Woodlawn Plantation III

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Rear view of Woodlawn Plantation, near Napoleonville, Louisiana, built in 1840. Photo taken by the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1938. The house no longer exists. 

My first post on Woodlawn Plantation, on November 26, begins with a front/side view of the great house taken in 1938. Since I am interested in why Woodlawn deteriorated as drastically as it did, I think that front/side view, combined with the rear view of the house shown above, will give some very good indications as to what happened. 

Though certainly not looking their best, the two side wings seem to have fared quite well. You can see them clearly in the November 26 photo, though in the rear view they are seriously obscured by trees. Both wings were built of brick, stuccoed and scored to look like stone, then painted a pale dull salmon pink, like the main part of the house itself. The shutters were green and the roofs were of slate. Right up until the last, though the shutters and most window panes were broken, the wings look as though they could have been easily restored. They were like the ground floor of the main part of the house itself: of solid brick construction with interiors of lathe and plaster. 

The two upper floors were another matter, however. The 1938 Historic American Buildings Survey report shows that they were built not of brick but of wood, with painted wooden battens on the exterior. And, though the massive front columns were of plastered brick with marble Ionic capitals, the high entablature which sits atop them was of wood. In the November 26 photo, it is sagging crazily, and the long wooden balcony with its green wooden railing which ran along the front of the second storey has rotted away. Today’s rear view is even more dramatic: the whole rear of the house is in a state of imminent collapse, and this is surely because 1) it was entirely built of wood and 2) this rear portion contains rooms added later to what was originally built as an open portico above with another open portico below, both running the whole length of the house. If only the entire place had been constructed of solid brick, perhaps it would have lasted much longer. 

Colonel Pugh died in 1906, after living in his grand house for more than 65 years. A tin roof, which appears to have begun to decay quite rapidly, at some point mysteriously replaced the made-to-last slate. The rest of the story is easy to comprehend: the rainy climate; the high winds and occasional hurricane; the wooden portions left unpainted and subject to dry rot; vandals breaking windows and shutters and building fires in hearths unmaintained for decades; townspeople using the house as a quarry for free building materials and expensive decorative elements. But if the entire second and third floors and all exterior wooden features had been removed, I think Woodlawn could have been restored. Still, as it is today, in a state of non-existence, perhaps it is the best representation imaginable of the civilization which made it possible in the first place. 

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3 comments on “Woodlawn Plantation III

  1. My grandmother born in 1913 lived in Woodlawn Plantation as a young girl. She used to tell me about living there; saying she enjoyed the courtyards that stayed with a cooler temperature during the summer. I also heard from my friend’s grandmother and confirmed by my grandmother about large gatherings on the lawn every Sunday. As they got older; the family expanded out to other land along the bayou and the plantation became vacant except for cows looking for hay and deteriorated to a point where it just fell apart around 1946. Then a fire in 1966 finished off the remainder of the debris.

  2. I have worked for the Assumption Parish Library system for 12 years. I am about mid way through a book right now which led me to searching Woodlawn on the web. It is titled “Growing Up in Louisiana 1913 to 1933” written by Mary Flower Pugh Russell. Its all about Woodlawn and the Pugh borthers. Its a memoir of sorts, Full of interesting personal history. If you haven’t read it , I’m very sure you would find it most informative in your search for information.

    • leifhendrik says:

      Thanks for the book suggestion. I will look for it right away. Woodlawn first attracted me because its architecture seemed unique in some ways, and because I thought it had noble proportions. The fact that it is no more, except in pictures and memoirs, added to the mystery and made me want to learn more. It really is a fascinating subject, and
      I’ve found there are quite a few published sources around, especially in scholarly articles available online, but one has to do some searching. Thanks again for telling me about the book, which sounds excellent.

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