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 other 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 south.
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;