• Ellen Byron

A Louisiana Plantation Brought Back to Life

I fell in love with the elegant architecture of Houmas House the moment I saw it. I researched the plantation’s history and learned that it fell into disrepair after The Great Depression. Houmas House seemed destined to molder and decay until all that remained was a ruin. But in 1940, Dr. George Crozat bought the house and grounds to renovate as a summer home. Gradually, the estate began to attract tourists and filmmakers. In 1963, the legendary Bette Davis film, “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” was shot on the property.

Twelve years ago, successful businessman Kevin Kelly went shopping for a plantation to purchase and renovate. Houmas House was for sale, and he snapped it up. I asked him to share a little about his journey, and learned something surprising.

Talk about some of the changes you’ve made to Houmas House. We’ve made it a place that’s more alive. We brought the original colors back to the house, and the original feeling that a family lives here. I have three Labradors. We’re here; visitors see us. The house is very lived in, yet in the way it would have been when it was originally built.

How are your tours different from other plantation tours? Our guides don’t repeat a script. We teach them how to share the stories of the house and its history. Since there is no script, each tour is a unique and different experience.

Have any descendants from the original families that built and lived in Houmas house ever visited, or any descendants of slaves who once worked the plantation? The descendants of the original families love what we’ve done. When descendants of the slaves come here, they’re afraid of things that might remind them of that time. But slaves at Houmas House were freed in 1858, before the Civil War. The slave cabins were moved to other properties, and the families were given title to their homes and land. So the descendants leave knowing that their ancestors came from a decent place.

Wow, I’ve read a lot about Louisiana plantations, and never came across this fact. It’s a wonderful story, but we really don’t share it because most people don’t believe it. It’s hard when you tell a story that people can’t get into. They just assume that we’re whitewashing history.

When I researched the current state of plantation homes in Louisiana, I was surprised to learn that few are owned and operated as historic sites by the state. Most are either in private hands or maintained by foundations. Their survival depends on motivated citizens like Mr. Kelly. Without them, a fascinating yet controversial part of our nation’s history would be lost forever.

You can learn much more about Houmas House Plantation and Gardens on its website, http://houmashouse.com/.


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Photography by Jamie Johnson

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