Historic Structures

Magnolia Plantation, Natchitoches Louisiana

Date added: April 10, 2014 Categories: Louisiana House Plantations & Farms

Lands within Magnolia Plantation have been owned and cultivated by the same family since the French land grants of 1753. Magnolia remains one of the South's most complete plantation complexes, with buildings and landscape features spanning its entire 250-year history. Noteworthy are the oak alley, a nationally significant cotton press, the brick slave quarters later used for tenant housing, a slave hospital, a blacksmith shop, the plantation store, and the big house with private chapel.

The Magnolia Plantation big house is an 1890s interpretation of the raised Creole cottages constructed on the Cane River plantations since the early 1800s. The balloon frame house was built in the 1890s on top of the walls and foundation of a two-story brick raised Creole cottage built ca. 1840s-1851 that had burned during the Civil War (1864). The previous house was a rare example of a two-story brick basement on a raised Creole cottage. The plan of the previous house is preserved in the eighteen inch thick brick walls and foundations of the current house. The main part of the house has a central hall plan with five rooms, symmetrical facade, galleries on the front and back, and a long ell with a gallery. More than twenty Tuscan columns support the galleries, which were cut down from their previous two-story height during reconstruction.

Although constructed in the 1890s with modern building technology and materials, the designers and builders of the Magnolia Plantation big house demonstrated their familiarity with traditional raised Creole cottage architecture and its later American influences. The raised living spaces, and decorative features such as beaded ceilings, chamfered gallery columns, wraparound mantles, twin-leaved French doors, and French lozenge mantel treatments were traditional French Creole design features dating from the early 1800s. The Georgian central hall plan with symmetrical facade and floor plan, which the builders inherited in the brick walls and foundation, represented later American influences. However, the builders also incorporated the late nineteenth-century taste for dark wood, starburst and other non-classical decorative patterns, and balloon framing building technologies and prefabricated materials.

The strong horizontal and vertical lines in the post and beam construction and the simple geometric forms emphasizing the square and the circle suggest permanence and stability. Interior decorative features are subdued, with dark wood staircase and floors, and low-relief Greek revival features painted white. The cream colored, thin-gauge beaded wainscoting on the second floor ceilings, walls, and fireplace flues creates a visually rich pattern of closely spaced horizontal lines on all surfaces above the floor. Oversized doors and the massive thick walls create a sense of monumentality in the interiors.

The house is built to the scale of the monumental live-oak trees flanking it. The ranks of large trees perpendicular to the Cane River lining the approach to the house emphasize a central axis through the front door and central hall. The long horizontal lines of the house parallel the spreading oak branches, and the layer upon layer of brick suggests the depositional environment of the alluvial plain where the brick originated. Thick, cylindrical columns of brick, resting on cubic brick pedestals, support the deep galleries on the front and back of the house. Square post columns -- piers — elevate the massive roof of the house up into the spreading oak branches. The columns and windows create a rhythm reminiscent of a church or riverboat. With the rustic textures provided by the gnarled oaks and weathered brick, and the monumentality of the trees and house, the overall effect is one of melancholy romanticism, or Southern gothic. The house is a visible reminder of the endurance of planter society through Civil War, Reconstruction, and the twentieth-century revolutions in agriculture, technology, and society.

The dimensions of the main house are 62' x 63', including front and rear galleries. The ell measures about 70' x 26'. The longest side of the house, from front gallery to rear of the ell, extends a total of 133'. The walls of the ground floor and first floor are brick masonry laid in American bond, with rows of headers every sixth row. The second floor is wood framed and clad with horizontal weatherboards.