Belle Grove Plantation Mansion, White Castle Louisiana
Belle Grove was one of the largest country houses built in Louisiana prior to the Civil War.
Built in 1857 by John Andrews, a Virginian who came to Louisiana about 1830, Belle Grove was sold in 1868 for $50,000.00 to Henry Ware, in whose family it remained until the gradual break-up of the plantation after 1910. Its architectural interest centers definitely in its leanings towards Victorian thought that was then finding its way into Louisiana and has left a period that is little appreciated and not at all understood. The Greek Revival had culminated in plantations like Maidwood and Woodlawn in Bayou Lafourohe, some fifty miles away, both American versions of Greek Architecture, but in Belle Grove the stately portico of Corinthian columns - with its entrance stairway of marble suggests more the English idea of Classic architecture, while the picturesque grouping of the service buildings and the curved ends of the drawing rooms are definite indications of the new Victorian era. Section IX of A. J. Downing's Landscape Gardening and Rural Architecture by A. J. Downing - Wiley & Putnam, Publishers - 1844, may help to explain this house.
The setting of Belle Grove is not impressive; perhaps the period was too late for the formal backgrounds of the earlier period and, if the grounds were informally landscaped, no traces exist, for today a pasture with an occasional group of trees separates the house from the river road. However, neither do old pictures or maps show extensive gardens and there are no traces of the race-track of the Wares.
The scheme of Belle Grove is informal - a two-story building on a raised basement; the entrance, accentuated by a pedimented portico carrying through the roof line of a Greek Temple, dominates the mass. A wing to the right has the same portico, but is subordinated by omitting the pediment and the stairs. To the rear is a lower wing (now demolished) tied to the house by the circular stair. To the left is the one-story and basement service wing which piles up picturesquely against the horizontal roof lines of the pseudo temple.
The interior planning is noteworthy for the spaciousness of its rooms and particularly for the modern way in which the various parts are related. The entrance is not on the axis of the portico, but is to the side, as was customary in many domestic Greek Revival houses. A wide hall which leads to the circular staircase in the rear separates the living quarters from the service section. The main bedroom was on the first floor with a dressing room and reception room; there was also a bedroom off the library, which had access to the ground by a small staircase probably of wood. The second floor had six bedrooms with closets and dressing rooms and so divided by halls as to give a privacy not found in other plantation houses. The living rooms, servants' rooms, and particularly the water closet were luxuries that were only found in the larger houses of New Orleans. The drawing room, parlor, dining room and halls are elaborately detailed with pilasters, cornices, and centerpieces in the style of the late Greek Revival. These same details may be found in the neighborhood and in many of the old houses of New Orleans. The mantels are gone; the writer from memory remembers them as of black marble and of late Greek Revival detail and with cast iron facings and grates of Gothic Revival design. The walls were not white as was the custom, but were light yellow, blue, or rose, of which traces may still be found. The interior doors were grained (imitation oak) and the woodwork was painted white with a base of lavender rose, as was also the interior boxes of the window blinds. This painted base is found in the homes of 1830 - Hurst Stauffer House, The Shadows.
The structure of Belle Grove is brick cemented and painted a pale lavender rose. Scaling the wash, it is evident that the plaster was painted first blue, then pink, with a final wash of lavender. On the columns the blue was omitted. The original color mast have been much stronger as theae colors were applied with -what appears to be a lime wash. The columns of the portico are also of cemented brick, but the caps are carved cypress, the order from the Temple of Iysicrates. The exterior woodwork is painted a yellow olive green and the window sash striped in red. The balconies are of wood held on carved brackets and with oast iron railings of patterns common in New Orleans as also was the verandah of the rear wing. The roof is of purple and blue slate probably from Vermont or Pennsylvania, though the ridge tiles have the mark - "C. Davison & Co., Manufrs., Hawarden Flintshire". The flashings are of copper, and in the last few years, slight repair to this roof would have saved the building.
James Gallier, Sr. is oredited with being the architect, but as he had retired when Belle Grove was built, it is probable that his son or his office handled the work. The details of the woodwork and many of the plan arrangements are similar to those of the City Hall in New Orleans and the Elkin. Henderson House, both attributed to Gallier, Sr. The execution of the carving of the wood Corinthian caps is excellent, and followed minutely Greek examples. A copy of Stuart and Revett was in Gallier's library. These caps are still in position and only one on the north side of the entrance portico shows signs of deterioration. The plaster centerpieces were as well executed, but none remain , having been pulled down by vandals.
Today Belle Grove is a wreak; the windows and ironwork are gone and the mantels and furnishings were sold at auction in 1925. The rear wing collapsed or was torn down. The main mass still stands, but large cracks are evident in the south portico which is supported on a base of elliptical arches. No doubt the foundation is sliding away from the main building.