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Pre-Civil War Grandeur

By Linda Tancs

It’s hard to imagine that a landmark example of pre-Civil War opulence like the Morse-Libby House was once scheduled to be demolished and replaced by a gas station.  Located in Portland, Maine, the mansion has all the signature elements of a classic Italian villa:  rich detail punctuated with low-pitched roofs and a soaring, square tower.  Its interior is no less impressive, boasting gas lighting fixtures, stained glass, a painted trompe l’oeil  wall and ceiling decorations, gilded surfaces, intricate plasterwork and lavish fabrics, carpets and furniture.  The mansion was built between 1858 and 1860 as a summer home for Ruggles Sylvester Morse, a Maine native who made his fortune in New Orleans as a hotel magnate.  The house was later occupied by the family of J.R. Libby, a dry goods merchant, who made few changes to the property.  It’s a good thing; the interior is the only intact surviving example of the work of famed designer Gustave Herter.

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