Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 7, 2005
One of the area’s most intact plantation complexes existing
By KEVIN CHIRI
WALLACE — Evergreen Plantation on the West Bank of St. John Parish provides one of the oldest, and most complete plantation homes in the region.
The original owner of Evergreen Plantation, Ambroise Heidel from Germany, passed the property on to his five sons, with Christophe and his wife, Charlotte Oubre, building the two-story villa in the Creole fashion.
When they died in 1799, their daughter Magdelaine Heidel, who became widow Pierre Becnel, inherited the portion of the property with the home. In 1801 she moved her eight children into the “big house” with four of them marrying their cousins from the next door Whitney Plantation.
Pierre Clidamant Becnel, the youngest son of Magdelaine, became the most important person in the Evergreen story as he was born on the plantation in 1808. After his parents died of yellow fever when he was only two, he became a very wealthy young man and eventually took the style from Philadelphia to incorporate in a renovation of the Evergreen home.
He had a dream to build five houses in Louisiana for his wife and himself, and the current Evergreen home is Clidamant’s dream fulfilled. However his extensive remodeling of Evergreen led to his bankruptcy. He was forced to sell the entire plantation to his cousin Lezin Becnel, who showed mercy by allowing him to still live there. Only one year later, Clidamant was able to buy the house back, and stayed there until his death. He had no children and left only a legacy of the Evergreen house.
Evergreen remained in the Becnel family until 1894 when it was sold to Alfred and Edward Songy, with the buildings later abandoned until the beginning of the depression in 1944. That is when the current owner, Matilda Gray purchased the property.
Gray undertook extensive restoration and owns the house to this day. More importantly is her staunch intent to maintain the property, which includes two garconnieres, two pigeonaires, two buildings restored as a kitchen and office, and one unusual Green Revivial house.
Even with recent financial problems to most area plantations due to the loss of income following Hurricane Katrina, Gray has used her own fortune garnered through the oil industry to maintain the house and grounds. However a swamp tour which has been part of the property is still not operating due to the storm.
Evergreen has the most intact and extensive slave cabins of any plantation around, with a total of 22 cabins at the end of 100, 200-year-old oak trees.
A new Victorian House Restaurant was recently built after Sept. 11, helping the income to remain and offering a wonderful place for receptions and dinners.
*** One of the largest and most intact plantation complexes in the South.
*** Four-fifths of the 39 buildings are antebellum, including 22 slave cabins in their original double row configuration.
*** National Landmark on the National Register.
*** “Big house” arranged in symmetrical arrangement with six buildings restored.
*** Alley of over 100, 200-year-old oak trees leading to the slave cabins.
*** One of the oldest plantation homes, originally built in 1790.
*** A working sugar cane plantation still today on 2,268 acres.
*** Evergreen Swamp Tours through a Mississippi River Batture swamp (currently not reopened due to Hurricane Katrina.)
*** Plantation Tour Schedule: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. (Tours are one-and-a-half hours long.)
*** Weekday tours by appointment. Special group rates.
*** Tour price: $20 per person, which includes main house and slave cabins. Half-price for children age 12 and under.
*** Information: 1-888-858-6877. www.evergreenplantation.com.