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Reserve, Louisiana – San Francisco Plantation Home

28 Aug

San Francisco Plantaion Home, Built in the 1850s, is One of the Most Unique Plantation Homes on Historic River Road

If you can find your way to LaPlace or to Reserve, or to Garyville, Louisiana, then you can find your way to The San Francisco Plantation Home.  If one goes by way of Reserve and LaPlace you go to the highway that turns into River Road – just turn right and it will not be too long before you arrive and you will not pass it up! You will have to slow down and curve around the house as you pass.  The town of Garyville also claims San Francisco Plantation but if you go that way you will have to make a left on to River Road.

The first time I saw San Francisco it surprised me how close it was to the road.  The flood of 1927 prompted the building of the Mississippi River levees. The river levee took the land between San Francisco and the river. The home is a beautiful structure.  I was determined to get a picture from the front – even with the road.  The house is separated from the road by a chain link fence.  I thought this was not particularly in good taste but after realizing that one could not see the grand home from the road with a “solid fence” it did not look as bad as I first thought. As it was I was able to climb up the levee a ways and to take pictures of the front.  Even with the fence I find the place intriguing.  Also, since the levee is a result of the 1927 flood it too takes on historical importance in the story of Louisiana.  The levee was to have destroyed San Francisco but somehow the locals got organized and stopped the planned destruction – thus the curved road so close to the plantation home.

Unique among all plantation houses in its foundation structure, plan, and silhouette, San Francisco is unquestionably a landmark as that term is popularly understood. It has been pictured in American, British, and Swedish periodicals as one of the major sights of the New Orleans area. The exterior combines a variety of architectural motifs in a design dominated by an immense and ornate roof construction. The interior is notable for the paintings which ornament the ceilings and door panels of the parlors.  The attic area is Victorian in design and because of it many refer to the structure as a “Steamboat Gothic.”  I am not familiar enough with Steamboats to make a determination but I can tell you that it is very unique and a pleasure to see and to photograph.  The unique color scheme is “icing on the cake” as far as I am concerned.

One must not forget that the reason for the home in the first place is sugar.  Although the home is grand in scale, and appearance, the families that owned the plantation could never make a good go of a sugar plantation.  It seems that at critical times in its history that war, depressions, death and bad luck inflicted a toll on those that would seek to make a go of growing and manufacturing sugar. Still the home fits into a cultural landscape that was shaped by the cultivation of sugarcane and the production of sugar.

In the 1970s Marathon Oil purchased  the property and the house. The San Francisco Plantation Foundation was created and the home underwent a massive restoration. As scientific analysis of materials and structure were done, along with archival research, it was decided to that the home would be restored to the golden years just before the War Between the States. The house then became listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today the San Francisco Plantation remains a major attraction in Louisiana being visited annually by over 100,000 people. Although the house is antebellum in a chronological sense, it is certainly not typical of the period. Its style and coloration are totally distinctive, and its memories are now locked in time just prior to the War Between the States, when the house was at the height of its splendor.

Convent, Louisiana – Old Jefferson College and the President’s Home – Manresa Retreat and Ignatius House

22 Aug

Manresa Retreat (Old Jefferson College) Commands the View From Historic River Road

When I first took a job in Convent, Louisiana, I did not know how much history and surprises that I would be exposed to just by going to work.  My first trip down the River Road from the Sunshine Bridge to the Courthouse in Convent was unbelievable.

Things were different then. There were small stores and homes all along the way of the Mississippi River and though many of them were old they had a “charm” about them that is unique to St. James Parish.  This “charm” is not apparent on the first visit.  After living or working there a while one begins to understand – it is not something written in books but in the heart and mind.  It is developed over time.

Things have now changed over the years and on a recent visit I found it hard to recognize what I thought would be familiar sights.  Some of the old had been replaced and the new was foreign. Hymel’s was still there.  Every Wednesday a group of us from the courthouse would travel here to eat lunch.  It was usually a large hamburger steak and most of us would get the large gold fish bowl looking mug of cold beer.

Life was different here.  It was a hard choice to go to Hymel’s.  That meant we had to miss the lunch time Bourée game.  Every day at lunch we ate our sandwiches in a few bites and then placed the tables together for our daily game of Bourée.  What great fun and relaxation.  The rules were rigged at a nickel a pot and a quarter if you booed.  You couldn’t get rich or go broke with that – only have fun.  The third floor lounge was filled with friends and laughter every day. Back during that time there were several large Live Oak Trees that graced the courthouse.  Beautiful is all that comes to mind.  The courthouse also had an amazing neighbor.  A wonderful building with Doric columns that commanded the view from the River Road that passed in front.  This was the Manresa Retreat.

When I first drove to Convent I was certainly enjoying the many Creole influenced homes and barns and whatever kind of structures along the way.  Then all of sudden  and unexpectedly, a tremendous three story building with the front lined in white columns grabbed all my attention.  What is this, I thought?  It was so majestic and beautiful that I just gazed at it without thinking.  Many of the things in St. James were like that.  You knew that just about everything was historical but that rarely entered your mind.  The beauty of things occupied the mind. These special places were very much appreciated.  They were part of the here and now and were a part of everyday life as far back as one could remember.

Ignatius House (President's Home Jefferson College) Dates to 1836

However, this large majestic building was a complete surprise. I soon learned that Manresa was a Catholic Retreat and that men could come there to mediate and be rejuvenated spiritually. I had never heard of such a thing.  Later I learned that Manresa was not constructed as a retreat but once was a college. Jefferson College was its name.  It would be years after I had left Convent before I really understood the history and significance of Manresa or Jefferson College.

Manresa was chartered in 1831 as the College of Jefferson.  The present main building was constructed in 1842. On the front end of the property (nearest River Road) is the former Presidents home.  It was built in 1836.  Today it is known as Ignatius House.  It is a reduced scale version of a Great River Road plantation home of the period.  There is a difference in dates of the two structures because a fire destroyed the original Jefferson College building in 1841.

The main building is a three story English bond brick structure with a colossal Roman Doric order form gallery of twenty-one bays.Of course the main building was occupied from 1862 to 1864 by the Union forces during the War Between the States.  In 1864 Valcour Aime, the owner of the property, transferred Jefferson College to Marist Fathers and the U.S. Government withdrew its troops.  In 1864  Marist Fathers reestablished the college as “St. Mary’s Jefferson College.”  St. Mary’s Jefferson College operated until 1927 at which time it was closed.  In 1931 the Jesuit Fathers of New Orleans purchase Jefferson College and it was renamed “Manresa House of Retreats.” February 25 – March 2, 1931, the first retreat was held at Manresa under the direction of the Fathers of the Society of Jesus.

I guess we need to know some of the history of the place to gain a full appreciation of the buildings and property.  However, when riding down River Road one need not know a thing about the place to be awed by the sight of this beautiful place along a section of what I would call a “Sleepy Section” of River Road.