Houmas House, LA, USA by John Eaton

Houmas House, LA, USA

Houmas House Plantation and Gardens has been referred to as the Crown Jewel of Louisiana’s River Road. The first owners of the plantation were the indigenous Houmas Indians, who were given a land grant to occupy the fertile plain between the Mississippi and Lake Maurepas to the north. The Houmas sold the land to Maurice Conway and Alexander Latil in the mid-1700s. The original French Provincial house that Latil erected on the property in is situated directly behind the Mansion, adjoined by a carriageway to the grand home described during its antebellum heyday as “The Sugar Palace.” The original home was later used as living quarters for the staff that served the great house.

By the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the plantation was established and producing sugar. In 1810, Revolutionary War hero Gen. Wade Hampton of Virginia purchased the property and shortly thereafter began construction on the Mansion. However, it was not until 1825 when Hampton’s daughter, Caroline, and her husband, Col. John Preston, took over the property that the grand house truly began to take shape. Construction on the Mansion was completed in 1828. At the same time, Houmas House began to build its sugar production and continued to increase its land holdings, which ultimately grew to 300,000 acres.

Irishman John Burnside bought the plantation in 1857 for $1 million. A businessman and a character, Burnside increased production of sugar until Houmas House was the largest producer in the country, actively working the crop on 98,000 acres. During the Civil War, Burnside saved the Mansion from destruction at the hands of advancing Union forces by declaring immunity as a subject of the British Crown. In addition to building a railway to carry his products to market —“The Sugar Cane Train (1862)”— Burnside, a bachelor, is also said to have offered payment to any parents in the parish who would name their sons “John.”