Sunday, June 12, 2016

HOUMAS HOUSE: Crown Jewel of Louisiana's River Road By Polly Guerin

This is the first in a series featuring ports of call on Pollytalk's recent Mississippi River Cruise:
What would  Mark Twain, the celebrated Mississippi storyteller, say about Houmas House plantation----the first port of call on a river cruise that plied its way from New Orleans up the Mississippi River delta to Darrow, Louisiana?     
      "Well my dear," he might say. "The first owners of the plantation were the indigenous Houmas Indians, hence the name for the grand home, which during its halcyon heyday was called "The Sugar Palace.

       Legend has it that when the mansion was completed in 1828, Houmas House  began to build its sugar plantation and continued to increase its land holdings which ultimately grew to 300,000 acres.
     My introduction to this magnificent 19th Century Greek Revival mansion had grace of  ante bellum authenticity. The charming and engaging historical interpreter, a Miss Susan Harris Forman greeted the assembled guests like a real Southern belle, wearing the most beguiling large white straw, wide brimmed sun hat adorned with a cluster of red flowers to protect her complexion. and her hoop skirt costume completed the Southern Belle ensemble.  Her historical repartee was captivating and the humor that she sugar coated her commentary made the visit to Houmas house memorable. "You all, come on in," she said.
       Once inside the house there was a treasure-trove of antique period furniture, Waterford crystal, the original Houmas china, the large imposing fly swatter over the dining table, that in the old days a servant would pull back and forth to provide a whiff of air over the dining table. It was a peek into the way a sugar Baron lived.   
Houmas House with its authenticity and historical settings has been featured in a number of films, television shows and even in the soap opera, "All My Children." 
     One of the most interesting bedrooms is the room where Bette Davis stayed during the filming of "Hush..Hush, Sweet Charlotte." This movie was shot on the plantation in 1963 
      It is interesting to mention John Burnside who bought the plantation in 1857 and increased production of sugar until Houmas House was the largest sugar producer in the country. Then there was Col William Porcher Miles under whom the plantation was producing a monumental 29 million pounds of sugar each year.

Most impressive was the architectural marvel, a remarkable three-story circular stairway

that Miss Forman scaled with us in pursuit and then there was the requisite Gentlemen's Parlour were Southern gentlemen retreated after dinner to discuss business over brandy and cigars. "Now ladies," Miss Forman said, Remember, it was a male dominated society. The women also retreated as well to The Ladies' Parlour" where a grand piano provided entertainment and the polite gossip of the day conducted in a more genteel setting."
      In 2003 Kevin Kelly, a visionary man acquired the plantation and fulfilled the dream of owning an important Louisiana plantation.  He transformed the place with magnificently landscaped lush gardens, restored the mansion to most of its former glory, as well as---- the two Garconnierre, where in the old South men in he family or male guests were housed away from the mansion to seemingly thwart encounters with the females in the mansion.
    The amenities of formal dining are another addition Kelly made plus a tavern housed in one of the former Garconnierres. The latest addition, the Wedding Pavilion, is the site of modern day celebrations. HOUMAS HOUSE,  is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, located at River Road Burnside, Darrow, LA 760725. For additional information, call 225.473.9380.
     Ta Ta Darlings!!!  I do declare I've acquired a slight Southern drawl, what will my New York friends think?  Fan mail welcome at  Visit PollyTalk's Blogs including and contact links in the left-hand column on subjects as diverse as fashion, visionary men, women determined to succeed and poetry. 

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