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.
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
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.