Archive | June 2017

“A House With a Broken Heart”

 

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“Yet it was not heavy, or pompous. It managed somehow, to combine vastness with delicacy; titanic proportions with grace and warmth . . .

                                                              (John Clarence Laughlin, Ghosts Along the Mississippi)

 

I was introduced to Belle Grove Plantation through Clarence John Laughlin’s book Ghosts Along the Mississippi. I was hooked from the first picture. Many times I would study the pictures in Laughlin’s book. I would try to imagine what the house looked like while it thrived and people loved it. I would try to imagine what the view from the front porch was like for the people who lived there.

I would think of the noises of the inhabitants. The laughter. The sadness. All of it pressing against the walls in a permanent, life-affirming way.

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John Andrews, who made his fortune in Virginia and owned 7,000 acres surrounding Belle Grove near White Castle in Iberville Parish, Louisiana, built the mansion for $80,000 between 1852 and 1857. Andrews had a legendary rivalry with John Randolph, the owner of neighboring Nottaway Plantation. Both men commissioned New Orleans architect Henry Howard to design their homes. Both mansions sport a mix of Greek and Italianate styles. Andrews more than 150 slaves who produced over one-half million pounds of sugar a year also provided free building labor. Lumber was used from nearby Cypress trees, and the pillars were, in fact, six feet wide cypress trunks and were hand carved. Bricks were produced on the plantation. Expert European craftsmen were hired to plaster and carve the walls and mantels. The front steps, rising twelve feet above the arches, were covered with imported marble. The door knobs and keyhole guards were of silver.

Belle Grove’s lower arches were 12 feet high, and ultimately the whole of the house stood 62 feet high and rambled 122 feet wide and 119 feet deep. Seventy-five rooms encompassed four floors. The wings rambled from the center in no particular pattern. Even a jail cell was built within the house. No expense was spared in its construction, and it is said Andrews refused to keep receipts or a cost analysis of the money spent. It was one of the largest mansions in the South, even larger than Randolph’s Nottoway Plantation.

Nottoway, however, is still with us. Belle Grove is not.

In 1867, due to the loss of the war and the collapse of the Southern economy, Andrews sold the plantation house and the surrounding acreage to James Ware for a mere $50,000. The plantation stayed in the Ware family until the 1920s when, after a series of crop failures, they were forced to sell. 072435pr

From 1925 onward, the house sat vacant, and Belle Grove began a rapid decline. Louisiana’s harsh environment rots away at neglected properties. A roof leak destroyed one wing. The mansion was purchased several times by individuals who hoped to restore Belle Grove to its former glory, but the realities of the Great Depression and World War II proved too great an obstacle. Rehabilitation was further complicated by the lack of available materials and the expense of such (cypress for the beams and local bricks, imported marble) to bring the mansion back to its original state. When decay came to the house, it spread rapidly.  On March 17, 1952, a mysterious night fire destroyed what remained of the house.

Belle Grove has long charmed people. The house even has its own group of friends with a webpage: Friends of Belle Grove Plantation of Louisana Website. The plantation has been the subject of a number of books. Unlike other mansions that have been lost with time, in the 1930s photographs and architectural drawings were taken of the inside and outside of the structure. Before that, in 1908, the contents were inventoried upon the death of James Ware. All of these records and more are available on the website for the Library of Congress.

 

But a house that has done what a house should do,
a house that has sheltered life,
That has put its loving wooden arms around a man and his wife,
A house that has echoed a baby’s laugh and held up his stumbling feet,
Is the saddest sight, when it’s left alone, that ever your eyes could meet. 

So whenever I go to Suffern along the Erie track
I never go by the empty house without stopping and looking back,
Yet it hurts me to look at the crumbling roof and the shutters fallen apart,
For I can’t help thinking the poor old house is a house with a broken heart.

(Excerpt, The House With Nobody In It, Joyce Kilmer)

 

 

Sources:

Pictures from Historic American Buildlings Survey (HABS) LA-36.

Wikipedia. Belle Grove Plantation (Iberville Parish, Louisiana). Found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belle_Grove_Plantation_(Iberville_Parish,_Louisiana)

Friends of Belle Grove Plantation of Louisiana Website. Found at http://www.bellegrove/html.net.

Laughin, Clarence John. Ghosts Along the Mississippi. (New York: American Legacy Press, 1961.)

Milk Glass Mania – It’s Not What You Think

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I have always wanted to live in an old house with history (although I draw the line at ghosts.) I also wanted said house to have lots of “junk” in the attic, the closets, the garden sheds. I picture myself going through all the “junk,” which would really be little treasures along the way. All with a history. All now . . . mine.

I know. I am dangerously close to the sin of selfishness. Or perhaps materialism?

But I digress.

It appears that while I do not live in an old house with a long history (and no, no ghosts), I have lived here long enough, and I am now old enough, to have found my own treasures.

(You should chuckle at this point. I know I am.)

I recently discovered several Facebook pages devoted to old dishes. My passion for old dishes is only slightly less than for old houses. However, I can collect the dishes. It’s a bit hard to collect old houses.

Apparently, milk glass is quite a collector’s item these days. People on the Facebook page post their collections and their purchases. I made a mental note to pay closer attention at garage sales and the local Goodwill store since I have always liked those sorts of things.

And then, I was waiting on the washing machine to finish a load, and I was standing in the hallway, and I looked up . . .

and I gasped!

On the shelf was a milk glass vase.

I screamed. I shoved an ugly green vase out of the way. I ran around the house with my treasure.

(Well, sort of. I don’t run anywhere these days.)

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I had apparently paid $1 for it, although I cannot remember when I purchased it. A quick google search reveals it to be a teardrop vase made of milk glass. It is considered “vintage 1970s.”

Since I was born in the 60s, I am not certain what that makes me. Since I like old things, I wonder if perhaps it makes me double-vintage?

Or maybe just – double trouble?