Whitney Plantation plans to tell history of slavery

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 29, 2000

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / March 29, 2000

WALLACE – Whitney Plantation, originally known as Habitation Haydel, is poised to return from near-certain death. New Orleans attorney JohnCummings III, who purchased the 1790s-era house and outbuildings, plans a massive restoration beginning this summer.

Cummings’ plans include using Whitney “to tell the story of slavery as it’s never been told.”To this end, Cummings and his partner, Glynne Couvillion (a descendent of the original Haydel owners), invite the participation of area African-American artisans and craftspeople and urge them to call 586-0000.

The plantation will be humming with activity this summer with the first million-dollar phase of the restoration work.

Representatives from The National Trust toured Whitney Plantation on Saturday and were provided with a historic review of the plantation founded by Jean Jacob Haydel, brother of Christopher Haydel, who founded neighboring Evergreen Plantation.

Connections with area plantations were made through intermarriages, as Haydel’s wife, Mary Madelain Bozzonier dit Marmillion, was of the same family of Laura and San Francisco plantations.

Whitney and Evergreen were each built on identical plans but in later years went their separate paths architecturally. One of Whitney’s lateradornments was an ornate ceiling mural in the main room, together with monograms of Haydel’s son, Marcellin. In the rear gallery are more murals, allpainted in 1853 by Dominique Canove, the same muralist who painted the St.

Louis Cathedral ceiling.

After the Civil War and a change of ownership, Habitation Haydel became known as Whitney Plantation in the hands of Bradish Johnson. After a seriesof owners Formosa Plastics purchased the site in 1990. Cummings acquiredit last year.

Slavery, however, is the passion of Cummings, and among his plans are a larger-than-life statue of “a man named Victor.”Cummings related a newspaper account of a hurricane which struck the plantation prior to the Civil War. In that account, a slight ankle injury wascarefully detailed to one of the white children, including her full name. Thestory celebrated the fact that so little damage or injury was sustained.

However, at the very end of the story, it is mentioned that a man named Victor came up from the slave quarters to report serious injuries there.

The immediate plans are to architecturally stabilize the main house, unique French barn and other principal buildings. Later plans include a 50-room hotelin the vicinity to accommodate visitors and to make Whitney a world-class center for education in the institution of slavery in antebellum America.

Exhibits will include the old sugar mill, various slave revolts in the region, connections with Senegal and Gambia, the source of most River Road plantation slaves, documents and artifacts.

Also on hand for Saturday’s tour was Alva See III of Burk-Kleinpeter and Associates, who did his graduate thesis on Whitney with the cooperation of then-owner Steve Barnes.

See, now project manager for the restoration work, commented, “I feel tremendously privileged to have been invited to be a part of this.”Other plans include using U.S. Defense Department technology to locate theold slave cemetery. Cummings added, “I plan to have a place here which willbe African-American holy ground.”One visitor Saturday welcomed the coming changes – Matilda Gray Stream, who currently owns Evergreen Plantation and who hosted a luncheon for The National Trust representatives after the tour.

“I see a house like this and I immediately mentally re-do it,” she said, smiling.

Return To News Stories