Evergreen welcomes visitors

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 16, 2002


WALLACE – It is easier now than ever to visit Evergreen Plantation, one of the most picturesque and most complete plantation complexes along the Mississippi River. Seeing Evergreen is almost stepping back into antebellum Louisiana – except, perhaps for the llama, inset, which never fails to draw attention. “Tony Llama” is especially popular with children. Since the plantation opened for tour groups three years ago, people would have had to travel to New Orleans to join a tour bus company to be able to return to Wallace and take the tour. Now, Airboat Adventures/Blind River Swamp Tours is meeting tour groups in the River Parishes and taking them to Evergreen, there to see the 90-minute tour and possibly enjoy a catered lunch from DJ’s Italian Cuisine in Vacherie. Manager Jane Boddie said work continues to maintain and improve the plantation’s resources, right now rehabilitating and stabilizing the 22 original slave cabins, more than 140 years old, which were occupied with families through the 1940s. During 2001, Evergreen hosted more than 20,000 visitors. Chris Raggio, of Airboat Adventures, said response has been “tremendous” since he began offering the Evergreen tour.

Often, his tours can pick up groups at the St. James Parish Welcome Center on Airline Highway, but he added they can accommodate groups as small as 10 people, picking up anywhere in the River Parishes, such as a church parking lot.

Call 1-888-467-9267 for more information.

The plantation complex includes everything from decorative gardens, kitchen, garconnieres, slave cabins, overseer’s house, pigeonniers and even a picturesque, four-seater privy dating back to the 1830s.

The story of Evergreen dates back to the earliest colonization of south Louisiana, as Ambroise Heidel arrived with his group. By 1760, he and his five sons held a five-mile stretch of the river and son, Christophe, held the portion now known as Evergreen.

Beginning as a source of food for the New Orleans market, Evergreen converted to an indigo plantation in 1780 and later sugar cane, which is still a money-maker for the working plantation.

At the time, a two-story Creole villa stood at the site, but Christophe’s descendant, Pierre Clidamant Becnel, a great-grandson born in 1803, inherited the plantation in 1830 and built the plantation, much as people see it today, in 1832.

The plantation had its triumphs and catastrophes, but stayed in Becnel’s hands until his death in 1854, when it passed to his cousin, Lezin Becnel. Lezin Becnel had two sons, one of whom was killed in the Civil War, leaving Michel to inherit.

Rather than struggle to sort out the property among his 15 children, Michel Becnel sold Evergreen to Alfred Songy and his 11 children, who retained it through 1930, when it fell in to bankruptcy.

Evergreen stood empty for 14 years, when Mathilda Gray of Lake Charles, who shared the same passion for historical architecture as Pierre Clidamant Becnel, inspired the restoration of Evergreen from 1944 to 1952. Upon her death in 1971, the property came under the guiding hand of niece, Mathilda Gray Stream, who received the Louisiana Museum Foundation’s Legacy Award in 1998 for her contributions to maintaining Louisiana’s historical legacy.