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Historic Plantation Endures in Louisiana

One can picture southern aristocrats sitting on the mansion’s veranda, sipping cocktails and looking out through the massive columns at the verdant landscape.

Documents found in attic offer most complete family record of any old southern mansion

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., owns 19 historic properties, including a beautiful site in the little town of New Iberia, Louisiana, in the heart of what’s called “Cajun country.”

French-speaking people migrated there from the Acadia region of eastern Canada in the mid-18th century. In the swampy Louisiana lowlands, these Acadians, or “Cajuns,” found work as fishermen and laborers on sugar plantations.

And the grandest plantation of all was an 81-hectare spread called, simply, “The Home Place,” because owner David Weeks also had several other houses and sugarcane operations nearby. More than 250 African slaves also labored at those houses and in the canebrakes.

The centerpiece of the Weeks plantation was a three-story mansion, built in 1834, that featured some of the elements of a Greek Revival-style home - including eight enormous white columns.

The kitchen of Shadows-on-the-Teche is much less grand.
The kitchen of Shadows-on-the-Teche is much less grand.

Northern soldiers occupied the house during the U.S. Civil War of the 1860s. It survived but fell into disrepair until the 1920s, when Weeks’s great-grandson, Weeks Hall, inherited it and began a lifelong campaign to restore it.

He called the place “Shadows-on-the-Teche.” That’s one of the nearby, slow-moving streams, or bayous. The shadows are cast by giant live oaks, their branches draped with swaying wisps of Spanish moss, that line the path to the house.

Shortly before he died in 1958, Weeks Hall signed an agreement to donate Shadows-on-the-Teche to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In the attic, trust workers found dozens of old trunks containing 17,000 documents, 650 articles of clothing and troves of china and crystal collected by four generations of the mansion’s owners.

All told, the artifacts helped the trust put together the most complete family record of any of the classic old, southern plantations. And if ever there was a classic southern planation that survives, it is Shadows-on-the-Teche.