The “Pretty” Plantation
The San Francisco Plantation near White Castle, Louisiana (the andouille sausage capital of the world) was considered the “prettiest” of all the plantations in the area. It is certainly the most colourful. It has been called “Steamboat Gothic” in style thanks to a novel by Frances Parkinson Keyes which was inspired by the house. The house does resemble an ornate riverboat from some angles.
Oil Company PR
It was built in 1856 and is the most distinctive and the most historically accurate restoration of a River Road plantation. It was restored by Marathon Oil Company to whom the last private owner sold the property. The blight of the oil pipelines mar the once beautiful acreage. But to be fair, regardless whether the oil company restored the house as a concession to ease public outrage at having usurped an historical landmark, they did restore the home and restore it beautifully.
The Secret Behind the Restoration’s Authenticity
Marathon even went so far as to track long-lost relatives of the original family’s last mistress, Louise Marmillion and, by doing so, gather from the family the original furnishings, art, statuary and personal letters from her describing in great detail her decorations to the house making it possible to restore the home to the standard it is. Her letters were somewhat scandalous, this German bride disliked her Creole mother-in-law and penned all her feelings in these letters to her mother. There is a book due out soon about the lost letters of San Francisco Plantation, which ought to raise some eyebrows among the local Creole community, people who can carry a grudge through generations.
The Ladies’ Parlor
The prettiest room in the house is the Ladies’ Parlor. In this time, elegant homes were subdued and understated, painted in whites, creams and ivories. But the German mistress of the home liked colour. It was such a departure from convention, Creole wives came up on the riverboat with husbands in tow to tour the house and see the new use of color. It was a sensation. Bear in mind that all this work was done by hand. Hand carved trim, hand painted ceilings. Another feature of San Francisco was the lavish use of faux wood grain painting also done by hand.
The painted ceiling was also a new feature to antebellum homes. This is one of five painted ceilings in the house. Louise was the Debbie Travis of the 1850’s with an eye for design.
The Boudoir, or Pouting Room
I was most fascinated by the boudoir, which translates to “pouting room”. What family doesn’t need one of those? It was a room off the bedroom and was considered to be a woman’s space. Men were allowed in only by invitation and then only family or very close friends. A lady retreated to her boudoir if she was miffed at her husband, of if they went their separate ways but maintained a public face of a happily married couple. She also stayed in the boudoir during her confinement while pregnant and for a year afterwards. It was believed that exposing a pregnant or nursing mother to other people increased the spread of diseases which ravaged the area. While in her confinement, a lady would literally live her life in her boudoir. In times when illness was abroad, only one slave would bring her meals and see to her comfort, this limiting the woman’s exposure. When you see how frequently women were pregnant in those days, it is feasible that she spent the better part of a decade trapped in one room. It is from her confinement in the boudoir that Louise had time to write all those letters to her mother.
If you ever wondered how people kept food cold in the days before electricity, it was with one of these.
They cooled the house with simple cross ventilation, placing door and windows in a line across the house which encouraged cooling breezes to blow through the home. This together with the very high ceilings which allowed the heat to rise up keeping the rooms relatively cool in the tropical heat.
The History of San Francisco Plantation
Edmond Bozonier Marmillion built this mansion along the Mississippi river on River Road. It was called originally “The Marmillion Plantation”. Shortly after he completed the home Edmond died suddenly. His son Charles had been away on his Grand Tour of Europe. When he got home the house was full of mourners at his father’s funeral. He was shocked to discover that his brother had also died while he had been away, leaving him and his brother Valsin as the only heirs to the plantation.
Charles was only 16 when he went into service during the war between the states and made the rank of Captain in the Confederate army and fought at Gettysburg. He was captured by the Yankees but he escaped. He was captured again and spent two years in captivity. He returned home to his plantation with his brother Valsin. It is his brother’s German wife, Louise, who spent so lavishly in decorating the house. People in the area jokingly called the house “Sans Fruschin”, a Creole expression which means “without a penny” or the “without the shirt on his back” referring to the cost of the decorating. San Fruschin morphed into San Francisco and the name stuck.
Tragedy at San Francisco Plantation
Tragedy haunted this family in equal measure with their good fortune. The brothers Charles and Valsin managed to survive the post-war economy and grew a successful sugar cane business. But Valsin died suddenly in 1871 at the age of 44. Charles also died young, only four years later at the age of 35.
Louise sold the plantation in 1879 and returned to Europe. She left behind her the graves of two of her daughters who died as toddlers and were buried in unmarked graves on the property. One died falling down the grand staircase in a tragic accident.
The Ghosts of San Francisco
It is said that the house is haunted by the ghost of Charles Marillion, sometimes seen smoking a cigar as he roams the property. He has been seen wearing a long coat in the main-floor office, one of the bedrooms and in the dining room. The two little daughters of Louise and Valsin are also haunting the property. Several people have seen two little girls dressed in white playing with each other on the grounds.
The House Today
Sadly, a storm has caused some leaks in the roof and some of the ceilings and walls are damaged and Marathon hasn’t repaired these. Financially, things are bad in Louisiana, the poorest state in the US and donations aren’t sufficient to make the repairs needed. It is sad to see this gem subjected to disintegration again due to neglect.