Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Take a Trip to Visit Louisiana's Unique Preservation Sites

Cammie Henry's scrapbook on Shadows-on-the-Teche
Spring is the most beautiful time of the year in Louisiana. There's no doubt in my mind. The dogwoods and azaleas are beautiful and they are everywhere! Everything is turning green and spring's pastel colors paint our landscape. It's no wonder that we get wanderlust and want to hit the road this time of year. I have a trip to south Louisiana planned in a few weeks and could not be more excited.

In preparation for that trip I went to Natchitoches yesterday to dig into Cammie Henry's archives once again. I have just finished reading Morris Raphael's biography of Weeks Hall, owner of Shadows-on-the-Teche plantation.  

Weeks Hall was a colorful character and reminds me in many ways of Lyle Saxon. The Hall family presence can be dated to the very early 1800s on Bayou Teche with large landholdings and a sugar plantation. The plantation house that remains today was begun in 1831 and completed in 1834 so that makes it contemporary with Melrose Plantation in Natchitoches which was completed in 1833.

As I researched my book, Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation, it was impossible not to fall under the spell of Lyle Saxon as well as Cammie Henry because they were both such vivid people who loved life and lived every moment of their lives. 

 Weeks Hall also falls into this category.  

While both Weeks and Lyle would probably have lived longer if they had taken better care of themselves, they were both a product of their time and they both lived the way they wanted to.  They had a lot of fun, entertained a lot of people, and both made their own unique preservation contribution to Louisiana.  So did Cammie Henry, and let's not overlook Cammie's best friend, Caroline Dormon and her preservation of the Kistachie forest as well as her home, Briarwood..

That all of these people should come together is fascinating to me when I think about the conversations and gatherings they had.  

Weeks Hall is a paradox to me in that he restored this beautiful plantation home and the gardens in New Iberia which naturally attracted tourists and the general public who wanted to see it.  But Weeks also valued his privacy and was a huge practical joker.  Morris Raphael writes that Weeks often walked the gardens in his underwear much to the shock of tourists who happened to be availing themselves of his gardens.  Sometimes people would simply wander into his house, uninvited.

In one one of the letters from Weeks to Cammie Henry dated July 1932 that I read yesterday, he describes encounters with uninvited guests:
I have been locking my gates night and day.  It is now 8:45 p.m. and someone just telephoned.  I answered myself and said I was out.  We have been finding people in the house even. Monday I locked a crowd of fifteen in and made them jump the fence!
Weeks Hall letter to Cammie Henry, 1932

Why is it, dear Aunt Cammie, that people pressure on country people, as you well know, in ways that they would not dare in the cities. Two months ago I had my house and gates locked. I was upstairs and sent the boy to the yard for the dog. A man that I know fairly well had jumped the fence and caught the boy coming in the back door. He made him open the gate, brought in eight people, a suitcase of liquors, and had party in my kitchen for two hours. I had hidden in the garret. When they left I asked the boy to bring up my lunch. They had eaten not only all of that but a ham that I cooked especially and promised to my cousins next door.
Can you imagine?!

Weeks Hall and Lyle Saxon were lifelong friends and both were charming hosts when they wanted to be, apparently, as was Cammie Henry, and all had a sense of responsibility in preservation.

Cammie's efforts in preserving and restoring not only Melrose plantation but the cabins and buildings that she brought there as well as her patronage of artists and writers of the time is invaluable.  Lyle Saxon preserved Louisiana lore and history through his writings for the newspaper as well as through his books, and Weeks Hall, of course, preserved and restored The Shadows.

I'm grateful for all three of these people not only for their preservation of my home state but also for their forward thinking and the records they left behind. They provide an invaluable look at their age and allow us to look into their lives.

If wanderlust strikes you this spring and summer, put both Melrose Plantation and The Shadows on your destination list.  Louisiana is a beautiful place: get out and explore!

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