Sunday, April 11, 2010

Houses, Birds, Flowers & Of Course Music & Food

We drove to New Iberia to tour Shadows-on-the-Teche, a very well preserved plantation house that is a National Trust Historical Site. Shadows, a blend of Classical Revival and Louisiana Colonial style, was built in 1834 by David Weeks and remained in the Weeks family until 1958 when it was turned over to the Trust. The first floor of the home was used by Union soldiers during the Civil War but was not burned when they left. The story is that this was because of the strong will of Mary C. Moore (the remarried wife of the original builder) who continued to live on the second floor, and died there, while the Union soldiers were using it. After the war Mary's son, William, lived there until his death in 1895 and ran the sugar cane plantation with former slaves hired to do the work. It then fell into disrepair until 1922 when Mary's great grandson, William Weeks Hall, an artist, moved in and began to repair the home to its old grandeur. William restored the gardens as well the the house. Many famous people from Cecil B. DeMille to Walt Disney visited the home during this period. Many of these famous visitors signed their names on one of the interior doors. The Weeks family were all pack rats so the lives of the family members are well documented and the furniture is about ninety percent original since they threw nothing away. Over 17,000 documents were found during renovations. This is a beautiful example of homes of the plantation era and also a reminder of the fact that the wealth of the owners was acquired through the use of slave labor. That said it is well worth a visit.

The front entrance of Shadows. The stairs to the upper floors were on the exterior. The families main living area was on the second floor.
Today's visitors walkway to the home. The azaleas were beautiful.
The back of the house, with its second story porch, faced the Bayou Teche. The house has large porches on both sides so windows could be open for cross ventilation. We are seated under an old, old oak.

Beautiful flowers with the muddy brown Bayou Teche in the background.

Our second house was at the Rip Van Winkle Gardens on Jefferson Island near Lake Peigneur. This home was built in 1870 by actor Joseph Jefferson who often played the role of the Washington Irving character Rip Van Winkle. The island and home sit atop a a salt dome that was mined until 1980. In 1917 the land and home were purchased by John Lyle Bayless and E.A. McIhenney of Tabasco fame. In the 1950's they began to develop the gardens with plans to turn it into a conference and entertainment center for meetings and weddings. These plans took a real hit on November 20, 1980 when an oil drilling rig pierced the mine and the lake began to rapidly drain into the salt mine below. The fifty people in the mine were all able to get out safely. The Bayless home, a 1/2 acre conservatory, new welcome center and even barges working in the lake were sucked into the vortex that swallowed the entire lake and 65 acres of land. A temporary waterfalls was created as the water in the channel, that used to flow to the gulf, began rushing in to refill the lake with salt water. The new welcome center, cafe, theater and the restored mansion were opened in 1984. This is a nice stop and the video on the draining of the lake is very interesting.

A huge bird rookery on Lake Peigneur at the entrance of the gardens.

The restored Jefferson mansion is a combination of Moorish and Steamship Gothic architecture. We did not get to tour the house as it was very busy the day we visited.

The chimney is all that remains of the Bayless home destroyed in 1980. There are still some trees that were toppled into the water and telephone poles that were once on dry land.

The garden has many sculptures, a fountain and an Oriental pavilion along the paths that wandered through the large variety of plants. The peacock and turkey had the run of the place.

We returned to Betty's for a short happy hour and then the group went to Magdalen Square to listen to the music of the Donny Broussard All-Stars. The concert was to raise money for the restoration of the Frank's Theater in Abbeville. There was much toe tapping and a few dancers in the crowd. After a couple hours of music we all headed to the Riverfront for dinner. Music, food and culture are all important when visiting Betty's and Acadiana.

1 comment:

MarkandRenita said...

Great post! I love the story of the lake draining in 1980!