Antiques, Army Corps of Engineers, artifacts, Ascension Parish, chemical plant, Civil War, Constancia Plantation, Demolition, Donaldsonville, Georgia, LeBeau Plantation, Levees, Louisiana, Louisiana plantations, Mississippi River, old photos, Photography, Plantation, River Road, Sherman's march to the sea, St. James Parish, The Cabin Restaurant, The Cajun Village, The Mosaic Company, Tourism, Uncle Sam Plantation, upper-South, Virginia, Welham Plantation
Last month, I wrote a short summary of Uncle Sam Plantation, which until it was demolished, was fairly close to where The Cabin Restaurant and The Cajun Village are today (it sat downriver from Donaldsonville in St. James Parish). The plantation was built between 1841 and 1843 for Piérre Auguste Samuel Fagot and his wife, Emilie Jourdan. The Fagot’s originally named the plantation Constancia. Sadly, the big house was torn down in 1940 when the Army Corps of Engineers decided to move the levees back.
Well, while wandering around The Cabin yesterday, some old photos on the wall caught my eye. This happens to me every so often; Al Robert, the owner, collects so many unique artifacts and images of a bygone era here on River Road in Ascension Parish that some things go unnoticed in the multitude of antiques. Anyhow, the photos were of the day Uncle Sam was demolished by Bertile Schenaydre. There were two pictures pre-demolition and two post-demolition with just the columns standing.
The demolition of Uncle Sam is emblematic of the views held about old plantation homes in Louisiana and their eventual demise prior to late the 1970s. Hundreds, even thousands of plantations along the Mississippi River, were lost to demolition or neglect. Visitors to our area often assume that the reason we have so few plantations left in Louisiana is that they were burned or destroyed during the Civil War. This misplaced assumption probably stems from the ravages of plantations in Virginia and the other upper-South states, as well as Georgia during Sherman’s famed “March to the Sea”.
Louisiana plantation homes fared better during the war than their brethren, but much worse after the war. The plantations here were so much larger and required a much larger labor force than those in the upper-South that the task of scraping together enough money to pay labor in a war-ravaged economy that no longer had any credit to offer to planters was daunting. With no way to use the land, the antebellum plantation families eventually left the grand homes and moved to the cities, selling them to agricultural co-ops or, during the early part of the 20th century, to chemical companies. In fact, a chemical plant, now owned by The Mosaic Company, was later built on the site of Uncle Sam plantation. Once the land was sold, the manors were abandoned, left to their own demise until they collapsed on their own or were demolished in the name of “progress” to make way for the protective levees or the chemical plants.
This is the sad truth of many plantations here in Louisiana – they weren’t lost because of an act of war 160 years ago. They were lost because of neglect by our more recent ancestors. This fact should impel us to cherish our surviving plantations all the more, and protect those that are neglected from meeting an unfortunate end.