Blue skies signaled a great day to go out to River Road and see some of the plantations. San Francisco Plantation is not your typical antibellum plantation – a colorful exterior reminiscent of both a Bavarian home & a Mississippi riverboat. San Francisco Plantation was also holding it’s bi-annual FriscoFest – so I was looking forward to enjoying the community events with crafts, food and music.
San Francisco Plantation History
Built in 1856, San Francisco Plantation is a galleried house in the old Creole style, commonly referred to as “Steamboat Gothic”.
This history of this plantation starts in 1827, when Elisée Rillieux, a free man of color, began buying tracts of land and slaves to establish a sugar plantation though he never intended to be a planter. In 1830, Elisée sold the plantation to Edmond Bozonier Marmillion for the enormous sum of $100,000 dollars, collecting an estimated $50,000 dollar profit.
Edmond was in debt from day one until 26 years later when he passed as he did not invest in modern sugar machinery and catch the sugar boom. Tragedy also overshadowed the family – his wife Antoinette died from tuberculosis and 6 of his 8 children also died during his time on the plantation. As repeated in many historical records from this time, people died often from tuberculosis, yellow fever and even minor cuts which became infected; medical difficulties & mortality rates that we can’t imagine today.
Three years before his passing, Edmond built the plantation for his two surviving sons Valsin and Charles. In 1853, he hired expert builders and purchased twelve highly skilled slaves to convert his extravagant vision into reality. When main construction was finished two years later, Edmond appointed accomplished artists to carry out an ambitious decoration project. It featured five artistically hand painted ceilings, painted door panels, faux marbling, and faux wood graining throughout.
Edmond passed away in 1856 and he only lived there for 1 year. Valsin, his son, returned from Europe with his Bavarian wife Louise and their 3 daugthers to take over the plantation operations for the next 15 years. Local lore details that it was Louise’s Bavarian heritage that contributed to the colors of this unique plantation. The unusual name “San Francisco” is believed to be derived from Valsin’s comment about the extraordinary debt he was confronted with when taking over the estate. He declared he was sans fruscins or “without a penny in my pocket.” Valsin and his brother Charles wanted to sell the plantation but they were halted in a legal conflict with a sister-in-law, Zoé Luminais, and missed their window of opportunity with the outbreak of the Civil War. Valsin also died of tuberculosis in 1871. Charles, who survived 31 battles in the Civil War in the Confederate Army, died in 1875.
In 1879, Louis was able to sell the plantation to the next owner, Achille D. Bougère, for only $50,000 (A $50,000 loss after almost 50 years). Bougère changed the name into “San Francisco” and made some progress in operating the sugar cane plantation to profitability. He sold in 1904 and the estate changed hands a few more times.
As a result of the Great Flood of 1927, the Army Corps of Engineers began building the Mississippi River levee system and completed the project in 1932. The new levee claimed the front yard and gardens and this is why the house is so close to the road. However, the river road plantations were saved thanks to petitions by local citizens.
In 1974, the estate was purchased by the ECOL Company and later by Marathon Oil. The San Francisco Plantation Foundation was created and the home underwent a massive restoration and restored to the golden years just before the War Between the States. Though this estate is surrounded by Oil Refineries making a shocking image as you drive in, please remember that they also preserved this estate for future generations.
Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974, this opulent, colorful plantation is so distinctive that it inspired novelist Frances Parkinson Keyes to write “Steamboat Gothic,” a story about a family she imagined living there.
Touring San Francisco Plantation
Influenced by Louise’s Bavarian heritage, the plantation boasts a vivid palette of color, with hand-painted ceilings, faux marbling and period antiques.
The grounds of San Francisco Plantation feature some historic outbuildings, such as an 1840s slave cabin, and a school house dating back to the 1830s. All of the plantations I did visit seem to make a concerted effort to explain this part of the history as part of the plantation.
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
The San Francisco Plantation website also details the Slave Inventory from a few years that they have on record. Read their names and you can imagine that each has a unique story to tell.
My visit coincided with the bi-annual FriscoFest which occurs in the Spring and Fall. This was a great time to not only see the plantation, but also view local crafters and taste some wonderful Creole concoctions. I had some buttery grits with an andoullie sauce that was so flavorful. The event also featured Fun Runs, Bike Races, Music and a Petting Zoo for the kiddos with adorable animals.
Only in NOLA! – Voodoo Doll crafts
The barn before the lunch crowd
The cutest animals in the Petting Zoo
These little pigs were on a mission for treats!
Day 5: Esplanade RidgeDay 7: Oak Alley Plantation[/vision_icon]