Exploring Victorian Neighborhoods: Louisiana’s River Road, Part 2

For the Creole architecture and Victorian neighborhoods of Louisiana’s River Road, the Civil War was the beginning of the end.

The Nineteenth Century: The Second Anglo-American Invasion

From 1861 to 1877, the River Road faced as much transforming turmoil as it had in the two decades following the Louisiana Purchase. In spring 1862, Union troops took both New Orleans and Baton Rouge, in the process burning the “Castellated Gothic” capitol building, which had been designed and built by architect James Harrison Dakin in 1847. Unlike the “scorched earth” tactics used to destroy Louisiana’s historic plantations–Belmont, Belle Grove, The Cottage, Elmwood, Le Petit Versailles, Longview, and others–this fire was an accident; and arguably, so was much of the destruction to follow.

victorian homes

Louisiana’s old state capitol building, now rebuilt as it was when destroyed in 1862. (Photo by David J. Kaminsky in 1978, The Library of Congress; image in United States public domain.)

After the war, Louisiana endured more years of Reconstruction than any other Southern state; and as a result, Creole architecture again faced Anglicization. To pay neglected wartime taxes, the River Road’s landowners were forced to sell their plantations (scorched or not); quickly bought up by Northern investors, these estates became the sites of grand homes built in distinctly Anglo-American styles: Greek Revival, Italianate and Eastlake. As the Gilded Age came and went, so did many early-1800s Creole-style homes. They weren’t destroyed: unlike the French language, which the Northerners intentionally suppressed, these old homes were simply forgotten.

The master bedroom at Poplar Grove Plantation, an 1880s mansion built and furnished in a mishmash of Gothic, Eastlake and Renaissance Revival styles

The master bedroom at Poplar Grove Plantation, an 1880s mansion built and furnished in a mishmash of Gothic, Eastlake and Renaissance Revival styles. (Photo by Richard Sexton, from “Vestiges of Grandeur”)

The Twentieth Century: Industrialization and Preservation

Ironically, the twentieth century brought industrialization and preservation to the River Road almost simultaneously. In 1900, P

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