COTE DE TEXAS

A Creole Plantation–in 2017

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First, a bit of news…the Aidan Gray contest has not been decided yet.  It might be a few more weeks before the winners are announced.   As soon as the Aidan Gray people make their final decisions, I will announce it!!  You could probably still instagram an entry or two right now – if you want: #AGwithanedge


 

 

Last year, I wrote a story about this folie, a pavilion located outside Beaux Bridge, Louisiana on Lake Martin.  Built by antiquarian and architectural historian Monsieur Robert E. Smith, the tower is his country house – a nearby get-away from his antique shop – which is actually also in  the country for us city folks.

 

 

The tower is unique – it has one large room with four smaller rooms on each of its main floors and is designed as if it was built in the 18th century.  All signs of modern living are hidden away and guests are treated to life as it might have been in France during Madame de Pompadour’s day – or in the United States, well before the Louisiana Purchase!

 

Located on Lake Martin, home to fabulous species of birds and alligators, M. Smith designed the tower surrounded by a moat.  Guests cross a bridge to enter his special world.

 

Here is the googlemap satellite photo of the tower – at Lake Martin.  You can get a feel for how totally surrounded by the trees the tower is!!

 

In the very center of the photo is the Tower, seen from the middle of Lake Martin.

 

 

Each floor of the tower has one large room with four smaller rooms.  Here is the dining room floor – where the table is set in front of the balcony that overlooks Lake Martin.   All evidence of the 21st century is hidden away, including the kitchen – which is behind buffet a deux corps doors.

 

Here the table sits by the antique mantel.  The wood beamed ceilings are especially beautiful.

 

The living room floor is filled with French furniture – of course – and oil portraits.  The walls are antique boiserie.  Closets, stairs, bathrooms and other evidence of modernity are tucked away within small “rooms” in the corners.

Another floor holds the bedroom, while the fourth floor is an open air sleeping porch.  On the top level – there is a terrace that overlooks the entire property and Lake Martin. 

To read the complete story about the French pavilion, go HERE.

Work for Monsieur Smith means leaving the pavilion property and driving to his nine acre compound where he has accumulated several buildings and two houses, each of which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

 

The Au Vieux Paris Antiques Compound rests on nine acres – where nine buildings have been either moved here and restored or built by Robert Smith.    The largest building is the Henry Penne House, which was restored over 40 years ago.  Smith’s goal was to recreate a French Creole plantation as it might have looked in the 19th century – which he has accomplished.  Before the Pavilion on Lake Martin was built, Mr. Smith lived on the property – in one of the houses.  His antique business is now set up in the Henry Penne house, where he shows his French 17th, 18th and 19th century antiques along with his selection of building materials.

 

The property is covered in beautiful old oak trees gracefully dripping with moss. 

 

On the property are two pigeonnaires, two privies, and two houses, one with a semi-attached kitchen – nine buildings in all.   The property is set up as an actual 19th century Creole plantation might have been:  the main house or the Henri Penne house with its semi attached kitchen,  the smaller house or the maison de Dimanche would have been the overseer’s house.  Most Creole plantations had two pigeonnaires, and of course, there would be a privy or two, one on his property is from 1830, the oldest documented privy in Louisiana.     Additionally there is also a storage building here – built in the 1820s to store valuable food commodities for the Cormier family from Henderson.  It has all been so authentically restored, I can see this property being owned by the state one day and turned into a cultural site.

 

A view of one of the pigeonnaires.  The garden is at the left.

 

 

 

The first house M. Smith brought to the property was the Henri Penne house, built in 1821.  The house had been lived in by 13 field hands who worked for the next door plantation.  When Smith first saw this house in Jeanerette, it was in need of total restoration.   Here is the house as it was before Smith moved it to his land.

 

 

 

This photograph shows the house at its new home, after the roof and front porch were removed so that it could be moved to the property.

 

 

 

And, here is how the Henri Penne house looked as it was restored by M. Smith, now surrounded by the picket fence and gardens that he designed.  In 1985, Smith opened his shop, Au Vieux Paris Antiques, in the Henri Penne house. 

 

The property has been photographed for several publications.  Here, it is – showing the gravel lined garden in front of house.  Such a beauty!   The 1 1/2 story house has a center hallway with two rooms on each side.   The staircase to the second floor is outside.   

 

A side view of the Henri Penne house with the semi attached kitchen at its back.

 

Before the house was overtaken by the antiques shop, it was used as a house by M. Smith.  Here in an older photograph, you can see the living room filled with American, French and English furnishings.

 

And the dining room – which was set for a dinner party.  I love the antique French chandelier and the porcelains – I have several of these!!  Love them!! 

 

And an early view of the Henri Penne guest bedroom – with a spinning wheel.  It was furnished with Acadian furniture and a large collection of Acadian textiles.

 

The view off the semi-attached kitchen, overlooks the privy.

 

 

And, today, the house is now the antique shop only.  Here in the center hall, it is filled with the 17th, 18th, and 19th century antiques that M. Smith hand picks in France, where he also has a Hotel Particular. (Hopefully that will be my next story about M. Smith!)  I spy so many things that I need, here!  Or love!!

 

There is furniture, porcelains, mirrors, chandeliers and textiles  - among other French items.

 

 

An early magazine photoshoot of the garden at the front of the Henri Penne house.

 

 

Today, the garden has changed a little with an obelisk and a collection of pots on the lawn.  A border of plants now surrounds the lawn.

 

Besides the Henri Penne house, there is the second house on the property where Monsieur Smith once lived full time; it is called the maison de Dimanche, or the Sunday House.   Built in 1830, it was once used as a town house for what was probably a wealthy and educated Creole family who lived in the country.  On the weekends, such families would come to town to go shopping, visit friends,  attend the opera, and then go to mass on Sunday.  They would spend the weekend in their “Sunday House”  instead of taking the long carriage ride back to the plantation.   The German Texas town of Fredericksburg has a number of Sunday houses made of native Texas stone which served the same purpose as Louisiana’s maison de Dimanches.  The Creole Sunday houses, though, are made of wood, inspired by the French houses found in Louisiana and the West Indies. 

 

 

This particular “maison de Dimanche” was discovered by M. Smith in 1981 in St. Martinville, where it had been moved in 1845 from the front of its corner lot to the rear, when it became an outdoor kitchen for the new house that was built in its stead. It took Mr. Smith over a year to convince the owners of the small 784 sq. ft. house to sell it to him.   Before it could be transported to the plantation, it had to be shored up a bit, after which it was carefully moved from the land where it had stood for over a century to its new home outside of Breaux Bridge.    In this photograph above, the house as it looked a few months after it was moved to M. Smith’s plantation.

 

 

Once it was moved, Mr. Smith restored it, bringing the charming, tiny house back to life, as seen above.  He happily lived there until he built his tower, the pavilion by Lake Martin.   The Sunday house has two rooms, a salon and a bedroom – which stand side by side - with a central chimney and a front and back porch on the left side, along with a cabinet room on the right rear.  The salon was designed with its doors on the front and back porch to catch the breezes in those non air-conditioned day.  The salon is open on three sides with the fourth side having a mirror over the mantel reflecting light and views and creating a four-sided lanterne.

 

As seen in a photoshoot – the maison de Dimanche on the left.  In the background, the larger Henri Penne house, with its detached kitchen at its rear.   Here, the maison de Dimanche takes the position of an overseer’s house.

 

In August 1991, Hurricane Andrew hit Louisiana, forming a tornado that landed on the drive of Smith’s property.   The force picked up a water oak tree and dropped it back on the maison de Dimanche – all while M. Smith was sleeping inside!  It was pure luck that the tree fell on the solid brick double center chimney, breaking its fall.  This protected Smith from being crushed by the tree and he considers it a miracle he survived.  The bed he was sleeping in had four posters which actually held the ceiling up!   After Andrew, the tiny house had to be completely restored, yet again, and it wasn’t until winter he was able to move back in.  

 

And here, the tiny house was put back together again after the hurricane.  Notice the tiny shuttered window in the attic space.   Most fun, after the hurricane – M. Smith put a new bedroom, half-bath, and an office in this attic space.   No photos yet of this space. 

 

 

 

All was well until 2011, when the house needed a new roof and new wooden steps and porch flooring – the humid weather causes the wood to quickly rot here.  Finally, this last August, a flood in Louisiana brought 1 1/2 inches of water inside the maison de Dimanche, which had to be restored, yet again.   Here, you can see the new metal roof that replaced the shingles.   The tiny salon is on the left, while the bedroom is on the right.   At the left where the water oak was uprooted in the hurricane, there is now a vegetable garden located within the white fence.

 

 

 

But…. now that the house has been put back together, yet again, Robert Smith is celebrating it – calling it his phoenix, rising from the ashes to go on to a renewed life, yet again!!

 

From an early magazine story – the front porch, with a view into the salon.

 

  And from the back porch,  the view looks out on the nine acres.

 

An early photoshoot showing the salon when M. Smith still lived here full-time. 

 

From Southern Accents, a beautiful photo of the salon.

 

The table set with M. Smith’s collection of silver, dishes and crystal.

 

An older photoshoot.   The original cypress mantle with its faux marble finish in the Directoire style.

 

Today, the house remains the same, just a bit more furniture has been added, like these two French chairs.  

 

 

The view of the other side of the salon.  Oil portraits flank the settee. Louis XVI transitional to Directoire furnishings.  

 

Facing the fireplace.   The French door at the very left leads to the back porch.

   

The view into the bedroom.

 

The male portrait to the right of the settee.

 

And on the left side, the female portrait.   His wife?

 

The set of chairs lines the back wall, while the door opens to the rear porch.

 

Close up of the accessories.

 

The armoires are used to replace the missing closets.   These old houses were built without closets, and armoires took their place.

 

My favorite vignette!

 

The back door and the door into the bedroom.

 

 

From Southern Accents.  The bedroom.   Here the walls were once faux painted.

 

Today. The walls are now cleanly painted “Magic White,”  a color that changes in lighting conditions, going from cream to ashes of roses. 

 

Above the mantle is a portrait of the architect and builder Alexandre Bienvenu DeVince, 1784-1855.  He inherited his parent’s plantation near Lake Martin called Cypress Island.  This is Alexandre’s personal cherry wood armoire.  He is buried in the Bienvenu tomb in New Orleans’ St. Louis cemetery #1.   At one point, M. Smith believed that Alexandre had built his maison de Dimanche, but research proved him wrong.

 

   Alexandre’s armoire to the left of his portrait, with his signature monogram used to identify ownership.

 

 

  

Alexandre looks almost familiar!  My husband’s family is from nearby New Iberia.  I wonder if they are related?

 

 

From Southern Accents.   This is the very same four poster bed that saved M. Smith’s life during Hurricane Andrew. 

 

Governor Jacque Dupre’s cypress clock.

 

Today.  The bed is mahogany, from Louisiana.   Seen today the bedroom has less fabric and now has light gray walls.  The room looks bright and  fresh.

 

Today.   Early, Louisiana cherry inlaid chest of drawers. 

 

And in this corner, Smith recently added this antique mirror and sconce.  Just the perfect size for this space.

 

There was once a very rustic bathroom, which M. Smith replaced with this more modern one.

 

M. Smith glazed in the back porch, where he created a small kitchen hidden in wood cabinets.

 

Here, the top of the cabinet is open, showing one part of the inventive kitchen.

 

The hidden refrigerator and trash can!

 

The maison de Dimanche today with the new vegetable garden at the left. 

After surviving so much – almost ruin, a hurricane, and a flood – M. Smith says this house is his Phoenix – risen from the ashes to live yet again. 

So true!!

 

While M. Smith originally thought that Alexandre Bienvenu DeVince, the architect whose portrait hangs in his bedroom, had designed his maison de Dimanche – he had not.  But, Alexandre WAS the architect of this gorgeous house on the plantation “Lady of the Lake” built in 1827 between St. Martinville and Cade.   Sadly, the house was destroyed in 1976 – believe it or not!   Notice how charming the plantation was – with the picket fence and pigeonnaire – just like M. Smith’s own Creole plantation today.   The artist of the painting was Marie Adrien Persac, a noted Frenchman.

 

Here is the actual plantation house before it was destroyed:  Lady of the Lake.  Notice the old car parked under the porch.  The stairs are outside just like the Henri Penne house.  Beautiful arched transoms upstairs.   It really is such a shame that someone couldn’t have renovated this house.

When the house was torn down, pieces of it were sold and M.Smith was there – along with his hired photographer who captured the demolition on film.  Those photos are now in the possession of the Lafayette Science Museum.

 

Close up the façade, and of the doors upstairs – at Lady of the Lake Plantation.

The doors and shutters on the maison de Dimanche were identical to the doors and shutters of Lady of the Lake plantation, which was one of the main reasons why M. Smith initially erroneously believed that Alexandre Bienvenu DeVince was the architect of both houses.  Later, he learned that that the original owner of the maison de Dimanche was married to the builder, who was definitely NOT Alexandre.   Some eight years after Lady of the Lake was demolished, M. Smith was lucky enough to salvage several of the doors and shutters for his own plantation.

 

This particular door that leads from the salon to the rear porch, where the tiny kitchen is, came from the dining room at the Lady of the Lake Plantation.

 

This is the house’s original double door with its original batten shutters that leads from the bedroom to the front porch.

 

And these front doors that lead from the front porch to the salon were hand made, 1984, copies of the original glazed doors. The batten shutters came from Lady of the Lake plantation.  

 

Here are two photos of the maison de Dimanche being restored.  You can see on the left photo, the door and the shutters, which were attached.  Next to it is the front window with its shutters, closed.    Another close up view on the right, showing the original door with the closed batten shutters.

 

An original floor tile from the Lady of the Lake plantation – very similar to the antique tiles M. Smith now imports from France and sells in his shop. 

A note about the tiles:  Alexandre’s father and/or grandfather had a shop in  the French Quarter that made and sold these tiles.  This tile most likely came from that shop. Of course! M. Smith treasures this tile, since Alexandre is one in a long line of his relatives.

When M. Smith built his Folie on Lake Martin – some 23 years after Lady of the Lake was demolished, there were still enough bricks left over for M. Smith to use to construct the Folie’s chimneys!

  

And remember how I said that the architect Alexandre actually looked familiar?  My husband’s mother, Mary Louviere Webb, was born on a rice farm in nearby New Iberia.  A Creole, she was one of 11 children and was the only one to leave the rice farm she grew up on – smitten as she was by the handsome Keith Thompson Webb, an oilman who was doing work in the area.  She left with Keith and never looked back, moving all over Texas, and even Mexico, as Keith worked for different oil companies as a geologist.  They had three sons, the middle was Benjamin Keith Webb better known as Mr. Slippersocksman. 

But, his mother, Mary Louviere, has the black hair and dark eyes like our talented architect, Alexandre.  I decided to google him and see what information I could find about him.  Imagine my surprise when the web site for the Louviere Family Genealogy page showed up!!!

And there he is.  Way back a number of generations, Mr. Alexandre Bienvenu DeVince, is  somehow a relative of Ben’s.  No wonder he looked familiar.  AND which means Elisabeth and M. Smith are related somehow,  though just barely. 

And, below is that charming painting of Alexandre’s plantation, Lady of the Lake.

The artist was Marie Adrien Persac.

 

The artist, Adrien, was from France.  He actually came to America to hunt buffalo.  While here, he married Odile Daigre in Baton Rouge in 1851.  The marriage certificate states he was living in Indiana where family legend claims he was cultivating apples.  It’s not clear what brought Adrien down south to Louisiana.   Letters with his marriage proposal show him to be a highly educated Frenchman, while his wife, who was just 16, was not.  She lived on the Daigre Plantation, which Adrien later immortalized when he painted it.   The couple had three sons:  Marie Adrien Edouard, Octave Joseph, and Alfred.

 

The Daigre Plantation on Manchac Bayou, painted by Adrien.  This plantation was rather small and not as grand as some of the others he painted.  It is believed that his wife and mother in law are shown in the front yard.  The overseers house to the left is probably the house that was given to Adrien and his wife when they married.   Doesn’t this house looks a little like the maison de Dimanche on M. Smith’s plantation?

Adrien was a brilliant and very talented man.  He was a learned cartographer, engineer, architect, and photographer, as well as an artist.  His family has a private collection of his works, but he is most famous for the series of bright watercolors of plantations that he painted between 1857 and 1861.  This represented life in the south before the Civil War, a sort of Gone With The Wind at the picnic when life was so beautiful and hopeful.  Adrien later moved to New Orleans where he was first a photographer on Chartres Street, then an architect, and later he founded his own school where he taught art.  He inherited 10,000 francs from a French relative which allowed him to buy real estate and prosper in New Orleans.  He went back to France where a painting of his won First Place in an exhibition there.  Back in New Orleans, he continued to work as an architect and he died in 1873 at the age 50 of either yellow fever or cholera, two diseases that plagued the city that particular  summer.  He had been moved back home while sick, and had died at his wife’s plantation in Manchac.  He and his wife are buried in Baton Rouge.  Much of his art work is missing and has never been found, including the piece that won the exhibition in France.  But the series of his wonderful plantation paintings remain today and he is known for these watercolors tproduced before the Civil War, along with his lithographs of the city of New Orleans.

 

The Olivier Plantation – this is the Orange Grove plantation on the Bayou Teche, with the main house and the garconniers (the bachelor’s house.)   The sugar house is at the right with the pigeonnaire.  There is a floating pontoon bridge over the bayou!  This painting hangs in the Louisiana State Museum.

 

Another painting.  The Hope Estate.  Owned by Col. Philip Hickey – this was located five miles below Baton Rouge.  I love the front gate – so fancy! 

 

One of the more famous estates he painted was Shadows on the Teche – probably because it is one of the few houses and buildings that he painted that still exists today.

 

Shadows on the Teche today – located in New Iberia. One family, The Weeks, owned the plantation through the years and it was then donated to the National Trust.

 

Ile Copal Plantation, immortalized in 1860 by Adrien Persac.   This house was built by Governor Alexandre Mouton who had married the granddaughter of Governor Jacques Dupre.  They had 4 children before she died and he remarried another woman who had six children with him!   Ile Copal or Sweet Gum Grove plantation covered 2000 improved acres and 18,000 unimproved acres on both sides on the Vermilion River in Vermilion, which is today Lafayette.  They raised sugar (180,000 pounds of cane in 1860 alone) and produced timber from the trees cut down at Lake Martin, which is where M. Smith’s tower is located today.  At the time, there were over 120 slaves who lived on the plantation.

You might remember the grandfather, Gov. Jacques Dupre.  His long case clock resides in the bedroom of the maison de Dimanche.   Small world, I know!

 

 

Active in the confederacy, from 1843 to 1846, Alexandre Mouton was Governor of Louisiana. He was also a U.S. Senator, and was president of the Louisiana Secession Convention.  

 

The Ile Copal plantation had a large number of slaves who lived there, in misery, waiting and praying for their freedom.  Ironically, in 1920, the house became the first school for African-Americans in Lafayette.  The house burned down in 1928, rumored to have been felled by the Ku Klux Klan.   Some say it was caused by an iron.  An interesting side note:  there used to be a dirt road that connected Mouton’s plantation to downtown Vermilionville.  His slaves planted both sides of the road with oak trees from Lee to Jefferson Street.  This was later renamed Oak Avenue because of all the beautiful trees which are mostly gone today. 

The Île Copal Main House—where the Governor Alexandre Mouton lived until he died, stands on the exact spot where the LeRosen school on Pinhook is located today. 

 

Alfred Mouton, was the governor’s son.  He grew up on the plantation and during the civil war was killed, becoming a martyr for the Acadian lifestyle and his state. 

Do you like Persac’s paintings?  I know this is cheesy, but this company sells copies of his works!

 

Click on this painting for the link!

 

I love this – Persac’s Port of New Orleans painted for his most famous map – seen below:

 

Persac was a noted cartographer.  His most famous work is the map of plantations on the lower Mississippi from New Orleans to Natchez. Persac floated up the river in a skiff, docking at each plantation and house along way.  The large, 5’ tall, map included four drawings and it neatly folded up in a green cover.  In all – only 10 were produced.

 

The original green cover.  Back and front.

 

An enlargement of one section.

 

Years ago, one of Persac’s maps showed up on Antiques Roadshow.  The owner was pleased when it was given a value of $5,000.  Recently, the appraiser was asked to update the value for the show.  His research showed that one of the maps had sold, after a bidding war, for $350,000!!!!!  Another map sold for $197,000.  There is a blog, where a man casually writes about finding an original of this map – on a shelf – the above photo of the green folder is his.  I left a comment wondering if he ever sold it!!!

 

History is so fascinating.  A chance encounter with an antiquarian in southern, Creole Louisiana named Monsieur Robert Smith, leads him to show me a painting he owns of a famous Louisiana architect, who happens to be one of his long lost relatives…and whom, I discover, is also a relative of my husband and daughter!  History and antiques are so fascinating, the passage of time, the patina, the workmanship and the beauty of days long passed….. 

 

M. Smith at his maison de Dimanche.

 

The dark skin, the dark hair, and dark eyed architect, Alexandre Bienvenu DeVince, who reminded me somehow of my husband’s maternal family, the Louvieres.

 

And my beautiful mother-in-law, Mary Louviere, as a young girl in New Iberia, before she left for Texas.  The dark skin, the dark hair and eyes, and her sharp nose – of course they look alike!

 

 

And speaking of antique paintings, I saw this one in M. Smith’s shop.   It’s a gorgeous painting currently for sale at Au Vieux Paris Antiques.  LOVE!!!  It’s called “Pilgrims on their Way”  from 1790!!  Oh, it’s gorgeous.  The frame itself is so beautiful.

 

I went on M. Smith’s web site to pick out a few more favorites.  He has lots of porcelains, including this beautiful set of dishes from 1840.

 

This magnificent, very large table is for sale at Au Vieux de Paris Antiques.  Seats 16!!!!!!

 

Mirror.   To die for!!!  Late 18th century.   

 

This is so sweet.  I love the crystals.  Louis XV.  1890.

 

1815.  Empire clock – LOVE!!!!!   This is fabulous!!!

 

And of course, this caught my eye – French Provencal.  Gray paint.

Be sure to visit his web site to look at all his merchandise, including the new “Building Materials.”

 

Antique floor tile imported by Robert Smith at his shop.  Sigh…..

Visit his web site:

www.auvieuxparisantiques.com

A huge thank you to M. Smith!!!

Robert E. Smith
Au Vieux Paris Antiques
1040 Henri Penne Rd.

www.auvieuxparisantiques.com

Breaux Bridge La, 70517
www.auvieuxparisantiques.com
robertesmith@centurytel.net

Tel: 337-332-2852
Mobile: 337-356-2131