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Saturday, September 14, 2013

My View of Rosedown Plantation (Part Two)

Rosedown Plantation, St. Francisville, Louisiana.

Having taken a tour of the grounds around Rosedown Plantation in our last post, as promised, I'll give you a tour of the interior of the home on this trip.
The foyer of the house grabs your attention as soon as you step in out of the sunlight.  This open entryway is colorfully decorated with a wall paper that, while not original to the house, is an exact copy of the original wall-covering, manufactured by the original European firm that first supplied the design over one hundred and fifty years ago.

The home remained in the hands of the original family from the time it was built, in the 1830's, until the mid 1950's.  At that time, Catherine Underwood, a Texan, purchased the estate and spent $10 million on a ten-year restoration.  This included researching and commissioning the recreation of the wall décor.
Our tour was conducted by a very friendly guide, Sasha, who was full of wonderful information on the restoration as well as the history of the home.  A few rules were stressed, including the requirement that we not use a flash with our camera, and we were asked not to touch anything in the home.  It was easy to see why.  All of the furniture was original, and you could tell.  Not that it looked old and used.  Far from it.  It was all in excellent and remarkable condition, considering the humidity of Louisiana.  (Now the home is air-conditioned, which was a nice treat on that hot summer day.)   But you could simply sense that these marvelous pieces were not merely imitation tables and chairs and divans.  The Turnbulls, the family that built Rosedown, were extremely wealthy, and they furnished their home accordingly.

Being wealthy in the America South of the early 19th century, they were slave-owners.  A large plantation, Rosedown included about 450 slaves at one time.  According to the guide, this stairway was built for the Turnbulls with the skilled carpentry of their slaves.  As she pointed out, after over one-hundred and fifty years, they are still solid, and do not even creak.  A testament to the slaves' skill.

However, these were not the only stairs in the house.

In the back of the house, in the butler's pantry, between the dining room and Mrs. Turnbull's office, you can see these stairs that were used by the house servants.  When the house was restored, these stairs were left as they were found, in order to preserve their condition for display.  As you can see, the edge of the wooden steps are heavily worn down from a century of use.

This view is from the second floor, as it goes down into the butler's pantry.  At the top of these stairs is the attic, which we were not allowed to see.  (What a disappointment!)  However, it was the only part of the house we were not allowed to see.  As house tours go, it was a very thorough tour with near-total access.  Something that is not always the case in historic homes.

The dining room was still flooded with morning light, despite the fact that it was after 11 AM.  Here in the dining room, there was one main meal of the day, eaten around two in the afternoon.  According to our guide, the fan above the table was operated by a young slave who sat on a seat against the wall.  Though the guide did not mention it, I wondered if they hired servants to do this after 1865.  I'm just glad the fan above our own table is electric.

Just outside the front of the house, off to one side, was a small office built for the family's doctor.  Martha Turnbull had three children; Sarah, who would eventually raise 10 children at Rosedown, and two boys, one of which died of yellow fever at the age of seven.  Hired to care for the children, the doctor remained to care for not only the family but the entire slave population.  It was a rarity for a plantation to have a doctor on site for the slaves.

The plantation was ravaged by Northern troops during the war, and Sarah's family (she married James Bowman from the nearby Oakley Plantation) kept the plantation in operation with the aid of 250 sharecroppers.

Upstairs in the master bedroom, there was this little collection of sundries.  The wedding dress off to the left was a reproduction of Sarah's original dress.  Along the way I also saw swords, wicker bustle supports, shotguns, and lots of personal papers.

The personal papers were well preserved from the family, who never seemed to throw out any papers.  Receipts, notes, lists, sheet music, and schoolwork; it was all there for the preservationists to discover and examine.  Many of them have been laid out so that visitors can catch a glimpse of the Turnbulls' daily lives.

The master bedroom was not particularly large.  However, considering that Sarah and James had ten children, it was a fairly large (and busy!) room in comparison to the three smaller rooms that were used for the children.

Sarah lived until 1914.  Her four unmarried daughters, Corrie, Isabel, Sarah and Nina, became the sole inhabitants of Rosedown.  When Nina, the last daughter, died in 1955, they had managed to keep Rosedown debt-free, as well as held onto 3,000 acres of land, 28 acres of gardens, the house and its furnishings.  They were remarkable women, considering everything the plantation had seen, including the Civil War and the Great Depression.

The nursery looked very cozy.  It must have been, with all of those kids!  I was amused to see a fireplace in the nursery.  We are so safety conscious today, the Turnbulls might have been brought up on reckless endangerment charges for having a fireplace in the nursery.  However, as the guide pointed out, how else would they have heated the room?  And as my wife pointed out, there was probably a nursemaid on duty to keep an eye on them.  Or maybe at that time, kids were just so used to seeing fires that they weren't tempted to play with them.  Yeah, sure.

As the tour came to an end, we ended up in the library.  This beautiful room was graced with three bookshelves, one of  which you can see in the picture here.  They were not built on site, but were ordered from abroad.  They were supposed to be made with the same dimensions, but when they arrived, it was discovered that they were not of equal size.  Instead of having them sent back and others made, it was decided to offset the chimney.  This was not such a difficult decision when slaves were available to do such labor-intensive work.  Still, it seems a bit extreme.  It is sort of comforting, however, to realize that even the extremely wealthy have to deal with things like this.

Sasha did a great job of showing off the house and its history.  We were the only ones on the tour, so it was an unhurried, quiet tour.  The guide even treated us to her own rendition of Beethoven's Für Elise on the Turnbull's pre-Civil War piano.  It still sounded amazing.  Again, a difficult feat in the Louisiana humidity.  And yes, I too saw the irony in her playing a piano on which stood a card that clearly read please do not touch.

So be sure to take the time to tour the inside of Rosedown while you're visiting the grounds.  There is much more to see than what I've included here.

Next post I'll show a bit more of the formal gardens as well as introduce you to a friend I met while we were there.

Like the photograph of the approach to Rosedown at the top of this post?  It is available as a coffee mug at the following link.

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