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Day Trips from New Orleans

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The Mississippi Downriver from New Orleans

To travel the Mississippi River’s west bank to the Gulf of Mexico is to encounter a landscape under constant change and threat. The river, essential to the nation’s commerce as a route for oceangoing vessels, has been manipulated over the years to improve navigation and to protect New Orleans from floods. But these projects have prevented the Mississippi from carrying silt to rebuild wetlands and the low, unstable barrier islands that help protect the coastline from hurricanes and tidal surges. Canals and pipelines dug to support the offshore oil and gas industry have furthered erosion, encouraging salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to invade the fragile freshwater marshes. More than 2,000 square miles of delta land have been lost in the last eighty years (current loss is about a football field per day), and buildings and entire communities have disappeared, a pressing problem more recently and forcefully underscored by the impact of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. To combat land loss, the State of Louisiana established the Coastal Restoration Authority that year to mitigate erosion and to master-plan protection and restoration projects.

The earliest structures along the river’s delta were earth and shell mounds and middens constructed 1,500 years ago by Native Americans; practically nothing remains of these features. The Balize, a small fort built in 1734 on an islet at the mouth of the Mississippi River, is now submerged, and Manila Village, a Filipino fishing settlement that became a hub of the shrimp-drying industry in the 1890s, was destroyed by Hurricane Betsy in 1965. Little survives from the sugar plantations along this route, and citrus-fruit cultivation is a mere shadow of what was once a vigorous industry. After engineer James B. Eads constructed jetties at the South Pass of the Mississippi River in 1879, the region’s importance as a route and a port for oceangoing ships was assured. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now controls the navigation channels.

Land along the Mississippi River was subdivided on the French long-lot pattern, with the narrow side of the lot bordering the waterway to give property owners access to the principal means of transportation. Communities and towns tend to be linear in plan, following the ridge of higher land next to the river. Consequently, lines of vernacular structures, rather than any individual monument or building, give the delta its character, as do the ships, visible from the highway, threading their way to the Gulf of Mexico. The route from New Orleans to Venice at the end of the road is 75 miles.

The route downriver along LA 23 begins at Belle Chasse, home to a Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base. Just before West Pointe à la Hache is Woodland Plantation House (now an inn) at 21997 LA 23, built c. 1855. The one-and-a-half-story raised house of the former sugar plantation was constructed of cypress for retired river pilot William Bradish Johnson. The house faces the river, so its rear view is visible from the highway. Nevertheless, front and rear facades are alike, each with a full-width gallery and a row of five dormer windows in the pitched roof.

Nine miles south of West Pointe à la Hache is what remains of the town of Port Sulphur, founded by the Freeport Sulphur Company in 1933 to house employees for the company’s mine ten miles west at Grande Ecaille and to serve as a processing and shipping point. Approximately two hundred houses were built in the new town, along with churches, a hospital, and a school. After the mine closed in 1978, the town continued to process sulphur from the company’s other Gulf Coast mines, but is now much diminished after being inundated by more than twenty feet of water from Hurricane Katrina.

Farther south, Fort Jackson was begun in 1822 on a bend of the river and was occupied in 1832. Named to honor Andrew Jackson, the fort, along with the scant, inaccessible remains of Fort St. Philip on the east bank of the river, was designed to safeguard the river approaches to New Orleans from the Gulf of Mexico. Like Fort Pike in eastern New Orleans, it was one of first forts built under a national coastal fortification program that extended from the end of the War of 1812 to the Civil War and was designed to withstand attack from land or sea. The forts were singularly ineffectual in this effort; after a five-day bombardment early in the Civil War, forts Jackson and St. Philip failed to stop the Union fleet, under the command of Admiral David Farragut, from proceeding upriver to New Orleans, which surrendered on April 28, 1862. Fort Jackson was built on the site of Fort Bourbon, a Spanish redoubt of c. 1792 that was destroyed by a hurricane in 1795. Pentagonal, with a large bastion at each corner, it has twenty-foot-thick brick walls and rises twenty-five feet above a surrounding moat. At the time of the Civil War, a large citadel occupied the center of the parade area; this was destroyed during the 1862 attack, along with the wooden quarters outside the fort. Repairs were made to the fort after the war, and it received additional guns during the Spanish-American War in 1898. In World War I, several units based at Jackson Barracks in New Orleans received training at Fort Jackson. In 1926, the fort was declared surplus property and sold into private ownership. Donated to Plaquemines Parish in 1960, it was restored and opened to the public in 1962. Although the fort’s interior is now closed following damage from Hurricane Katrina, a walk around its perimeter reveals the impressive size and importance of this ambitious structure.

Venice, the last habitable community on the Mississippi River before land dissolves into water, is a popular point of departure for sport fishing. It cannot be said to resemble its more famous eponym, but it does have a distinctive character of its own. Like its Italian counterpart, it is laced with and surrounded by water channels. As a base for helicopters transporting workers and supplies to offshore oil rigs and for various marine-related structures, Venice has that untidy but purposeful and fascinating industrial appearance that characterizes other Louisiana Gulf communities.

The Mississippi Upriver from New Orleans

Mark Twain described his journey by steamboat along the Lower Mississippi River in Life on the Mississippi (1883): “From Baton Rouge to New Orleans, the great sugar plantations border both sides of the river all the way, and stretch their league-wide levels back to the dim forest-walls of bearded cypress in the rear. Plenty of dwellings all the way, on both banks—standing so close together, for long distances, that the broad river lying between the two rows, becomes a sort of spacious street.” Today the vista along the 132 miles of river between the two cities is as memorable as it was in the nineteenth century. Vast grain silos, fields of circular oil-storage tanks, and shiny petrochemical plants have displaced many of the plantations, but their products, transported by water for export throughout the world, make the Mississippi River as much a corridor now as it was then.

Native Americans first inhabited this area, and although nothing survives of their culture on this stretch of the river, there are two mounds on the Louisiana State University campus in Baton Rouge, remnants of the ancient nomadic mound-building native cultures that also built Poverty Point (a World Heritage site) in northeast Louisiana. From the 1720s, European settlers, mostly Germans and Acadians, established small farms along the river. Anglo-Americans arrived in significant numbers after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, some bringing their enslaved workers with them. Soon, wealthy planters consolidated small farms into vast landholdings, transformed the hinterland of cypress swamp into fertile fields, and built elegant houses.

Early crops were indigo and perique tobacco (in St. James Parish), but by the beginning of the nineteenth century sugarcane reigned supreme, and by its end increasingly large sugar mills were built as the manufacturing process was consolidated. In some cases, new towns developed around the mills, such as Gramercy for Colonial Sugars. Lumber, mostly cypress, was also a major industry until the late nineteenth century, but by the 1930s it had declined as sources were depleted. The railroad accelerated industrial growth, as did maintenance of a deep-water channel that allowed oceangoing vessels to travel upriver as far as Baton Rouge.

In the twentieth century, grain elevators were built on the river’s bank, where grain harvested in the Midwest was received and loaded onto ships. Thereafter, petroleum, chemical, and fertilizer companies saw the potential of this transportation route. Between 1945 and 1961 alone, one hundred and fifty industrial plants were established along the river between Baton Rouge and Port Sulphur below New Orleans. These twentieth-century changes inevitably led to the destruction of important historic buildings, which galvanized local citizens to preserve and maintain what remained. These, together with the newer structures, tell the story of the river’s evolution and offer a diverse and fascinating journey. The following tours along its east and west banks offer some of the highlights.

The East Bank

The first notable structure after leaving the New Orleans metro area is the Bunge Grain Elevator at 12442 LA 48 (known as River Road) in Destrehan (St. Charles Parish), a landmark along the Lower Mississippi. Grain from America’s Midwest is stored in the concrete silos and then moved to the waiting ships via covered conveyer belts that span the highway and levee. Bunge chose this site for its grain elevator, as did Archer Daniels Midland (1963) at 12710 LA 48, because of the availability of barge, rail, and truck transportation and the Mississippi’s deep-water channel that accommodates oceangoing ships. Driving along the highway underneath the conveyer shafts is akin to passing through a series of triumphal arches.

At 13034 LA 48 is Destrehan Plantation House. In 1787 indigo planter Robert Antoine Robin de Logny hired free man of color Charles Paquet, a carpenter and mason, to build the house, which has a pegged cypress frame with bousillage infill, a double-pitched roof, and a gallery on slender wooden supports. At de Logny’s death in 1792, an estate inventory recorded the house, a kitchen, a storehouse, two hospitals, a pigeonnier, a coach house, nineteen slave cabins, and nine pairs of vats for indigo processing. De Logny’s daughter Marie-Claude Céleste and her husband, Jean Noël Destrehan, acquired the house, added two-story wings, and turned to sugar cultivation. Under the ownership from 1838 of the Destrehans’ daughter Louise and her husband, Pierre Rost, they refashioned the house in Greek Revival style by encasing the gallery supports in plastered brick to form double-height columns, among other changes. The house’s exterior yellow stuccoed walls (scored to resemble stone), dark green shutters, and red-painted gallery rails replicate the mid-nineteenth-century color scheme.

From 1865 to 1866, Destrehan served as a headquarters for the Louisiana Freedmen’s Bureau; it was then returned to the Rosts. Following a number of later owners, including a petroleum company, the River Road Historical Society acquired the then-deteriorated house in 1971. It was restored under the direction of architect Eugene D. Cizek. In 1997, a mule barn, 162 × 35 feet, constructed in the 1830s of pegged timber, was moved here from Glendale Plantation and reconstructed. Destrehan is open to the public.

One-half mile from Destrehan is the Hale Boggs Bridge (1975–1983) designed by engineers Modjeski and Masters, with Frankland and Lienhard. The sleek form of this bridge derives from its cable-stayed design. With a center span of 1,222 feet, it soars over the river, conveying both lightness and strength through the two dark brown Cor-Ten steel pylons, battered like Egyptian gateways.

The town of Norco was founded in 1916 by the New Orleans Refining Company (Norco) on a former sugar plantation. The refinery began operation in 1920. After Shell Petroleum Corporation (now Motive Enterprises) acquired the refinery in 1929, it built housing for workers, along with the amenities common to company towns, some of which survive. The complex stretches approximately two miles back from the river,

Just beyond Norco is the Bonnet Carré Spillway constructed between 1929 and 1936 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which protect New Orleans from downriver Mississippi River floods by providing a passage for excess floodwaters to discharge into Lake Pontchartrain and thence to the Gulf of Mexico. The Spillway is one of the flood-control structures along the Lower Mississippi authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1928 in response to the floods of 1927 that devastated the Mississippi River Valley, described by John M. Barry in Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America (1997). This site was selected because previous crevasses indicated it was a weak point in the river’s levee system. The dam’s 350 bays, each 20 feet wide, set between reinforced-concrete piers and closed by vertical timbers, can be opened singly or in combination. The vast width of this Spillway illustrates the force and power of the Mississippi River, and dramatizes the fact that the river is at a higher elevation than the Spillway. The Spillway, 5.7 miles in length and a major feat of twentieth-century engineering, has become a recreation area (when not inundated), popular for biking and camping. As of 2019, the Spillway has been opened twelve times. From here the Spillway must be skirted along LA 61, rejoining LA 44 on the other side.

San Francisco Plantation (c. 1853–1860) on LA 44 in Garyville shows the juxtaposition of old and new in its situation among the adjacent oil tanks. The house’s first floor is constructed of brick, and the second floor of brick between posts. A wide double flight of stairs leads to the principal living spaces on the second floor. The interior is organized according to the Creole plan of rooms en suite (without halls). Creole tradition was also followed in the use of the ground floor for dining and service rooms and the upper for the principal living spaces. The house’s picturesque exterior includes a gallery with Corinthian columns, a balustrade screening the louvered windows that ventilate the attic, and a widow’s walk. Creole families often favored colorfully painted houses, as here. Cisterns with reconstructed onion-domed copper covers stand on each side of the house; water was pumped from them to a tank in the attic, and was fed to sinks through a system of lead pipes. No buildings survive from the plantation’s wealthy years before the Civil War. Late-nineteenth-century photographs show an elaborate garden in front of the house; this fell victim to a twentieth-century relocation of the levee, which also rerouted River Road uncomfortably close to the building’s front. The house is open for tours.

A few yards farther at 2858 LA 44 is Emilie Plantation House (1882), an attractive raised house of brick-between-posts construction, and a plan that is two rooms wide with rear cabinets and loggia. A square cupola flanked by identical chimneys crowns the steep pyramidal roof.

Garyville was a lumber town established in 1903 when the Lyon Lumber Company of Illinois purchased the former Glencoe sugar plantation and acres of cypress swamp for the Lyon Cypress Lumber Company. Southron Duval (1862–1916) laid out Garyville and designed the buildings. As was typical of its time, housing was racially segregated. The white areas on the west were further subdivided for executives, managers, and workers, with houses ranging in size according to the rank of the employee. The Lyon Lumber Company ceased production here in 1931 and departed for the forests of Oregon. Of the 230 original buildings, some 60 residences (now in private ownership) and the Lyon Company headquarters, now the Garyville Timbermill Museum, survive. The museum, a two-story frame building, is one of the few extant lumber company headquarters from Louisiana’s timber boom of the early twentieth century. The large sign across the front of the building imitates in size a sign that originally identified the building as the Lyon Cypress Lumber Company.

A few miles before the town of Gramercy in St. James Parish, the vast red-dusted processing and storage structures of the Noranda Alumina and Bauxite plant appear. Here the ore is processed into red alumina, the key ingredient in aluminum. The plant was built in 1958 for Kaiser Aluminum Corporation and the alumina was transported to Kaiser’s aluminum plant (see SB3) in Chalmette until it closed; it is now sold to other companies.

Gramercy, the company town for the Gramercy Sugar Company (now Colonial Sugar Company), was founded in 1895 by New York investors and built mostly between 1895 and 1920. Among the many historic buildings is McKim, Mead and White’s powerhouse, a three-story Beaux-Arts classical brick structure with a rusticated base, Doric pilasters separating the large windows, and gable ends outlined to resemble a pediment. The powerhouse is not accessible but is partially visible from the company’s gated entrance on E. Main Street.

At 5858 LA 44, just before the town of Convent, is the Manresa House of Retreats, a Jesuit retreat house for laymen, which occupies the former College of Jefferson, founded in 1831 by a group of Louisianians of French ancestry for the education of their children. A fire destroyed most of the buildings in 1842, and though it was rebuilt, the college never recovered and was sold in 1848. The main building, fronted by twenty-two giant columns, was probably completed in 1843. The architect is unknown. After various owners, the Jesuits acquired the property in 1931. The Gothic Revival chapel (c. 1860), was perhaps designed by James Gallier Jr. The town of Convent was named after the now-demolished Convent of the Sacred Heart, established here in 1825.

The next few miles showcase the surviving grand plantation houses on the east side of the river. All are Greek Revival, but their differences reveal the aesthetic possibilities of the style.

Houmas House (40136 LA 942) near Burnside in Ascension Parish occupies land acquired in 1774 from the Houma Indians. A house built c. 1809 is now the two-story structure attached to the rear of the Greek Revival house constructed for John and Caroline Preston in 1840. Shaded by a monumental Tuscan-columned gallery, the stucco-covered brick house has a wide central hall and is three rooms deep, with hexagonal brick garçonnières flanking the building. In 1857 the Prestons sold the house, 12,000 acres, and 550 slaves to John Burnside, an Irish immigrant and New Orleans merchant, who by 1862 was the nation’s foremost sugar producer. None of the plantation’s original outbuildings survive. In 2003 the house was purchased and “restored,” with questionable authenticity, and cottages along with other outbuildings were constructed for use as an inn and destination event venue. The gardens now include exotic features designed more as dramatic settings for events than as an accurate representation of an antebellum plantation’s garden.

Around the bend of the river at 39050 LA 942 is Bocage. This sophisticated and unusual interpretation of Greek Revival, built c. 1837, is attributed to James Dakin. The front gallery has double-height plastered brick Tuscan piers that rise to a tall wooden entablature hiding the hipped roof. Two thinner piers mark the center of the facade. Because the house is not wide, it gives the impression that its upper story, much taller than the lower, is pushing the building into the ground, but this curious imbalance of proportions achieves a most satisfying aesthetic.

The twenty-four monumental stuccoed-brick Tuscan columns that surround Hermitage Plantation House at 38308 LA 942 give it an impressive exterior, belying its actual size and relatively modest interior. The house was built in 1819 shortly after the marriage of Louise du Bourg of Baltimore to Michel Doradou Bringier, and the columns probably were added c. 1840. The first floor is constructed of brick, and the second of brick between posts. The house has a symmetrical plan and a central hall, but as is typical of Louisiana’s early houses, the windows and doors on the first floor do not align with those on the second, nor with the spacing of the columns, but instead respond to interior spaces. All the plantation’s original outbuildings were demolished over the years.

The last of Ascension Parish’s east-bank plantation houses is Ashland–Belle Helene, at the junction of LA 75 and LA 3521 near Geismar. Perhaps more than any other plantation house, Ashland–Belle Helene epitomizes the popular image of the grand Greek Revival southern mansion. It was built in 1839–1841 for planter and politician Duncan Farrar Kenner and Anne Bringier, daughter of Michel Doradou Bringier of Hermitage Plantation. The architect is unknown. The house essentially is a square brick box surrounded by twenty-eight thirty-foot-high piers supporting a two-story gallery and a simple but massive wooden entablature. Yet the effect is magnificent in size, proportions, and clarity of the design. Although none of the plantation’s dependency buildings survives, excavations have established that the enslaved workers lived in wooden cabins laid out in two parallel rows between the big house and the sugarhouse. Foundations of Kenner’s brick sugarhouse, an overseer’s house, and a blacksmith shop have been unearthed. The 1850 census lists 169 enslaved workers at Ashland. By 1860, Kenner owned a total of 473 slaves on three plantations, making him the eighth-largest slaveholder in the state. In 1992, the owners sold the house to Shell Chemical Company, which owned a petrochemical plant on land behind the property; it is not open to the public.

Around another bend in the river, at 5445 LA 141, is the National Hansen’s Disease Museum in Carville (Iberville Parish). In 1894, the nation’s first state-operated leprosarium, the Louisiana Leper Home (popularly known as Carville), opened here at an isolated and abandoned former sugar plantation, Indian Camp. The first seven patients were housed in the former slave cabins. In 1896, four nuns of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul arrived to provide nursing care, living at first in the dilapidated plantation house. In 1921, the U.S. Public Health Service took over the facility, designated it the national leprosarium, and built a new hospital and numerous support buildings, completed in 1934 with PWA funding. Carville was also a research center and made medical history in 1941 with the introduction of a sulfone drug (Promin) that successfully treated Hansen’s disease. The government closed the facility in 1999, and the museum opened in 2000; portions of the landscaping done by the patients have been redone. Some of the buildings are now occupied by the Louisiana National Guard. The former plantation house, built 1858–1859 to a design by Howard and Diettel, has a lively facade, with fluted Corinthian columns on the gallery’s second level, an entablature busily dotted with dentils, a projecting cornice, and a tall parapet.

The West Bank

Leaving New Orleans, the west bank of the Mississippi River can be reached via I-10, turning onto I-310 across the cypress swamps and the cable-stayed Hale Boggs Bridge.  Approximately three miles north of the bridge on LA 18 in Hahnville is Homeplace Plantation House. Built c. 1800, this raised house is typical of southern Louisiana’s early plantation houses. Its Creole plan is four rooms wide and two rooms deep, arranged en suite, and all rooms open onto the sixteen-foot-deep gallery that surrounds the house. Ground-floor walls and columns are of brick, and the upper story’s timber frame is filled with bousillage. Slender wooden columns on the upper gallery rise to a high, hipped roof that has three front dormers. The front stairs were added in 1900.

One of the largest and most intact plantation complexes in the South is Evergreen, located at 4677 LA 18 in Edgard. The present house is a remodeling and expansion of a two-story Creole house built in 1790. After Pierre Clidament Becnel acquired the property in 1830, he hired builder and carpenter John Carver to update the house in the Greek Revival style, completed in 1832. Tuscan columns two stories in height support a ten-foot-deep gallery that stretches across the front of the house and wraps the corners. A pedimented portico at the center implies the house has a central hall, but Becnel retained the Creole plan of three rooms across the front, with a loggia flanked by cabinets behind. Square brick pigeonniers flank the house, beyond which is a matching pair of garçonnières, a kitchen, a guest house, and a brick privy, all Greek Revival and painted white, thus creating an idealized framing for Becnel’s elegant house. A double row of twenty-two wooden slave dwellings, built between 1830 and 1860, is the largest surviving group in Louisiana (and was famously documented by local surrealist photographer Clarence John Laughlin in the 1940s). The sugar mill (now demolished) stood at the end of the row. When oil heiress Matilda Gray purchased Evergreen in 1944, it was dilapidated. Architect Richard Koch began the restoration for Gray, and Douglass V. Freret continued it into the early 1950s. The rear parterre garden was laid out in 1944, probably designed by Koch and likely not authentic. Evergreen offers a remarkable picture of the social hierarchies and dynamics of slaves and masters in the years preceding the Civil War. Its layout and design also illuminate the image that plantation owners sought to express their achievements, wealth, and aesthetic pretensions. Evergreen is open to the public.

Heading toward the town of Wallace (St. John the Baptist Parish) is Whitney Plantation, formed from several tracts beginning in the 1760s by the Haydel family. In 1803, Jean-Jacques Haydel enlarged a c. 1790s house on the plantation, which was remodeled and decorated on the interior with murals between 1836 and 1839. Numerous nineteenth-century dependency buildings survive at Whitney, among them a barn, a pair of square brick pigeonniers (the one on the right is reconstructed) and a one-story plantation store of c. 1890. The census of 1860 recorded ninety-seven enslaved workers housed in twenty cabins. In 1867, Bradish Johnson of New Orleans purchased the plantation and named it Whitney. Following a succession of owners, the plantation’s structures fell into disrepair. The current owner has restored the buildings. Numerous artifacts and small buildings related to the antebellum slave experience have been added, with mixed effect.

Upriver from Whitney at 2247 LA 18 in Vacherie (St. James Parish) is Laura Plantation. French-born Guillaume DuParc built the house in 1805. Raised on brick piers and constructed of brick between posts, the house, five rooms wide and two rooms deep with front and rear galleries, is painted in the varied bright colors preferred by Creole families. Laura’s history is rare in that for nearly a century the plantation was managed by women, first by Guillaume’s widow, Nanette, then by her daughter, Elizabeth. Laura and neighboring plantations are the setting of the Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox stories based on tales brought from Africa by slaves and handed down to their descendants.

Just before Oak Alley at 3535 LA 18 is St. Joseph Plantation, built in the 1830s. The galleried house is raised on brick piers and has a vast hipped roof with three dormers. Architect H. H. Richardson (see OR119, OR123) was born here in 1838. It is open for tours.

The eight-hundred-foot-long allee of twenty-eight massive live oak trees leading from the river to Oak Alley constitutes one of the most familiar and evocative images of Louisiana’s grand plantation houses. Built 1837–1839 by Jacques Roman, Oak Alley (3645 LA 18) is square in plan, constructed of brick, stuccoed and colored pale peach, and surrounded by a gallery supported on twenty-eight colossal Tuscan columns. Inside, the rooms are large but not ostentatious. No original buildings survive documenting the slaves who worked this nine-thousand-acre plantation, but records indicate that there were twenty-four dwellings, each forty feet square and divided into four rooms. Recently, and based on a single surviving photograph, six have been reconstructed to show where they once stood. The structures are used as exhibit spaces to interpret plantation life. Oak Alley is open to the public.

Just beyond Oak Alley are remains of Le Petit Versailles (burned in the 1920s) and its elaborate garden, denoted now by a historical marker on LA 18 and visible only as a clump of vegetation in an agricultural field. This plantation was built by one of Louisiana’s wealthiest men, Valcour Aime, brother-in-law of Jacques Roman, who built Oak Alley. Aime had an elaborate jardin anglaise, with a pagoda, ornamental bridges, exotic plants and animals, and other features. The small parcel with the garden’s remains was purchased by Baton Rouge landscape architect/garden historian Suzanne Turner to preserve these ruins of an important nineteenth-century garden.

The route upriver to Donaldsonville in Ascension Parish passes several oil and petrochemical plants, as well as farmland. Engineer Barthélemy Lafon laid out Donaldsonville in 1806. The town prospered as a riverboat stop, and it retains much of its nineteenth-century character. James Freret designed the Ascension Parish Courthouse (1889; 300 Houmas Street), a red brick two-story Romanesque Revival building with a square tower, that faces the square Lafon included in his plan. Other notable buildings include the former B. Lemann and Bro. Store (1878; 318 Mississippi Street), attributed to James Freret. Its departments for dry goods, notions, hardware, and groceries are unified on the exterior by a continuous Italianate facade with cast-iron pilasters between the display windows and a one-story gallery supported on cast-iron columns. The diminutive Carpenter Gothic First United Methodist Church (1844; 401 Railroad Avenue) contrasts with the Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church completed in 1896 at 716 Mississippi Street, a massive brick church with an immense square tower and a spire. The Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church Cemetery (Opelousas Street at St. Vincent Street) contains two impressive Classical Revival raised tombs. The Bringier family tomb (c. 1845), attributed to J. N. B. de Pouilly, is four vaults high and four wide, and the Landry tomb (c. 1845), attributed to James H. Dakin, rises in two stages, each treated as small temples.

Upriver from Donaldsonville at 31025 LA 1 at White Castle in Iberville Parish is Nottoway, the largest surviving plantation house in Louisiana. Completed in 1859 and designed by Howard and Diettel for John Hampden Randolph, it is richly ornamented, outside and in. The house’s central hall is twelve feet wide and forty feet long, but the principal interior space is the ballroom, which is all white (including the floor), with a freestanding Corinthian arch. The house had indoor plumbing and gas lighting. The census of 1860 records that Randolph owned 155 enslaved workers, who lived in 42 cabins. Nottoway is now a destination venue. (The best view of the house’s front is at 31112 LA 405).

The town of Plaquemine, situated at the confluence of the Mississippi River and Bayou Plaquemine, thrived as a steamboat stop and trading center. The Plaquemine Lock (1895–1909), now part of a State Historic Site, allowed ships to pass from the river through the bayou to Louisiana’s interior; the lock closed in 1961. The lock’s pumphouse (now the Gary J. Hebert Memorial Lockhouse) has an exterior facing of white glazed brick, a material chosen for its ability to reflect light, as there were no lighthouses along the river. The building’s stepped gables are said to reflect the Dutch heritage of designer Colonel George Goethals of the Army Corps of Engineers. The pumphouse now serves as a museum.

Across the road is the Iberville Parish Museum, built in 1849 as the parish courthouse. Nearby, St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church (1926–1927), designed by architects Emile Weil and Albert Bendernagel, was modeled on Italian Romanesque churches. It has a freestanding square campanile and a magnificent interior featuring a round-arched arcade with Ionic columns and open-truss ceiling.

Writing Credits

Karen Kingsley and Lake Douglas

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