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The Great House of Rosedown Plantation, as seen from the oak allee

Photo from National Historic Landmarks collection
[photo] View of Rosedown Plantation gardens
Photo from National Historic Landmarks collection

Rosedown Plantation, encompassing 374 acres in St. Francisville, is one of the most intact, documented examples of a domestic plantation complex in the South. It embodies the lifestyle of the antebellum South's wealthiest planters in a way very few other surviving properties can. The plantation's landscape is a laboratory for the study and interpretation of the cultural traditions of slavery, the life style of the gentry and scientific experiments in agriculture and horticulture. Rosedown was established in the 1830s by Daniel and Martha Barrow Turnbull, and remained in the hands of their descendants until the 1950s.

At its height, the plantation encompassed 3,455 acres, and included the typical components of cotton plantations of the mid-antebellum period in the South--agricultural acreage planted with the cash crop, fields of fodder crops, pastureland for cattle, stables for horses, yards and pens for poultry and other farm animals, the quarters of enslaved Africans (where they typically had their own individual garden plots), a kitchen garden, an orchard, and the pleasure, or ornamental, gardens adjacent to the main plantation house, or the "Great House." Over the years the acreage was subdivided and although the working portions of the plantation have vanished, both the house and the gardens survive. The c.1835 Federal-Greek revival style great house, complete with Grecian style wings c.1845, is at the head of a 660-foot long oak allee. It is typical of the small minority of great houses built by the South's wealthiest planters. Near the great house are several dependencies, most notably three latticed summerhouses and a Greek temple style doctor's office.

What distinguishes the landscape of Rosedown are its pleasure gardens, notable for their size, sophistication and refined plant collections. The gardens were the passion of Martha Turnbull and her garden diary provides invaluable insight into the story of the garden's planting and management. She recorded her first entry in 1836 and her last in 1895, a year before her death at the age of 87. Eighteen acres of ornamental pleasure gardens illustrate a combination of the axiality of the Baroque style and the winding paths of the picturesque tradition. Many of the plants introduced by Martha survive today, and include one of the earliest collections of camellias in the Deep South. She also relied heavily on plants imported from the Orient, such as cryptomeria, azaleas and crape myrtles. Due to the access available to Martha's life story through her own words, Rosedown reminds us of the central place that ornamental horticulture held in the lives of many people living in the plantation South during the antebellum period and its aftermath.

Rosedown's labor intensive gardens were made possible by an enslaved African workforce. The 1860 census indicated that 145 slaves were living in 25 houses on the plantation (an average of six people per house). The succession of Daniel Turnball after his death in 1862 indicates the occupations of only a few--carpernters, driver, blacksmith, cooks, carriage driver, house servant and washer woman. None are identified as gardeners, but Martha names individual slaves frequently in her diary, indicating that they were essential in the planting and maintence of the gardens. On-going archaeological investigations are being conducted to learn more about the lives of the African Americans who lived on the plantation.

Rosedown Plantation, now owned by the State of Louisiana, is located at 12501 La. Hwy. 10 in West Feliciana Parish. Fortunately, the house was not damaged by Hurricane Katrina, but please check with them directly to confirm the current hours of operation. It is open 9:00am to 5:00pm daily; closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's day. Guided tours of the main house are provided on the hour from 10:00am to 4:00pm. There is a fee for admission. For more information call 1-888-376-1867 or visit Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site's website.

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