Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Local involvement saved this historic site



DESTREHAN — One of the finer plantations on River Road might not even be standing today, had it not been for a group of local citizens who saved the house in 1971.

Destrehan Plantation sat vacant for 12 years, with vandals breaking in, and stealing everything of value as there was no caretaker over the formerly beautiful home.

So a group of local citizens formed the River Road Historical Society in time to save the house, which was deeded to them in 1971, along with four acres of land, from the American Oil Company (AMOCO.)

Today, Destrehan Plantation has been restored as one of the top plantation stops for River Road residents, offering daily craft shows that include candle making, dyeing with indigo, calligraphy and early construction techniques. Due to Hurricane Katrina, those demonstrations have been temporarily suspended, but will resume in February, according to Executive Director Nancy Robert.

The house has one particularly special piece in an original document signed by President Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, dated to 1806. The document appoints Jean Noel Destrehan and others to the Orleans Territorial Council with the task of forming a new state government.

Destrehan Plantation began in 1787 when Robin deLogny built a French Colonial plantation house, only to die just two years after living there.

In 1810, Robin’s daughter Celeste and her husband Jean Noel d’Estrehan purchased the plantation, adding twin wings to accommodate their 14 children.

Jean Noel died in 1823 and his wife died a year later, but the children kept the house until selling in 1840 to Judge Pierre Rost, who remodeled it in Greek Revival style.

The home stayed in the family until it was sold to the Destrehan Planting and Manufacturing Company, with ownership changing several times over the years before AMOCO left the site in 1958.

One of the big reasons there was so much vandalism, according to Robert, is that a rumor from many years ago was that the pirate Jean Lafitte had hidden treasure on the property. That led to endless attempts to find the treasure, including tearing open the walls.

All that vandalism led to the near ruin of the home before the current owners, the River Road Historial Society, took over and saved the plantation.

** Built in 1787 as a French Colonial style plantation home.

** Remodeled to Greek Revival in 1840 by owners Judge Pierre Rost and his wife Louise.

** Home to an original document signed by President Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, dated to 1806.

** Daily demonstrations by costumed artisans of long-forgotten skills that were a vital part of everyday life. (Temporarily suspended until February, due to Hurricane Katrina.)

** Vintage garden located on the grounds, thanks to the dedication and cultivation of local Master Gardeners.

**A National Historic landmark, remains the oldest documented plantation home in the lower Mississippi Valley.

** A unique feature of three human life-size figures of Jean Noel Destrehan, his wife Eleonore Zelia Destrehan Henderson, and Marguerite, an enslaved worker at the plantation in the late 1700s.

** Open for tours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, except on major holidays.

** Tickets: Adults, $10; Ages 6-17, $5. Special group rates available.

** Located at 13034 River Road, Destrehan, La., 70047.

** Information: 985-764-9315, or online at