Down Home Hospitality at Southdown
~Monday, January 30, 2023~
Though it’s a bit steamy, I’m totally diggin’ the warmer weather. With the Spanish moss laden oak trees surrounding our campsite and the sounds of the warbling cardinals, starlings and finches that seem to like the oak tree hovering over our campsite, it’s all very soothing. On the banks of the bayou to the left of us are several Great Egrets perched on their chosen branch above the water. I guess alligators don’t find them interesting.
Our itinerary today consisted of seeing several plantations and checking out some local breweries. As we took a road less traveled, many of the fields are void of sugar cane at the moment. Harvest was just completed in November, with the next one beginning in May. We were intrigued with the number of lavish homes, many set back from the road, and on wide expanses of property. There are also developments with tighter quarters, but even those homes are huge, just on smaller lots. One thing they all have in common…..little landscape, large porches and dominant hip roofs. All have prominent roofs with seemingly shorter walls. After conducting my own little research, I learned that having a larger roof area is essential when living in The South, allowing greater air circulation and heat to rise. Makes complete sense. We’re also learning how inexpensive the real estate market is in comparison with the rest of the country. The development type homes are around $250,000 with the more plantation type mansions with acreage anywhere between $500,000 to $1,000,000. It really is amazing how much you can get for your money here.
If there were ever a day where we felt completely immersed in the bayou culture, today was it. We took a drive south from our campground location to the Southdown Plantation & Museum. It wasn’t quite the rural,
enormous southern plantation setting we were imagining, but we still wanted to check it out. When we first arrived, the signs said open Tuesday thru Saturday, yet Google said it was open on Mondays. There were about 3 cars in front of the museum, which turned out to be employees. I walked up to the front door, tried to open it and nothing. So I called and spoke to the assistant director. She said they were open, but that they were not operating on all cylinders due to ongoing repairs from Hurricane Ida (August 2021). The second floor of the main house had the most damage. Anyway, she encouraged us to try the door again in 5 minutes. Yay! We’re in. We had Sadie with us, so Jeff and I decided to take turns on our visit. I was first greeted by Sky, a local writer and 4th generation Cajun. In her unique southern accent, she told me all about her writings, what life was like in Louisiana, and of course, all about hurricanes. She and her family made it o.k. through Ida with the exception of her brand new car which was battered by a large oak tree on her property. Many people have left the area due to the worsening, more threatening hurricanes but she has no plans in leaving a place that has been a part of their family for so long. Then walked in Lee Landry, the general manager of the gift shop and tour guide. He too, comes from a long line of Cajuns and lives just down the road from the former plantation, and like Sky, has seen his share of hurricanes. I honestly don’t know what would be worse, a seemingly annual hurricane or an unpredictable rare earthquake?
After Sky left, Lee proceeded to give me a private tour, being that there were no other tourists. This is a slow time of year for visitors, but a great time to get a plantation all to yourself. The bookstore/giftshop we were standing in, had a lot of history itself being the former fieldworker’s cookhouse and living quarters that it was. The brick was made from Mississippi River mud and the wood floors and framing were from the hearty Cypress trees that are so dominant in the area. But it was the bookstore that we spent so much time talking about. The collection of reading material for young and old alike, was quite impressive. Their inventory consists of many books by local writers, many of which are signed when they host guest author events. With Lee’s wealth of knowledge about the area, I just had to get Jeff on the tour with me so that Lee didn’t have to give the tour twice. Lee was nice enough to offer a shady spot for Sadie while we continued looking around the property. He proceeded to tell us all about a must have book called Alligator Annie as well as the heavy reading of the book called the Thibodaux Massacre. We purchased both which you can check out on our Trip Bookroom page on our website at https://www.footprintsonwheels.com/trip-bookroom.
As we toured only the outside of the property with the plantation house closed, Lee explained how Southdown Plantation, with its 6,000 acres, helped nurture the Terrebonne Parish’s sugar industry. Four generations of the Minor family along with hundreds of mill workers and fieldworkers lived and labored here. The current pink and green color scheme on the main house was chosen to reproduce the paint colors that would have been on the house back in 1893. The main house also accommodated many of the teenage boys in the family (like a dormitory) on the second floor. That stairway to that
second floor was purposely built narrow so the big-hooped skirted girls couldn’t get up to that second floor. 😂Clever! One of the things that struck me with the house was its beautiful stained-glass by Tiffany & Co. In fact, Louis Comfort Tiffany installed the glass himself. Lee allowed me a quick opportunity to take photos of the “closed” house, just so I could capture a sense of what the interior looked like. Even though there was a lot being worked on, it was still beautiful.
The green shutters that once adorned the home were leaning
up against the visitor center and had a story all their own. Lee, a proud preservationist, knew that the shutters on the home were being replaced with aluminum ones (less maintenance), but thought they would eventually find a new purpose somewhere else. Nope. The Terrebonne Historical & Cultural Society (THACS), had no intention of repurposing them, having already tossed a few away. When Lee learned about this, he was horrified that such a wonderful piece of history from the property could be so easily discarded. He urged the non-profit to keep them until they found a new suitable home. Surely someone would want them for their home interior or exterior (there were at least 50 of them). Jeff told Lee if we had a home already picked out, he would have written a check right there on the spot and taken them all.
The last building we went into was a circa 1885 cabin brought over a 100 miles from the Hollywood Plantation in Baton Rouge in 1999. Everything was original except the metal roof. Inside were a few replica pieces of furniture, one of which was a
pie safe or pie cabinet. I never knew that the chiseled metal or copper design on them was designed for the purposes of ventilation and to keep the bugs out. Usually the wealthier families had copper as opposed to the typical screened or metal clad doors. And all this time, I thought it was just for aesthetics.
Today, 4.5 acres of land on the former plantation is owned by THACS for historic preservation. Though very little remains to this day, there is still a rich history and a story to be told. They hope to be reopened for house tours sometime over the summer. Before leaving with a few purchases (books) and thanking Lee for such an amazing visit, we were given a few suggestions of other noteworthy plantation tours as well as the best swamp tours in the area. We also mentioned we had plans to drive to the Grand Isle section of the state. But when Lee’s response was not favorable, we heeded his advice. Hurricane Ida really destroyed that part of southern Louisiana where to this day, much of it remains broken and still laden with rubble. It is the last tip of land in the state and completely isolated, so we can only imagine how devastating this hurricane was.
Having had a small breakfast and a 3-hour personal tour, we felt like hitting a recommended spot called Spigots Brew Pub in Houma, LA. We arrived around 4:00, so the place was a bit quiet, but soon picked up as people were getting off of work. The beer was delicious. I had a Hefeweizen and Jeff had one of two IPAs on tap. We decided to have dinner back at our place, so opted for lighter fare to go with our beers…..the Pretzilla
which came with 3 dipping sauces….beer cheese, German mustard and honey cinnamon. All very different but oh so delicious. We also split a Sesame Tuna sprinkled with sesame seeds, served with a Ponzu dipping sauce and a side of cabbage rice vinegar slaw. Not very southern, but I can only take so much of the rich food in The South.