Armoire, Ascension Parish, Basketball, Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge Sunday Advocate, Civil War, Coffee, Creole, Evergreen Plantation, French, Garyville, Historic Preservation, Levee, Louisiana, Mississippi River, New Orleans, Nostalgia, Plantation, Plantation Style Architecture, Rice, Sugar Plantation, Sugarcane, Tassin, Wallace, Whitney Plantation, World War II
A few months back, I wrote a post about a part of my familial history in Ascension Parish during the Civil War. Here is another post involving a piece of my past. Whitney Plantation was sold in the late 1990’s by the Tassin sisters, who shared a common ancestor in my great-grandmother. The article was published in the Sunday Advocate by the Associated Press in Baton Rouge on December 14, 1997, right before the sisters sold the old plantation:
Sisters Hope Plantation Home of Childhood is put to Good Use
WALLACE – The last time Lise and Edith Tassin visited their childhood home on Whitney Plantation was 1973. Their brother was retiring as overseer of the property, and the family was getting together for a reunion.
The sisters walked through the big house, where years ago their grandmother had them fill kerosene lamps and dust mantles. Their grandmother owned the home and lived in the main house. The twins lived in a guest cabin with their parents.
They revisited the foreman’s cabin where they grew up, remembering how they helped their father roll cigarettes and their mother pour coffee into glass jars.
“When our cousins would come in from New Orleans, we had a chance to go to the main house,” Edith Tassin said in a thick Creole French accent.
“We would play on the back porch and I remember they had this armor – how you call it – armoire, full of old clothes. We used to dress in the gowns and hats. We would make as if one was the bride, the others bridesmaids. I used to love to go there.
Now the sprawling sugar the sisters called home sits locked behind a chain-link fence, with no one but a caretaker allowed to roam the fields where their father watched over hundreds of farm hands in the early 1900s.
But things could be changing, and none too soon for the twins, who celebrated their 80th birthday on Thanksgiving Day. New Orleans lawyer John Cummings has agreed to buy Whitney from Formosa Plastics Corp., which has owned the plantation since 1989, company spokeswoman Beverly Laudermill said. Cummings also has promised to restore the plantation and its 23 outbuildings if he is satisfied with the property after a 90-day inspection period.
“I hope he does something good with the place,” said Lise Tassin, who now live in the nearby town of Garyville. “I have very fond memories. I hope I never forget it.”
The Tassin sisters were born on Whitney in 1917. Identical twins, they were the youngest of Leone and Sidney Tassin’s 10 children.
Sidney Tassin’s mother lived in Whitney’s main house, while he worked as a foreman and occupied a house in the rear.
The family was not rich, the women say, but had servants to do their cooking and wash. Their older sisters also helped out with daily chores, so the twins had a lot of leisure time.
“Me and my sister didn’t do a damn thing,” said Edith Tassin, who lives near New Orleans now. “We had a good time. I guess we were spoiled.”
The two girls attended elementary school at neighboring Evergreen Plantation. When they weren’t in school, the twins went swimming with their grandmother in an irrigation canal that funneled water from the Mississippi River to the rice fields.
“We would go every morning and every evening,” Lise Tassin said. “The carpenter built a house over it and covered it with burlap sacks for privacy. That was so none of the workers or men could see us.”
Despite endless free time, country life could get lonely for the girls. It wasn’t until high school that they began venturing away from the plantation, mostly for basketball games or to visit family in New Orleans.
We both played basketball, baby,” Edith Tassin said laughing. “I tell you that was the days. I was a forward, she was a guard, and we were good.
Eventually, the girls left the plantation to marry. Lise Tassin married Sidney Matherne when she was 22. Matherne drove a commodities truck, she said, dropping off groceries to the poor.
Edith Tassin met her husband, the late Alcee Guillot, when she was working as a welder at a New Orleans shipyard during World War II. They married when she was 27.
Both sisters have large families of their own and lifestyles radically different from the simple farm life of their childhood. But sometimes, sliding down the levee on cardboard boxes like just yesterday.
“I think children today don’t get the pleasures we had,” Edith Tassin said. “The world is going too fast. But you can’t stop it, huh?”
Update on Whitney Plantation’s status: John Cummings did indeed purchase Whitney Plantation, and has been working over the last 16 years on restoring it and opening it to the public. He has registered the property as a historic district. Whitney Plantation is unique in many ways, especially in the fact that the exterior walls of the second story gallery are adorned with paintings. It is a beautiful plantation, and one everyone ought to visit it if given the chance.