup in a blender. All of the soup should fit in a standard size blender. If it doesn’t, work in batches. Return the soup to the same pot. Add cream and sugar. Stir until blended and let simmer, about 5 minutes.Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm with cheese and remaining thyme.

"We but echo the sentiments of his thousands of friends throughout the South when we wish that his remaining days be as happy as his sterling qualities of head and heart so richly merit."
A Retirement Tribute to Ruggle S. Morse as documented in the New Orleans Republican, April 16, 1875.

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