Hannibal News

Rockcliffe Mansion furnishings return as permanent part of historic gem

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jul. 15, 2019 12:01 am

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Several original furnishings that left Hannibal 95 years ago are back in Rockcliffe Mansion thanks to a descendant of J.J. Cruikshank, who sees the architectural gem as a legacy for the region.

Warren Bittner and Juan Ruiz, who own the mansion, recently bought 10 pieces of furniture from Louise Lloyd Loosbrock of Minnesota, the great-granddaughter of the couple that built Rockcliffe Mansion.

"We're just overwhelmed with the generosity of Louise Loosbrock for entrusting us with these items that were owned by her great-grandparents and were cared for by family members all these years," Bittner said.

Loosbrock, Bittner and Ruiz also have made sure the items will stay with the house.

"We paid a fair market value for the items, but we also have a covenant with Louise that these items will never be sold off. They stay with the house. That's spelled out in a covenant that's part of the bill of sale," Bittner said.

Rockcliffe Mansion was built between 1898 and 1900 by John J. Cruikshank Jr., and his wife Anne Louise Cruikshank, who made a fortune in the lumber business. The house, with more than 13,500 square feet of floor space, sits atop a prominent hill at 1000 Bird St., with a commanding view of Hannibal and the Mississippi River.

The Cruikshanks lived in the home from 1900 to 1924. After the death of Mr. Cruikshank, his widow moved in with one of their daughters next door, leaving Rockcliffe vacant for more than 40 years.

In 1967, the city of Hannibal stepped in with a "repair or demolish order" due to the home's deterioration. The mansion was saved and has been possessed by a series of owners, one of which sold some of the distinctive furnishings before losing the house in bankruptcy.

Bittner and Ruiz have had the mansion since 2010 and have systematically been restoring the home back to the state it was in when completed in 1900. They also have been bringing some of the original furnishings back.

"The St. Louis newspaper did a story and took pictures in the mansion in 1901, and we've been using those pictures to try to match the furnishings as much as possible," Bittner said.

Thanks to items purchased from Loosbrock, the Moorish room has nearly all of the items shown in the 1901 picture. Items sold by Loosbrock include three Chinese marble-top tables, two Indian teakwood pieces, an India brass or bronze vase with cobra handles, a cast iron fern pattern garden bench and an empire drop-leaf mahogany sewing table.

Most of the wooden items are elaborately carved.

Ruiz said it appears to be destiny that the items have come back.

"They belong in this house, and they are coming back, slowly but surely," Ruiz said.

Loosbrock, who lives in Minnesota, also felt the furnishings that have been in her family need to be in the mansion.

"They needed to be back where they belonged and where they can be enjoyed by people who visit Rockcliffe," Loosbrock said.

As a child growing up in the 50s and 60s, Loosbrock was in the Cruikshank home near Rockcliffe with her mother and great-aunt.

"To my brother and I it was just a big spook house where we could play," she said.

Last spring, she took a tour of the mansion and had nothing but praise for Ruiz and Bittner as they work to be historically accurate to the mansion.

"It is crazy the level of their dedication. I love the way they're restoring the house to its grand splendor down the minute details -- even down to painting individual shutters" to match the original look, Loosbrock said.

Ruiz said more than 10,000 people took tours of the mansion last year, and he felt that was "an off year" for visitors.

Hannibal residents can take a tour at a promotional price of $5. Prices for nonresidents range between $15 and $7, depending on age. The first guided tour of the day begins at 10 a.m., and the last tour starts at 4 p.m.

Bed and breakfast rooms are available at the mansion, with an online portal that allows customers to see some views of the bedrooms.

Information on tours or bed and breakfast stays are available at 573-221-4140 or online at rockcliffemansion.com.

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