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Monday, June 17, 2019

All You Need to Know When You Visit a Hidden Gem in Portland Maine: The Victoria Mansion

Portland, Maine is famous for many things:  restaurants, breweries, hiking, cycling, weather, natural beauty and history!  Step back to a bygone era when you visit the historic Victoria Mansion in Portland Maine.  

Victoria Mansion, also know as the Morse-Libby House, is a rare intact survivor of mid-nineteen century America. It was built and furnished be 1858 and 1860 on the eve of the Civil War, comparatively early for an American Victorian house. 

See our live visit to the Victoria Mansion by enjoying our video!

Built between 1858 and 1860 as a summer home for Ruggles Sylvester Morse, a Maine native and esteemed hotelier for several luxury properties in New Orleans, the Victoria Mansion showcases the pristine beauty of 19th-century Italianate architecture, while its furnishings and interior design preserve the nuances of the wealthy lifestyle of the time.

Today Victoria Mansion contains over 90% of the original interiors. But how did this treasure stay the same over so many years?

1. The most significant threat to all of Portland was on July 4, 1866, when an errant Independence Day firecracker set off a blazing chain reaction, razing 1,800 homes and commercial properties and leaving 10,000 homeless—and toughing it out in tents all the way through a bitter New England winter. Surveying the ruin, Wadsworth wrote, “Desolation! Desolation! Desolation! It reminds me of Pompeii.”  Fortunately the Victoria Mansion narrowly survived the fire -- it came to within a block!

2.  Morse died in 1893 and the following year his widow, Olive Ring Merrill Morse, sold the house with most of its furnishings to J. R. Libby, a prominent dry goods merchant. The Libby family preserved the original décor and made few changes to the property. The Libbys occupied the Mansion until about 1929.

3. Thanks to an inventory of the house’s contents from 1893 and numerous historic photographs, it is possible to know with certainty where exactly in the house many objects were placed.

As with any old house, deterioration happens, but careful monitoring and maintenance help to ensure that the Mansion remains stable and can remain open to visitors. Ongoing efforts to clean and restore paint, woodwork, furniture, and brownstone, combined with the replication of original textiles, allow visitors to see the Mansion in all of its nineteenth century splendor.

Getting there:

Victoria Mansion is located at 109 Danforth Street in Portland’s Arts District, just minutes from the Old Port.  If you are driving be aware that street parking is all that is available nearby.  If you are staying in Old Port or arriving on a cruise, the Victoria Mansion is an easy walk.


  • Take a docent tour!  They are not always offered on days that cruise ships are in port, but the docents are conveniently located throughout the house to give you information on everything about the house!  They are amazingly knowledgeable!
  • Plan on taking some wonderful images inside but flash photography is not allowed.
  • Look for the area in the reception room where the walls were not restored inside the room to the right about mid-way up the wall.  This is to give you reference to the cleaning that has occurred.  Imagine how dirty the interiors would get after years of coal-fired gas for energy.
  • Make sure to enjoy the exterior brownstone structure and not just the interiors!  The details are breathtaking.  Know that the famous Brownstone material comes from Connecticut!
  • Count how many sinks you see!  Ruggles Morse was a stickler for washing hands!  Was this because of how much dysentery he saw in New Orleans?
  • Check out the 19th Century washing machine in the Housekeeper's Office upstairs.  Thank goodness for electricity!
  • Ask about the adjustable gas lamps in the Turkish Smoking Room and Housekeeper's Office.
  • It is beautifully decorated at Christmas and if you are brave enough to visit Portland in the winter, this should be on your list of places to visit!
  • LTD encourages you to plan a day at Fort Williams Park to visit the Queen of Coastal Lighthouses:  The Portland Head Light.  Click Here to see our guide and some dining recommendations when you go!

Portland Maine is a well-known foodie destination so here are some recommendations for restaurants nearby:

  1. Becky's Diner is an iconic Old Port spot often frequented by fishermen over the years.  
  2. The Porthole is another classic Old Port location for breakfast and lunch.  
  3. For the best Lobster Roll or Oysters in town, go to Eventide.
  4. If you like clams and want to get a clam roll, or other seafood, we suggest Bob's Clam Hut.
  5. For Vegetarian options go to Lois' Natural Marketplace.
  6.  Petite Jacqueline is a wonderful place for lunch or dinner.  Get the French Onion Soup!!!!  The service is top-notch.
  7. Street & Company is tucked away on a side street, that many years ago was actually the waterfront.  Very unique take on seafood and pasta and a great atmosphere. Look for metal window shutters that were there to prevent ships' masts from breaking the windows!
  8. Five Fifty Five is a more upscale location with outstanding food and service!  Highly recommended and if you haven't planned a place to stay in Portland, there is an Airbnb upstairs!
  9. Holy Donut is a must if you want to experience Maine Sweet Potato Donuts.  Our favorite is the Allen's Coffee Brandy!
  10. Enjoy dinner at the James Beard award winning chef restaurant Fore Street.  But you must plan about a month ahead to get a reservation, or consider walking in for a seat at the bar.

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