Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 22, 2005
Recovering from a fire, new life is being restored
By KEVIN CHIRI
VACHERIE — Laura Plantation may have once been named the “best history tour in the U.S.,” but in its present form today, it offers something that is presently completely unique to any of the plantation homes in the River Region.
After a fire destroyed the roof and much of the upstairs in August of 2004, Laura Plantation Corporation President Norman Marmillion is now holding tours of the restoration project at the home. That, in itself, offers visitors something that is more special than one might think.
Getting a look at the raw interior walls left standing, and the work being done by Milton Freewater, a historic preservationist construction company, is something that few people will ever get a look at. And perhaps surprisingly, the different look at the plantation in its present form is more interesting than many expect.
“There is so much being done in the restoration and rebuilding that is so interesting to see,” Marmillion explained. “And we are completely finishing one room at a time so people can see that, but still have the unfinished rooms as long as we can maintain them.”
Laura Plantation was built in 1805 as a classic Creole design home, raised off the ground as other plantations were to take advantage of cooler breezes coming off the Mississippi River during the long, hot Louisiana summers.
The upper level of the 24,000 square foot house was built of brick-between-post construction, and the lower level was solid brick due to river flooding. Below the ground level was an 8-foot deep foundation of 72 brick pyramids holding up the house.
The Big House was originally built in a U-shaped design for 100 years, until 1905 when the Waguespack Family, faced with inheritance problems, cut off the two wings. It was later shaped into a 17,000 square foot house in its current “T” shape.
The tour of Laura Plantation is equally unique, put together from 5,000 pages of French documents and upon Laura’s “Memories of the Old Plantation Home,” detailing 250 years of true-life stories of Creole women, slaves and children.
The plantation is surrounded by fields of sugar cane and has 11 historic buildings on the National Register, including slave cabins where the West-African folktales of Br’er Rabbit were recorded over 125 years ago.
Marmillion said the roof should be completely restored in five more weeks, and they hope to have the house back in its original form by late spring or early summer.
The fire came from an electrical problem in one of the outer buildings, and caught the back of the house on fire, which came close to destroying the facility. However the foundation was left intact and as Marmillion has publicized on a sign in front of the site, “Fire, Flood, Hurricanes, Lightning, Earthquakes, Cannonballs, Tornados-Laura’s Here to Stay!”
-Built in 1805 as a historic sugar cane plantation on River Road.
-Guided tour built around 14 stories coming from “Memories of the Old Plantation Home” by former owner, Laura Locoul Gore.
-A total of 11 historic buildings in the National Register, including slave cabins where the West-African folktales of Br’er Rabbit were recorded over 125 years ago.
-Situated on 13 acres of homestead, with 18th and 19th century syrup kettles surrounding it.
-Four intact cypress slave cabins, built in the 1840s.
-Currently being rebuilt after a fire in August, 2004 destroyed the roof and much of the upstairs.
-Open for tours seven days a week, closed on New Year’s, Mardi Gras, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
-Admission gate opens at 9:30 a.m., tours continue until 4 p.m.
-Adults: $10, Children 6-17, $5. Special group rates offered.
-Located at 2247 Highway 18, Vacherie, La., 70090.
-Call 1225-265-7690. On the web at lauraplantation.com