Home Away From Home

Whitney Plantation and St. Joseph Plantation

It was a cold, blustery, wintry day in South Louisiana today but we trudged on! Our first stop was the Whitney Plantation which shows a very different side of the plantations, the slaves view. The plantation has only been opened to the public since 2014 but it is rich with history. Upon payment for our tickets we were each given lanyards with a picture of a former slave, their name and a quote from them. Mine was named Albert Patterson and Jerry’s was Mary Harris. Her quote was “Sure I remember slavery times. I was a big girl, turned eleven. I used to pull the fan that kep’ off the flies while the white folks was eatin’. It wasn’t hard work, but my arms used to get tired – ‘specially at dinner when they set so long at the table. I made the fires and brought in kindlin’ wood and carried out the hashes.”

Purchased initially by Ambrose Heidel who came from Germany along with his mother and siblings the main crop was indigo. Unfortunately that did not work so well so they turned to sugar cane which was very profitable but was literally harvested on the backs of the slaves. The hours, the homes, the treatment are all unimaginable.

Jerry at the Memorial Wall
Jerry at the Memorial Wall
There is a memorial wall on the grounds that names the slaves on the plantation and it shows some amazing quotes describing their lives. I would love to have spent more time there but it was so incredibly cold that we just couldn’t linger. One person even left and returned to the main building rather than continue in the cold. We continued to walk through the grounds entering another memorial for the children that died, then on to the jail where the slaves were held prior to the auction. The tour concluded with a brief tour of the house. Although none of the furniture is original to the house it is all from that time period some coming from Houmas House.

Our next stop was St. Joseph Plantation. Before we went in we sat in the car and ate our picnic lunch since we had plans to eat out tonight. Our visit at St. Joseph was probably the most authentic of all of our visits because it is still family owned, still producing sugar cane and the tours are conducted by family members. Interestingly enough the plantation was purchased by the doctor mentioned in a previous post. He came to Louisiana along with his family from France to treat the people along River Road.

The house is a typical Creole home where all guests entered through the back door. In fact, there are no stairs on the front. Our guide told us that if we visited Creole homes with front steps they had been added because originally Creole homes did not have them on the front.
There were many family heirlooms in the house.

St. Joseph Plantation
St. Joseph Plantation
In fact there was a christening gown that our guide had been christened in as had her great-grandmother and then her grandchildren.

One room was designated as the funeral room and there was black netting hanging around. There was also an old organ there and it works. She asked if either of us played and of course I answered yes so I sat down and played some ending with Amazing Grace. Playing a pump organ is not easy as you have to keep pumping the two pedals to get the sound. It’s easy to be playing with your hands and forget the feet thus the sound begins to fade.

Interestingly St. Joseph is comprised of what used to be three plantations, Le Petit Versailles”,named after the original Versailles burned down and Felicite which is still standing. In fact, we passed by the house and wondered what it was. It is only used for movies, etc. now as it is dire need of structural repair.

We did not tour any of the grounds as it was just too cold but we did look out the windows and see where some filming is going to take place soon. Several movies have been made there and is one source of income for the plantation.

After the plantation visits we returned to Gonzales and went to the mall as Jerry needed to buy a belt and he wanted to return to Direct Tools! After a quick trip to the grocery store we went to Cajun Catch to order our dinner. We had been told that they had the best crawfish in town. We ended up with crawfish to go plus some boudin sausage. It was all so good. Something was a bit spicy but we could never determine what it was. The crawfish because they were fried looked a lot like shrimp. I’m not sure what I thought they’d look like but I’d been told they were really just little lobsters so I guess I thought they’d look like that but they didn’t. Had we gotten them boiled I guess they would have resembled lobster – maybe!

We returned to the coach to eat dinner and start preparation for leaving for Abbeville tomorrow. In spite of the cold Jerry got the car on the dolly, a task that would be even more difficult tomorrow morning as it will be even colder. We got all of the clothes washed and dried so we are ready to go!

Home Away From Home

San Francisco and Housa House Plantations

We left New Orleans this morning just before 10:00.  Since there is no left turn out of the campground and then a sharp left turn at the next pull through Jerry had scouted out a route for us.  We rode down to the Winn Dixie, turned into the parking lot and then were back on Chef Menteur Hwy where we could easily exit to I10 West.  Apparently we made both GPS’s angry because they started sending us into the city.  I knew this was not correct so I told Jerry to keep going on I10.  He was getting a bit frustrated since the traffic was heavy and he didn’t know where he was going.  At his suggestion I started Waze.  It seems to work better in New Orleans.  I put into the information and it immediately led us in the right correction.  Whew!

It only took us a little over an hour to get to Lamar-Dixon Ag Center and it was just as I expected.  Just a parking lot full of RV’s but not a Class A anywhere. Check in was quick and easy and the ladies in the office were so welcoming.  Someone led us to our site, 49C and we quickly set up.  I called the office and got the Wi-Fi password and it appears that the Internet actually works!  We’ll see.  We had a quick lunch and then headed out for our first plantation on this leg.

The house is authentically painted except for the red doors.
The house is authentically painted except for the red doors.
San Francisco is billed as the only “Grand Mansion” on the River Road to be authentically restored.  The hand painted ceilings are amazing.  There was a period of time when the owners rented the house out and let the renters do as they pleased with the house.  I couldn’t believe that they painted over one of the ceilings and covered the lovely cypress beams.  The house is much closer to the road now since the Corps of Engineers build a new levee.  While once there was a white picket fence on the front now there is a chain link.  The house is truly close to the highway.  The plantation also has an 1840’s one-room schoolhouse and a slave cabin.  Neither are original to the plantation but were donated by others.  If I’m not mistaken I think the school house was donated by Destrehan.  The bottom floor of the plantation house is constructed using bricks in a herringbone pattern but not cemented down.  That was so any flood waters could rise and fall without damaging the floor however no flood marks on the wall indicate that the house never did flood.

Our next stop was Houmas Plantation.  Since it was almost 3:30 I was a bit concerned that it might be too late to view the gardens but it turned out to be perfect.  Instead of taking the 4:00 tour we took the 4:30 so we had plenty of time to wander through the yards.  I can only imagine how beautiful they must be in the spring and summer.  They are beautiful now with just a few blooms although I did see some sweetheart roses in various places.  Also saw something that looked like azaleas.  The statuary is beautiful and interestingly enough there are several bird houses.  Oaks were built on either side of the front of the house creating a wind tunnel from the river so that cooler air would enter the house.  Our guide was Susan and she did a terrific job.  One of the highlights was playing the Steinway Grand Piano. 

Oh what a joy.  Built in the 1800’s I couldn’t believe how well it played.  It is tuned twice a year and they clean every string.  It certainly did not play like an antique piano.  I sight-read the sheet music on the stand, Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte.  Susan and I sang and I harmonized with her.  What a treat!

Mr. Kelly still lives in the house and we got to see him before we left although we didn’t speak with him.  One cabinet camouflages the only television in the house and it’s in his bedroom.

In one room Susan pointed out a mirror which appeared to have two angels in the reflection.  She took a picture of it and they are more easily seen in the picture.

One of the outstanding features of the house is the free-standing spiral staircase. Tradition was that the men had to ascend first because if the women went first the men could see their ankles and that was akin to a marriage proposal.  Naturally Jerry led the way up the stairs.

The kitchen was also fascinating.  Most of the plantations had the kitchen in another building away from the house due to the threat of fire and the harsh heat emanating from there but at Houmas House the kitchen is on the first floor.  The reasoned that there were three people in the kitchen and they could put out the fire before it got to the house.  Susan showed us many of the interesting utensils they used to cook.

Another perk of the tour was our guide, Susan.  In conversation we discovered that she too is a Christian.  It is amazing and quite a blessing to see how God has placed Christians on our path during this trip.

After we left we had planned to eat at Cajun Catch as the crawfish had been recommended.  Unfortunately when we finally got there we realized that it was a deli and take-out so we came on back to the coach and warmed up the meat loaf and I fixed some veggies to go along with it.

Another quiet night and we were headed to bed!