Houmas House, @HoumasHouse
Houmas House Plantation and Gardens has reclaimed its position as Crown Jewel of Louisiana's River Road.
Through the vision and determination of Kevin Kelly, who fulfilled a lifelong dream by acquiring the property in the Spring of 2003, the mansion today reflects the best parts of each period in its rich history alongside the big bend in the Mississippi River.
The first owners of the plantation were the indigenous Houmas Indians, who were given a land grant to occupy the fertile plain between the Mississippi and Lake Maurepas to the north.
The Houmas sold the land to Maurice Conway and Alexander Latil in the mid 1700's
The original French Provincial house that Latil erected on the property in is situated directly behind the Mansion, adjoined by a carriageway to the grand home described during its antebellum heyday as "The Sugar Palace." The original home was later used as living quarters for the staff that served the great house.
By the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the plantation was established and producing sugar.
In 1810, Revolutionary War hero Gen. Wade Hampton of Virginia purchased the property and shortly thereafter began construction on the Mansion. However, it was not until 1825 when Hampton's daughter, Caroline, and her husband, Col. John Preston, took over the property that the grand house truly began to take shape.
Construction on the Mansion was completed in 1828. At the same time, Houmas House began to build its sugar production and continued to increase its land holdings, which ultimately grew to 300,000 acres.
Irishman John Burnside bought the plantation in 1857 for $1 million. A businessman and a character, Burnside increased production of sugar until Houmas House was the largest producer in the country, actively working the crop on 98,000 acres. During the Civil War, Burnside saved the Mansion from destruction at the hands of advancing Union forces by declaring immunity as a subject of the British Crown. In addition to building a railway to carry his products to market —"The Sugar Cane Train (1862)" — Burnside, a bachelor, is also said to have offered payment to any parents in the parish who would name their sons "John."
An avid sportsman who wagered heavily in horse races, Burnside once secretly purchased a champion thoroughbred back East with the intent of defeating the steeds of fellow local businessmen in a big race. He quietly slipped the racehorse into the billiard room of the Mansion where it was "stabled" until Burnside's surprise was unveiled at the starting line and hailed in the winner's circle.
Houmas House flourished under Burnside's ownership, but it was under a successor, Col. William Porcher Miles that the plantation grew to its apex in the late 1800's when it was producing a monumental 20 million pounds of sugar each year.
In 1927, the Mississippi came out of its banks in the epic "great flood." While Houmas House was spared, the surrounding areas were inundated. The ensuing economic havoc was but a prelude to the devastation of the Great Depression just two years later.
Houmas House Plantation withered away. The Mansion closed and fell into disrepair, a condition in which it remained until 1940 when Dr. George B. Crozat purchased it.
Crozat bought Houmas House to be a summer home away from his native New Orleans. He renovated the property with the intent to give it a more "Federal" look than the stately Greek Revival style in which it was conceived. The structure was painted white inside and out. Crown moldings and ceiling medallions were removed and both interior and exterior forms and finishes were simplified.
Eventually, the Crozat heirs opened the property to tourists. In 1963, the defining Bette Davis film "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte" was shot in the property. The room in which Ms. Davis stayed while filming is preserved as part of today's Houmas House tour.
In addition to the Mansion and Gardens, history is also reflected in the many antique furnishings and works of art that grace the Houmas House tour. Distinguished by its two Garconierre, the Mansion exudes the warmth of a home (it's the owner's active residence), while proudly portraying its role as a landmark in American history.