Saturday, June 18, 2016

ROSEDOWN PLANTATION: Grand Dame on the River Road: By Polly Guerin

This is the second in the series featuring ports of call on Pollytalk's recent Mississippi River Cruise:

Rosedown Plantation at Christmas
"A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever; its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness." John Keats' romantic poem aptly describes, Rosedown Plantation, one of the grandest 19th century estates on the Mississippi River Road in St. Francisville, Louisiana---renowned for its magnificent gardens. "It is one of the most intact, documented examples of a domestic plantation in the South." (According to the National Park Service)

     There was a time in the grand lady's history, however, when Rosedown nearly went to ruin and withered in the dust of history; her gardens overgrown in despair. Alas that is worth telling but first a soupcon of history.
     In 1835 Martha Barrow Turnbull and her husband Daniel Turnbull, a cotton planter built their plantation home of the eastern shore of the Mississippi at St. Francisville. The young couple called their home, Rosedown, after a play they had enjoyed on their honeymoon in which the artistic background of the mansion in this production inspired the name for their future home. The home was furnished with the finest furniture and accoutrements and many original pieces are on display at Rosedown to this day.
One of Rosedown's Fomal Gardens
 In its golden years the plantation encompassed 3,455 acres at its height of cotton production and Martha, an avid horticulturalist, would create, on the grounds of her Louisiana wilderness home, a vast garden of nnmatched grandeur in the French style of the 17th century, to complement the mansion and estate grounds. As early as 1836, camellias, azaleas, and other luscious plants, fauna and ferns,  flowering shrubs grew out from the house and would transform the land to cover approximately 28 acres.  In the 19th century, Rosedown was the only privately maintained private garden of this scope in the United States, and today visitors are invited to enjoy its splendor.
     The Turnbull's were especially proud of their Rosedown furnishings. The elegance of the interior rooms and furnishings attests to the Turnbull's refined taste and the grand scale of entertainments that must have taken place there.  As I ventured into the Entrance Hall, the scenic wallpaper, a blue panoramic design by French craftsman Charles Velay depicts a portion of the Itialian epic poem Orlando Funiouso. 
      John Belter, the eminent cabinetmaker in old New York is credited with the ornately carved chairs with elaborate openwork in the card room; and is he only set of furniture that is not oritinal o the house. 
     Rich gold and blue, characterize the Music Room with its Chickering piano and above the piano the portrait, attributed to John James Audubon, the great artist-naturalist, is of Eliza P. Bowman, mother to James Bowman, Sarah Turnbull's husband. The Master Bedroom with its imposing half-tester rosewood bed dominates the room; a double armoire, bureau and single commode complete the set. Other original furnishings include the Bowman family's original Rocco Revival sewing table.
An elegant setting for Tea with ruby red furnishings
       In the spring of 1956, Catherine Fondren Underwood of Houston, Texas, first saw Rosedown when heirs of the original builders placed the plantation on the market. At this time, after the ravages of the Civil War and probable difficulty to maintain the property, the house was in a state of decline and the gardens were choked with jungle-like growth. However,  Mrs. Underwood, an enthusiastic horticulturalist, glimpsed signs of their original beauty. The ancient flowers and flowering trees still thriving on the grounds compelled her to buy Rosedown and begin an eight-year historic restoration of the house and formal gardens.  A benefactor with a compelling vision Mrs. Underwood not only saved the great Grand Dame Mansion and magnificent gardens of the 19th century but restored the plantation to its former glory for generations to come. As the poet wrote: "A thing of beauty is a joy forever."
    Rosedown continues to be operated as one of the South's most distinguished museum houses, preserving one of the nation's most important historic gardens.  Rosedown Plantation, 12501 Highway 10, St. Francisvile, LA 70775. For more information about open dates and tours, call 225-635-3332.
Ta Ta Darlings!!! The magnificent gardens at Rosedown still hold a beautiful image in my mind as do the exquisite furnishings in the mansion. Fan mail welcome, I love to hear from my readers: Visit Polly's Blogs at and click in the left hand column to the links to fashion, amazingwomen, visionary men and poetry. 

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