On a great curve of the Mississippi River and on high ground first selected by the Houmas Indians stand the great Tuscan columns of The Houmas. The mighty Mississippi River gave birth to this land over the millennium, creating the fertile lands which became the great fields of Sugar Cane, Cotton, Corn, Indigo, tobacco and more. The richness of the land, great forests of cypress, and the abundance of wildlife for hunting attracted settlers in the early 1700’s and eventually into the hands of the Great Sugar Barons in the early 1800’s. In 1803 Donaldson and Scott built a new center hall cottage directly in front of the1700’s French House. In 1829, General Wade Hampton began the task of enlarging the Donaldson Cottage and transforming it into the Classical Revival Mansion that stands today. For over 240 years, the Houmas Mansion has evolved and grew with the times and with the owners of the great mansion. The great colonnade has not changed since 1829, when General Hampton set out to build a mansion fitting for his wife, Mary Cantey Hampton.
General Wade Hampton I died in 1835, leaving an estate valued at $1,641.065 dollars. Wade Hampton II inherited the estate but decided to give the Houmas to his two step-sisters, Caroline Hampton Preston and Susan Hampton, along with his step-mother, Mary Cantey Hampton. Wade Hampton II remained as an important advisory capacity to his family regarding the Houmas. Susan, wife of John L. Manning, died a few days after giving birth to her third child in 1845. Soon after, Mary Cantey Hampton gave here share in the Houmas to Caroline Hampton Preston, and her husband John Smith Preston, while the Manning children received Riverton Plantation in the 1848 partition of Houmas Lands.
Caroline Hampton Preston and John Smith Preston, a lawyer, planter, politician, orator, soldier and banker, spent most of each fall and winter overseeing the harvest at the Houmas, where they entertained many guests for sometimes months at a time. In April of 1848, there were thirty family members and guests in residence at the Houmas, and just as many servants in the household. The lavish dinner tables were dressed with fish, shell fish and oysters from the Gulf, wild turkey, venison, duck from the swamp, and woodcock, snipe and birds shot by Preston and his guests in the fields. There was an abundance of beef and mutton from the plantation, as well as fruits and vegetables from the gardens.
Soon after the death of Wade Hampton II on February 10th, 1858, John Smith Preston decided to sell the Houmas Plantation. On April 15th, 1858, the Houmas Plantations were sold to John Burnside, of the firm of J. Burnside and Co., for $1,000,000 dollars. The Houmas Estate had a frontage of thirty-five acres front on the Mississippi River, comprising the Donaldson, Clark and Conway tracts, and contained over twelve thousand acres of the finest quality of cultivable land, and a work force of over five hundred and fifty slaves, and was without exception, the finest property possessed by a single proprietor in America.
John Burnside was born in Tyrone County, Ireland around 1810 of a poor family. At the age of twelve or thirteen, he somehow managed to obtain passage to America, with only a few pennies in his pocket. He began his young career in the grocery house of Talbot Jones in Baltimore. After a year or so, he traveled south and found employment as a storekeeper in Fincastle, Virginia, and eventually joined the staff of Andrew Beirne, a fellow Irishman who had come to America thirty years earlier to make his fortune. He quickly excelled, became a junior partner, and moved to Roanoke. John Burnside and Oliver Beirne, Andrew Beirne’s son, were the same age and matured together in Mr. Beirne’s business, becoming very close friends, a friendship that lasted through the years. John Burnside arrives in New Orleans with Oliver Beirne in 1837 to open a dry goods store named Beirne and Burnside. After the death of Andrew Beirne in 1845, Oliver returned to Virginia to manage the family interests and the business Beirne and Burnside became J. Burnside and Company, the largest dry-goods store in the city of New Orleans. Burnside sold his very lucrative trading and dry goods business in New Orleans for $2,000,000 in 1858. He made the decision to enter the sugar business and began his Sugar Empire with the purchase of Houmas Plantation in 1858 for $1,000,000 dollars.
John Burnside, 48 years old when he acquired the Houmas, immediately began enlarging his holdings and purchasing other sugar plantations along the Mississippi River. In a very short time he was dubbed “The Sugar Prince,” by attaining the largest sugar empire in the South. Along with his properties on the Mississippi, Burnside also purchased the largest estate in the City of New Orleans, then known as the Robb Mansion. He collected great furnishings and great works of art to appoint both his city estate, later named “Burnside Place”, and his country estate, “The Houmas”. He shared his time between the two grand properties and entertained lavishly. At the age of 71, John Burnside, feeling ill, traveled to White Sulpher Springs, West Virginia for what he hoped would be a restful recovery. Instead, he died there on July 5th, 1881. Mr. Burnside left one of the largest estates in America to his boyhood friend, Oliver Beirne.
Oliver Beirne, 70 years old when he inherited the bulk of John Burnside’s estate, quickly took up residence at Houmas and began sharing his time managing Houmas Plantations, Burnside Place, and his own estate at Old Sweet Springs. In 1882, Oliver enlisted his son-in-law, William Porcher Miles (widower of Elizabeth Beirne, Oliver’s daughter) to manage his Louisiana Estates. In 1888, at the age 77, he died in New Orleans, leaving as estate valued at over five million dollars. The Houmas was inherited by his five grandchildren, the children of William Porche Miles. In 1892, the children transferred all their interests to the Miles Planting Company and William P. Miles was appointed President.
It was during the 1890’s that the Miles Family enlarged the mansion by connecting the 1829 mansion to the French House, to the rear. The carriageway was created between the two buildings and two additional bedrooms and a center hall were added to the 2nd floor of the mansion. During the Miles period, the 2nd floor housed seven bedrooms. The first floor of the mansion was re-designed to accommodate the extensive library of William Porcher Miles, incorporating the current Dining Room and creating a larger dining room in the rear of the building. In 1899, at the age of 77, William Porcher Miles died, and the Houmas Estate and Company was inherited by William P. Miles, Jr., and his sisters.
On February 22, 1911, W. P. Miles Jr., at the age of 45, married Harriet Waters, age 25, of New Orleans. They also enjoyed a large circle of friends that visited frequently, often staying weeks or months at a time. They entertained with dinner parties, garden parties, buggy races and hunting excursions. The Houmas Mansion was alive with family and friends. In the 1920s, a failed sugar crop forced the family to sell off the plantation piece by piece. Finally, the family moved to New Orleans, and the Houmas was used mostly for weekend and Holiday retreats.
In 1940, the Miles family sold the Houmas to Dr. George Crozat. Dr. George Crozat engaged architect, Douglass Freret, to remodel and redesign the Classic Revival Mansion into a Williamsburg federal-style country home. The house was stripped of its belvedere railings and cupola ornaments, along with the decorative ornate entablature over the columns as well as removing the second floor rear bedroom wing. Numerous out buildings, located just behind the main house, were demolished. They included an old kitchen, a pair of pigeonnieres, five large Moorish water cisterns, a school house, stables, green houses, service quarters and dozens of small service buildings. Dr. Crozat redesigned and remodeled the interior of the mansion then furnished the mansion with federal and early Louisiana antiques.
In the Spring of 2003, the Estate of Dr. George Crozat auctioned off the entire contents of the mansion and grounds. Kevin Kelly, a New Orleans Businessman, purchased the mansion and surrounding grounds and began the task of restoring the mansion and gardens. The mansion, having undergone over 200 years of construction and remodeling by various owners, reflected a multitude of styles. It was impossible to restore the house to a definite period without sacrificing elements from other important periods of its history. The choice was made to select the best features from various periods to showcase a legacy of each family in the mansion. After extensive restorations to the house and grounds, the Houmas re-opened for tours in November of 2003. Mr. Kelly allows tours of the mansion and gardens, however the Houmas remains his private residence, as it was for its previous owners for over 240 years.