If you love history with a dash of elegance and are fascinated by the past then you will love staying in Houmas House, voted one of the best plantation homes in the United States, and certainly the best for overnight accommodation rather than just visiting.
Houmas House, named after the local Houma people who originally lived in this part of Louisiana, sits on 38 acres of land and its Greek Revival architecture typifies the grandest homes in the south. It’s located between New Orleans and Baton Rouge and is a great drive through swamp land along the mighty Mississippi river.
I have visited Houmas House twice, once on Thanksgiving to enjoy their annual lunch (which is well worth coming to if you’re in the area) and another time I stayed in the new luxury villas that have been built on site for guests – and as you can imagine, weddings are popular here.
I am also bringing a small group here next year en route between New Orleans and Memphis, because it is just incredible and not many people know about it, but don’t be fooled, this place will have you soaking in its history from the minute you walk under the majestic old oak tree on the front lawn and in the gardens bursting with flowers and water features, to the main house itself.
After buying your tickets at the gift shop (filled with tons of cute stuff to spend time drooling over) you’ll step back in time as you walk up the steps and into the grand entrance of this two level home wrapped in a veranda and nestled on sprawling lawns. Your guide, dressed in full Gone With the Wind regalia, will greet you at the door and in small groups you’ll follow them around listening to stories of old and taking your time to admire the priceless collections and let your mind wander.
The first building was originally a four room house built in the 17oos and that is still here today, but the large homestead in front, built in the mid 1800s and connected by a breeze-way, is the stunner. The fabulous thing is you won’t find any of the antiques or original art and chinaware hidden safely behind glass. The dining table is set as if ready to entertain and you are merely arriving early to the party, glasses and plates perfectly arranged and flowers on the mantle.
Houmas House was once called Sugar Palace for its huge sugarcane plantation producing 20 million pounds (nine million kilos/10,000 tons) of sugar each year and is considered the crown jewel of Louisiana’s River Road, perched on the banks of the Mississippi. Today you need to climb up the grassy levy to see the river.
Current owner Kevin Kelly has lovingly and lavishly restored this historically important home and I’m told he hires someone full time to trawl eBay for memorabilia. A few years ago he found 100-year old plans for a carriage house so he had it built and that is now a large restaurant. He also lives in on site and each morning he gets up, makes his bed, tidies his room and in come the guests on their tours. I’m sure he’d admit he’s a little eccentric. You’re just as likely to find him in the pond cleaning the weed out as you will puttering around in his golf cart and greeting guests over dinner. But you’ll also see photos of the wedding he arranged for his dogs!
Houmas House History
The Houma people, after whom this plantation is named, had moved into this area of after the French/Indian War, also known as the Seven Years War from 1756 to 1763.
Their land was appropriated by the first owners Alexander Latil and Maurice Conway for a sugar cane plantation and in its peak produced 20 million pounds (nine million kilos/10,000 tons) of sugar a year. Then in 1803 the Louisiana Purchase happened when the United States bought the state of Louisiana from France, then Revolutionary War general Wade Hampton bought the plantation in 1811. He was the wealthiest land and slave owner in the south at that time.
Under another owner, John Burnside in the pre-Civil War 1850s and 60s era, approximately 800 slaves worked here, the largest slave holding in Louisiana. They don’t try and hide this but work alongside other historic mansions to tell the story of the slavery with Whitney Plantation, as you can see in the pic below in an exhibition about The Other Side of Plantation Life, told by slave children.
If you’d like to join my New Orleans to Memphis tour and have a night here at Houmas House, jump on this link to see the itinerary and get in touch. There are a couple of spaces left.