Sunday, November 15, 2015

San Francisco Plantation

One should always see at least see one plantation when down in the southern part of our nation.  There are 10 of them along the Great River Road between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.  As I wrote previously, we are in Hammond, about 40 miles north of New Orleans.  Saturday we drove west along Highway 10 and then south to Highway 44, the road along the Mississippi River.  We were expecting to start seeing large stately plantations with rows of live oaks lining long winding drives along lush green lawns.  No, what we saw were large grain silos with enclosed conveyors belts connected to them arising over the road and a high levee.  Cargil was the name on one complex of buildings.  Further down the road we saw oil refineries and a sign indicating that this was Louisiana Refinery District.  Gone are the days when sugar cane and cotton were the big money-makers of the day!
We almost missed the plantation, only a fence and a sign indicated its presence.  Walking the pathway up to the house we passed by a fountain created from two large kettles.  They were once used in rendering down the sugar cane.  A tour guide greeted us at the door.  She first commented that in the mid 1880s two-thirds of the nation's wealth was located in the south, which was made possible by the slave labor.  We later saw  by a slave cabin a memorial to those people.  The memorial noted that the slaves "contributed immensely to the economy and culture of Louisiana".  The slave cabin is pictured below.
Now back to the tour and information regarding the history of the plantation.  Until the 1970s, when Marathon Petroleum Foundation bought and restored the plantation at a cost of several million dollars, the plantation house was lived in by several families.  The present house was built between 1853 and 1856.  The owner, Pierre Edmond Marmillion, died in 1852, leaving the plantation to his son Valsin and his German-born wife Louise von Seybold.  Over the next 23years while she lived on the plantation Louise wrote faithfully to her mother back in Germany, 100 of her letters have been found.  In those letters Louise writes of her unhappiness pertinent to that time of violent upheaval in Southern history.  Hearing from our tour guide stories about the family (from those letters) certainly made the tour of the house quite fascinating, and brought to life the actual events which took place within the various rooms. 
The house, pictured above,  is touted as one of the most opulent plantation houses along the River Road. Bookend water cisterns are on each side of the house.  The house has Gothic windows, ornate embellishments and gingerbread trim.  Louise did not like the original dull muted colors of the French Creole house of that time.  She repainted the place in bright Bavarian colors, inside and out.  The ceilings were painted in a vivid palate of colors,  also a number of wall panels and doors had colorful designs painted on them.  The fresco designs are of birds, cherubs, jewels, and scrolls.  Various artists from around the world were hired to repaint them during the restoration of the house.   Pictured below is a view from the front porch overlooking the grounds. A sprawling live oak shades the porch.
It is a very large house with 17 rooms.  As most houses of the day, kitchen and bathrooms were located outside.  Valsin complained that the cost of redoing the house and furnishing it with only the finest accoutrements left him poor, so the plantation received the name of Sans Frusquin.  That is a French slang phrase meaning "without a penny in my pocket".  A later owner changed the name to San Francisco.  One final note here, this house was spared by the Union Army.  Valsin supplied the army with food and girls.  He  supported the North- his younger brother Charles was a soldier in the Confederate army.  Valsin died in 1871, Louise managed to run the property until Charles' death in 1875.   Louise returned with her three daughters to Munich in 1879 after she had sold the plantation.

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