The Story of The Melrose Plantation
Melrose is one of the unique plantations of the old
South, its career measured, not by years, but by generations. Its story will
endure, for it is recorded not only in fiction and fireside legend, but on
the indelible pages of history.
The Association for the Preservation of Historic
Natchitoches has undertaken the careful restoration of the eight -structures
composing the Melrose complex. In 1971, in the interest of maintaining
Melrose as a monument to Louisiana history, Southdown Land Company, which
had acquired the plantation. conveyed the six-acre site and complex of
buildings to the Association. In 1974, the Cane River plantation was
declared a National Historic Landmark.
The story of romantic Melrose Plantation begins with the
legend of Marie Therese Coincoin, who was born, in 1742, a slave in the
household of Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, the first commandant of the post
at Natchitoches. Marie Therese became the matriarch of a family of fourteen
children-four black and ten of Franco-African blood—and the founder of a
unique colony of people. Along with several other children, she was sold to
Thomas Pierre Metoyer, who later freed her and eventually all her Metoyer
children. Between 1794 and 1803, she and her sons received a number of land
grants, the lands forming Melrose Plantation being recorded in the name of
her son Louis Descendants of the Metoyers live along the river today, a
people proud of their heritage and culture.
It was at Melrose that the Metoyers built Yucca House,
the African-House, and
structures. It must have been a tremendous undertaking for them to clear the
land, build roads and fences, and raise indigo, tobacco, cotton, and other
crops to achieve a successful plantation operation.
Listed Below are some of the
buildings that comprise this National Historic Site
Yucca House (c. 1796), the original main house at Melrose,
incorporated local materials exclusively—heavy, hand-hewn cypress beams,
uprights, and sleepers; waIls made of mud from the river bottoms, mixed with
deer hair-and Spanish moss. Yucca has housed more of America's notable
authors, historians and artists than any other single residence in the
African House (c. 1800), a strange-looking construction reminiscent of the
straw-thatched huts found in the Congo, was built as a combination
storehouse and jail for rebellious slaves.
The African House has been called the
only structure of Congo-like architecture on the North American continent
dating back to colonial times. The lower level of the unique building is
constructed of brick baked on the place, while the upper story is fashioned
from thick hand-hewn cypress slabs with eaves that slope almost to the
ground. The walls of the upper story is
contain murals painted by folk artist Clementine Hunter.
The Big House was
constructed on the Melrose grounds about 1833, a Louisiana-type plantation
home, the lower floor of brick and the upper story of wood. Twin hexagonal garconnieres and a kitchen wing were added later by the Henry family.
In the economic upheaval of the 1840’s, the plantation
passed to white ownership. It was bought by Hypolite and Henry Hertzog, who,
in turn, lost it in the aftermath of the Civil War. In 1884, the plantation
was acquired by Joseph Henry.
At the turn of the century, Melrose became the home of
John Hampton and Cammie Garrett Henry, the latter known affectionately as
"Miss Cammie" to her Cane River friends. In the succeeding years Miss
Cammie’s patronage of the arts and preservation of local artifacts made
Melrose justly famous. Mrs. Henry replanted and extended the plantation
gardens, rescued the colonial buildings, revived local handicrafts, and
accumulated her famous library of Louisiana books and materials.
Artists and writers were invited by Mrs. Henry to stay as
long as they wished, so long as they were working on some creative project.
Among the many who visited and worked at Melrose were Erskine Caldwell,
Alexander Woollcott, Alberta Kinsey, Caroline Dormon, Rose Franken, William
Spratling, Gwen Bristow, Ross Phares, and Ruth Cross. One warmly remembered
personality who wrote for years at Melrose was Lyle Saxon, whose Children
of Strangers portrays the Cane River area. A friend and collaborator of
Mrs. Henry’s was Francois Mignon, the writer in residence who arrived at
Melrose for a six-week visit and stayed for thirty-two years. He recorded in
Plantation Memo his memories of life at Melrose. During the 1940’s,
Clementine Hunter, one-time Melrose cook, emerged as Louisiana’s most
celebrated primitive artist. Some of her paintings remain at Melrose.
The Weaving House - Weaving is again being done on the looms at Melrose.
Visitors are welcomed each day of the year. Melrose is one of the
attractions on the annual Tour of Historic Homes, the second weekend of
October; and each year, on the second weekend of June, the Melrose Arts and
Crafts Festival is held.
The Ghana House;