By Stacy Thomas
Editor’s Note: Last month, we featured a piece on the William Culbertson Mansion in New Albany. As our writer Stacy Thomas researched, she learned that there are two other mansions that also bear the Culbertson name. Here are some interesting facts about the other Culbertson mansions – which, with Culbertson Mansion itself, comprise the Culbertson trifecta – and the family ties that link Southern Indiana to the Kentucky Derby.
Culbertson West • 904 E Main St., New Albany • 812.941.8100
It only seems appropriate that this mansion, built in 1886 by William S. Culbertson as a wedding gift to his son Samuel, now operates as a premiere venue for weddings, receptions, and special events. The Culbertson West is right next door – or West of the Culbertson Mansion. Samuel Culbertson, his wife Louise, and their two sons, Craig and William, resided in the mansion for ten years. The 300 guest capacity facility features a main ballroom, two parlors, a courtyard, plus full service bar and catering. The original Victorian Era woodwork, staircases, and stained glass provide elegant surroundings for any occasion. Visit: culbertsonwest.com
The Samuel Culbertson Mansion • 1432 South Third St., Louisville • 502.634.3100
In March 1896, Samuel Culbertson purchased land across the river on Third Avenue, which was then known as the millionaire’s row of Louisville. After just one year of construction, Culbertson’s Georgian Revival mansion was complete with more than 50 rooms; 20,000 square feet; 11 bathrooms; a ballroom; a formal courtyard; and a 3,500 square foot, twin-spired carriage house. In spring 1897, the family welcomed guests for the 23rd running of the Kentucky Derby. The mansion’s third floor ballroom was the birthplace of the Derby Party.
Today, the mansion operates as Louisville’s most historic inn and bed and breakfast. Current owner and innkeeper Rudy Van Meter purchased the property on June 5, 1975, as the third owner, and has called the Samuel Culbertson Mansion home for the last 40 years.
“This house had the most bathrooms and columns of its time,” Van Meter said. “It is truly one of a kind. Each bedroom has a walk-in closet; the master has three closets. It was the perfect set up for a bed and breakfast. We book up a year in advance for Derby and still honor the tradition of the Derby Party in the ballroom.”
Culbertson was elected President of Churchill Downs in 1928 after nine years serving on the board of directors. He was the track chairman of the board from 1937 to 1948. Culbertson resided in his Third Street mansion for 51 years, until his death in 1948 at the age of 86. The rest is history.
Did you know…
- Samuel Culbertson’s father William was morally opposed to gambling in any form, especially horse racing. He was known to disown family members for betting on horses. Samuel kept his interests in the field under wraps until after the death of his father in 1892. He moved to Louisville five years later.
- Samuel Culbertson became president of Churchill Downs in 1928. He is known for NEVER placing a bet.
- Samuel Culbertson, along with Col. Matt Winn, were pivotal in bringing the Kentucky Derby to prominence. The first Derby Balls were held in Culbertson’s third floor ballroom of his home. Crowds would gather in the street to listen to the music emanating from the mansion, leaving Third Street in Louisville virtually impassable.
- Famous Derby winners War Admiral, Gallahadion, Count Fleet, Gallant Fox, Whirlaway and Citation were part of the Golden Era of Samuel Culbertson and the Kentucky Derby.
- Samuel Culbertson conceived of and commissioned the very first Garland of Roses to adorn Kentucky Derby winner Burgoo King in 1932. Said to have been his mother’s favorite flower, the rose-filled garland and its symbolism carry on today.
- Samuel Culbertson was known as the “perennial cotillion leader,” hosting and entertaining local dignitaries and Kentucky Derby guests from around the world.
- Into his eighties, Samuel still walked the 15 blocks from home to his office in the Kentucky Home Life Building daily. He had been diligently working in his office, in good health, the day before his death.