Historic Structures

Evergreen Plantation, Wallace, St John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana

Date added: September 16, 2015 Categories: Louisiana House Plantations & Farms
Evergreen is a plantation complex of thirty-nine buildings, including a grand "big house" with its various dependencies and a double row of twenty-two slave cabins. All but eight of the buildings are antebellum. The plantation is located on the west bank of the Mississippi River in St. John the Baptist Parish on a stretch of the river that is agrarian in character. Although the sugar mill is no longer extant and the buildings have received some alterations over the years, Evergreen remains an amazing image of the South's plantation landscape.

Essentially Evergreen is composed of the main house and its dependencies in a fairly confined area and a double row of slave cabins well to the rear. The layout of the former is rigidly symmetrical. On each side of the main house is a garconniere (guest house) and pigeonnier. To the rear, on axis with the "big house," is a Greek Revival privy. On each side of the rear yard are matching small buildings of undocumented use (known now as a guest house and kitchen). To the rear and side is an impressive Spanish moss laden oak allee about 1300 feet in length. The double row of twenty-two cabins begins about halfway along the allee. To the rear of the cabins are three barns and a large shed from the late nineteenth/early twentieth century. Historically the principal crop at Evergreen during the period of significance was sugarcane, although rice was also grown. The acreage is still planted in cane, with cane fields to either side of the cabins seemingly extending to the horizon.

The main house at Evergreen was built in 1832, when Pierre Clidament Becnel hired John Carver, builder and carpenter, to drastically remodel the two story French Creole residence he had purchased from the estate of his grandmother, Magdelaine Haydel Becnel. The remodeling, as recorded in an extant building contract, was so extensive that the present house should be dated 1832. The roof was demolished and a new one constructed, two rooms were removed, the present Greek Revival gallery with portico was added. The walls and the Creole floorplan (minus two rooms) are all that survive from the earlier house.

Evergreen's plan is one room deep and three rooms wide, with cabinets extending to the side beyond the core (see floor plans). Between the cabinets is what was once an open loggia, or gallery. The surviving plan at Evergreen, taken with instructions in the building contract to remove "the rooms at each end of the house," indicates that Evergreen's original plan was identical to that of neighboring Whitney Plantation.

The present stairs were erected during an extensive restoration undertaken by Matilda Gray, who purchased the sadly neglected Evergreen in 1944. The architect for the project from 1944 to 1948 was Richard Koch of New Orleans. Work was completed in the late 1940s/early 1950s by Wolf and Freret of New Orleans.

The hipped roof is crowned by a widow's walk, which according to the building contract, was to have an Oriental pavilion. It is not known whether this unusual feature was ever constructed. Elegant dormers with segmental heads and fluted pilasters pierce the side and rear elevations. The builder's superb craftsmanship is particularly evident in the elaborate front doorways (upstairs and down) in the Federal style, per the extremely detailed instructions in the building contract. Each set of doors has side lights framed by fluted pilasters with the whole composition crowned by an elaborate entablature and fanlight. The side lights have an intricate interlacing pattern of glazing bars and a richly molded panel below. The graceful fanlight has glazing bars in a radial pattern and panels inside the surround.

Various alterations were made to the interior of Evergreen during the 1940s restoration. As was the case with the exterior, only major changes will be noted in this nomination. Marble floors were installed downstairs, and inappropriate marble mantels were placed in the upriver rooms on the first and second floors and the downriver cabinet on the first floor. The latter is placed on the back wall of the cabinet underneath a single pane window intended to provide a view of the rear gardens. Four original mantels survive at Evergreen. The one in the upstairs central room is the most elaborate, featuring engaged Ionic columns and a molded entablature with a central horizontal panel and side vertical panels. It is made of black marble and painted slate. The other three (gray marble) have a similar entablature but without engaged columns.

It appears that cornices were replaced in four of the six principal rooms during the restoration. While they resemble 1830s cornices, one suspects they are modern because of their flat perspective. The two central rooms retain their elaborate deeply cut cornices.

The interior door surrounds at Evergreen vary. Two rooms have intricately molded surrounds with plain cornerblocks, while two rooms feature similar surrounds but with a very unusual» boldly three-dimensional oak leaf and acorn design in the cornerblock. The downstairs downriver cabinet also has this desjgn, but Koch's drawings reveal that it was added during the restoration. One wonders how much of this acorn design woodwork is original and how much is replicated, given the knowledge that it was replicated in one room. In any event, the design is known to be original to the house because it appears in Koch's 1936 photographs (in the central room downstairs). Other interior changes made during the restoration include converting the two upstairs cabinets to bathrooms, converting the downstairs upriver cabinet to a kitchen, and adding a flat leaf design to the cornerblocks in the upstairs downriver room (as well as the bathroom).

Two originally exterior staircases are located on the rear loggia. One curves gracefully to the second floor, and the other provides access to the attic.