Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 1, 2005

New owner turned site into free evacuee center during Katrina



CONVENT — The history of Poche Plantation in St. James Parish will always be a special story in itself, as is the case for all River Road plantations.

But new owner Mark Anderson, 42, has added an extra flair of interest to the Mississippi River plantation, since buying the house and property on Dec. 15, 2004.

Unlike many of the other River Road plantations, which have been hit hard financially from Hurricane Katrina, the story is different for Poche, largely because of the entrepreneurial spirit of Anderson.

Since purchasing the home at auction for $643,500, Anderson has added numerous improvements to the grounds of the plantation, turning it into a destination stop for tourists.

The home already offered a bed and breakfast, and small RV park, but with Katrina hitting the area hard, Anderson added a strip of property that now houses 57 new RV spots on the 20 acre plantation property.

He is building a reception deck with a $21,000 fountain as its centerpiece just behind the actual home and thanks to the RV income, is not in such dire straits financially after the hurricane as many of the other plantations.

For that matter, he has closed down tours of the house until February or March, due in part to the fact that he housed more than 250 people on the property-many of them in the house itself-all without asking any money for more than four weeks.

&#8220The morning of the hurricane we had people starting to just pull in. The wind was getting real bad and River Road was bumper to bumper,” he explained. &#8220So we just moved all the antiques in the house into one room, and housed all these people. There was definitely over 250. But I just couldn’t charge them due to the situation everyone was facing.”

Anderson’s free-wheeling attitude in his business has apparently worked wonders in his short life of operating more than a dozen business ventures.

Starting with no serious money of his own, he started Mark’s Fireworks when he was 15, followed by Super Seal Windows which he eventually sold, and then more and more businesses that he kept or sold. Today he is reportedly a multi-millionaire who travels the country with his wife when not conducting the affairs of the property.

Presently he owns 11 different businesses, including the Mighty Muffler stores in the region, after he made much of his fortune through various media forms, including being the founder of the Ascension Citizen newspaper in Ascension Parish.

&#8220I always knew I was going to be successful,” he said. &#8220I never inherited money. My wife and I lived in an 8×40 trailer when we were married 25 years ago, but I just had the mind to make sure I was successful at what I did. I’ve certainly evolved into a lot of different businesses, but this plantation is something I truly love.”

The house was originally built in 1867 by Judge Felix Pierre Poche, originally on a 160-acre sugar cane plantation site. The property was sold to Judge Henry Himel in 1892 and since, has been through six owners, according to Anderson.

Poche was an accomplished attorney, a Louisiana Supreme Court justice and co-founder of the American Bar Association.

Anderson said he has spent the past year working on the infrastructure of the plantation, and now will focus on landscaping before opening perhaps in February or March for tours.

Otherwise, the bed and breakfast cottages are available for rent, although most places are full at this time, housing many relief workers from the hurricane.

For more information, call 225-562-7728.