Playing “I Spy” at Victoria Mansion in Portland, Maine

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Ruggles Sylvester Morse and his wife Olive Ring Merrill Morse were prominent New Orleans hotel proprietors in the 1850s when they decided to leave the summer heat of the South and build a house in Portland, Maine. The house, built in the Italian Villa style, was finished in 1860 and the couple lived there until Morse passed away in 1893. Olive sold the mansion, and all its contents, to J.R. Libby, who lived there with his wife and five children until the parents died in the early 1920s. After the Great Depression of the 1930s, the children could not afford the upkeep and taxes on the mansion and abandoned it. William Holme, a local teacher and historian who loved the Queen Victorian era, bought it to be preserved as a museum, named after Queen Victoria. 

The Victoria Mansion Museum opened in 1941 to the public, who are welcome to tour two of the four floors of the mansion. Each room has been restored to its original, mid 1860s glory, with authentic furnishings purchased by the Morse family. 

Travel Tips:

  • The museum is open from May 1st through the end of October for 45 minute guided tours. Check here for information on admission fees, discounts, and tour hours.  There are select dates when self guided tours are offered- check here for more information. Tickets for guided outs often sell out early in the day, so we recommend purchasing tickets ahead of time online. 
  • The museum is also open on weekends in December for special holiday programs.
  • Two hour on street (free) parking is available on surrounding streets- check out this map.
  • Guests should check in at the Museum Shop and Visitor Center located behind the mansion. The gift shop offers a variety of gifts and mementos.
  • Restrooms are located behind the gift shop.
  • The mansion is only handicap accessible on the first floor. A digital tour of the second floor is available for guests who cannot climb the staircase.
  • No dining facilities on site, but the museum offers this list and here is a great index of restaurants
  • Plan on one hour for the tour and time in the museum shop.

Playing “I Spy” at the Victoria Mansion:

  1. Three of the four cardinal virtues (fortitude, prudence, and justice) displayed in the entrance hall ceiling. The fourth virtue, temperance, was exempt because the family did drink alcohol.
  2. The Gustave Herter cabinet that Morse used to store liquor in the Reception Room. Herter decorated much of the home.
  3. The number of utensils at each place setting on the dining room table. 
  4. The total number of books in Morse’s collection on display in the library.
  5. The material used to make thresholds for each room entrance: a wooden threshold indicated that the space was private; a marble threshold meant the space was public.
  6. The painting of Queen Victoria’s house, sent by King George to William Holmes, on display in the hallway outside the library.

  1. The variety of cherubs in the parlor room.
  2. The state seals of Maine and Louisiana carved into stained glass windows at the top of the stairs.
  3. Drawings of all four seasons depicted in the ceiling murals in the Green Bedroom.
  4. The gas chandelier that must be lowered to be lit in the Turkish Smoking Room.
  5. The call bell (each room has its own call bell, with its own distinct sound) for the staff in Mrs. Morse’s Sitting Room.
  6. The porcelain chamber pot in the Red Bedroom, used for guests (and check out the double sinks!)

Looking for more private homes we have toured? Check out our index of posts here and post here. And follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook

Disclosure: My family was given a media pass to Victoria Mansion; all opinions expressed are my own.

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5 Comments

  1. As a New Englander, I am shocked I didn’t know this mansion existed! It looks like a fun stop for any traveler. It reminds me a little of the Newport Mansions too! I will definitely be adding this to my list.

  2. Those photos are so beautiful, what a cool place to visit in Portland! I can definitely see the references to Italian villas, and “I Spy” sounds like a really fun game to guide your exploration.

  3. What a fun idea! Victoria Mansion Museum looks like an awesome place to visit and it’s so beautiful. Added to my Maine bucket list.

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