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Lost America: Belle Grove Plantation, Iberville Parish, Louisiana.

belle-grove

Look at the above picture, and tell me you don’t find it haunting, evocative and sad. This is obviously a grand house of the Old South, fallen into ruin. Photographed in the 1930s, this place has magnificent architecture, including grand Greek columns, huge arched windows and a turret. This was undoubtedly the home of a very rich family in the era before the Civil War. Many things come to mind when you see a picture like this: hoop skirts and Southern belles, gently waving cypress branches, and the hell and horror of slavery that made it all possible. It’s all gone now–this place, which was called Belle Grove, no longer exists.

This is the inaugural venture in a new series of articles I want to do called Lost America, featuring photos and brief stories of architectural and historical treasures in the United States that are gone forever–torn down, burnt down or otherwise vanished from our landscape. This series was inspired by a two-volume book series called Lost America by Constance M. Greiff, published by The Pyne Press in 1971. It’s really a superb collection of architectural history, and also fascinating and sad. I’m not quoting anything directly from Lost America, and all the pictures I’ll show you here are in the public domain, but all of them are to be found in the pages of these wonderful books.

lost-america-master-sm

Belle Grove was the quintessential antebellum southern plantation. It was owned by a sugar planter, one John Andrews, who had operated a plantation on this site in Iberville Paris, Louisiana beginning in the 1830s and eventually owned 150 slaves. He started the construction of this house in 1852 and it was finished five years later–just four years before the outbreak of the Civil War that would bring this social and economic system to an end. Needless to say, Belle Grove was built by enslaved African-Americans. Their sweat, tears and blood suffused this place while it was still in existence, and, as was the case with most American monuments built by slaves (including the White House), they never got proper credit for it. The house was built of brick, covered with plaster. You might think it was white, especially if you’ve seen Gone With The Wind, but Belle Grove was actually pink.

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Belle Grove plantation house, built just before the Civil War, was literally falling down when this picture was taken in 1938. It ceased to exist entirely only 14 years later.

The house managed to survive the Civil War intact (which most grand plantation homes did not), and in 1867 Andrews sold it to the Ware family who lived there for many years. Obviously it was too expensive a place to maintain without unfree labor to cut down the costs. It’s unclear when Belle Grove was abandoned. Constance Greiff in Lost America claims 1914, and I’ve also heard 1924 or 1925. Certainly by the era of the Depression, when these photos were taken, the house had fallen into ruin. Its decaying remnants were finally destroyed by arson in 1952.

As magnificent as this house must have been in its heyday, I suspect this was a very sad and foreboding place for much of its history. The legacy of slavery is hard to wash away from the landscapes and lives that it touched. Belle Grove is a monument to a vanished era–and one that definitely belongs in the past, though not forgotten.

The photos of Belle Grove are in the public domain. The cover of Lost America is copyright (C) 1971 by The Pyne Press; I believe my inclusion of it here constitutes fair use.

5 Comments

  1. Forgetting history and allowing these places to fall is an insult to our ancestors. IMO

  2. Cassandra LMT

    Oh Sean! You are the FIRST person I’ve encountered who has seen, acknowledged and bewailed the fate of Belle Grove! I saw it first in 1977 in “Ghosts Along the Mississippi” and it has sort of haunted me ever since. I have scores of book about the south and civil war and I just wish that this one had survived even in a ruined state. In the book “Ghosts” it was titled “Grandeur and Decay”.
    Nottoway, which is still running and thriving and is, in fact a B & B (you can spend a night in it!) was kind of a sister to Belle Grove and was just a bit smaller.

  3. geri hughes

    where any photos ever taken of the bedrooms? surely some of the landscape or trees still exist, right? i want to see where it stood . where are all the furnishings, and are the columns really buried? who are the people i see in some of the photos? Finally, was the jail ever really used?

    • I don’t know the answers to these, wish I did. Most of the pictures in the “Lost America” book were taken by WPA photographers, employed by the federal government, during the Depression. They typically photographed exteriors, but not interiors; at least I haven’t found many interior photos (the pictures are all available on the Library of Congress website). By the time these pictures were taken, 1938, the place had evidently been abandoned for over 10 years. Furnishings would have been sold off or looted long ago. I don’t know about the jail. I suspect it was used for slaves.

  4. Kristen Graffeo

    The picture depicted on the book cover is of the Windsor Ruins in Mississippi, which can still be visited to this day. Sadly, all that remains of Belle Grove are a few large oak trees and a historical marker. The exact location of Belle Grove Plantation was a couple of miles south of the town of White Castle, LA in Iberville Parish. A small subdivision now stands on the site of the former home- known as Belle Grove Subdivision. The streets of the subdivision are also associated with the former plantation, such as ‘Ware Dr. ‘

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