Many different architectural styles can be found among the plantation homes along Louisiana’s Great River Road and throughout the south. Wherever wealth, social status, and heartfelt hospitality converged, these antebellum structures — some more grand than others — rose to reflect these and other characteristics of the landowners.
Some of the main houses were simple home places designed as raised Creole cottages made largely from native Cypress and built for comfort and practicality.
Others took the form of grand mansions; some expressed in styles of Greek Revival, Italianate, Federal or other architectural styles. To a great extent, the point of these elegant and dramatic southern mansions was to emulate the grand homes and villas of wealthy Europeans who set the standard of the day for exhibiting wealth and expressing style.
Upon its completion in 1840, Houmas House was the Crown Jewel of Louisiana’s River Road with its heroically-columned Greek Revival exterior topped by a belvedere that surveyed the Oak alley leading south to the sweeping bend in the Mississippi and the miles and miles of cane fields to the north and east.
But that 1840 mansion with its broad galleries and thick masonry walls had humble beginnings in the mid-1700’s when the original house was built on the site by Maurice Conway and Alexandre Latil, New Orleans businessmen who purchased the property from the Houmas Indians. Latil designed a more modest home that reflected both the French and Spanish architectural influences that still define Louisiana’s heritage. The smaller residence that also houses the kitchen and is now connected at the back of the Mansion by a carriageway was, indeed, the original Latil House.
After Gen. Wade Hampton of South Carolina bought the property in 1810, his son-in-law Col. John Preston and daughter Caroline began construction on the present Mansion. As was often the practice in those days, the great house grew in stages and reached its final full dimension in 1840.
The Mansion is an excellent example of the peripteral type of Greek Revival architecture in which the main structure is surrounded by grand columns, each with an uninterrupted span from ground level to the roofline.
Among Houmas House Plantation and Gardens’ unique features are twin Garconierre, very rare among plantation homes. Federal arched dormers stand above the large Doric galleries.
Inside, a free-standing, three-story helix staircase follows the corresponding curvature of the adjacent wall.
Nearly 100 years after the Mansion was completed, Dr. George Crozat purchased Houmas House as his country escape from his city place in New Orleans. Determined to “Federalize” the look of the home, Dr. Crozat removed ornate features such as cornices, crown moldings, and ceiling medallions and painted the structure white, both inside and out. During this time, modern plumbing was added and several changes were made to the service quarters, including the addition of an upstairs hallway to connect the two structures and the installation of a striking Palladian window that provides a view of the fountain courtyard.
When New Orleans businessman and preservationist Kevin Kelly fulfilled a lifelong dream by purchasing the home in early summer, 2003, he set about recreating the experience of encountering Houmas House circa 1840.
Today, visitors to Houmas house encounter Kelly’s loving salute to the grand property’s antebellum heritage his respectful homage to his antebellum predecessors.
The mansion’s faux marble exterior is painted in rich ochre which reflects the influence of Mediterranean villas owned by the wealthy Europeans that the southern planters emulated. The belvedere that crowns the house has been restored, and interior features and finishes have been reinstalled in their original form. The twin Garconierre that distinguish the property have been renovated. And the central hallway of the grand house bears a room-size mural with a sugar cane motif that characterizes the original entryway artwork common in many plantation homes along the Mississippi.
Houmas House is a historic estate located near New Orleans in Darrow, Louisiana. Open 7 days a week from 9am to 7pm. At Houmas House, visitors can tour the mansion and grounds, stay in the inn, enjoy Louisiana cuisine, and host one-of-a-kind weddings and events.