Sunday, March 10, 2013

Yesterday we visited San Francisco Plantation. They were having a fund raiser so in addition to the plantation tour there was a car show and a craft show.  Like all the other plantations in the area this one is close to the Mississippi River to facilitate shipping sugar cane.  Over the years the river has taken all the land in front of the house, now the plantation sits at the foot of the river’s levee.

Built in 1856 the plantation’s original name was Sans Frusquin.  Its French slang and means “without a penny in my pocket.”  The name stems from the plantation owner’s lament about his German wife’s spending to decorate the plantation.  The interior is more European then other homes in the area.
The ground floor includes the wine cellar, china pantry, billiard room and dining room.  The dining room has a table that it 26 feet long and seats 24 people.  The floor is finished with brick that was ground to a fine dust and then applied like stucco. The final appearance is crushed velvet.  


The wine cellar also contains the master’s shower.  This is a really interesting contraption. State of the art at the time, it took two people to work it while the master bathed. One slave filled the lower tank with water. Then a slave pumped the water to an overhead cistern. The bather then pulled a chain to release the water.
The main floor contains the homes main entrance and reception area, the ladies drawing room, men’s drawing room, master bedroom, children’s bedroom, boudoir, green sitting room, grey sitting room and bedroom for the oldest son and a large porch facing the Mississippi.  

The green sitting room includes a table with a petticoat mirror under it. Ladies would use this mirror to check to be sure their ankles or petticoat were not showing.  In the day, an ankle was VERY titillating.
The boudoir was used as a birthing room. Once the baby was delivered, mother and child remained in the room for six weeks to ensure the baby was not exposed to anything.  The ceiling in the boudoir has cherubs painted on it. The skin color is quite dark and the faces are those of adults not infants.  The effect is very odd.
The grey sitting room includes a “fainting couch.”  I’ve heard the term many times but never understood its use until the tour.  Fashion dictated that ladies have tiny waists. To achieve that, ladies had their lower ribs removed.  Then they wore a corset.  These corsets were laced so tight that ladies would sometimes have trouble breathing. At San Francisco Plantation ladies would retreat to the grey room where a maid would undo the laces on the corset.  This would allow blood to rush to the lower extremities causing the lady to faint on the couch!

The ladies drawing room is painted a brilliant light purple.  The room is elaborately decorated with decorative painting on the walls, ceilings and fireplace mantle.

The room contains a courting chair. This allowed the young couple to sit beside each other, but facing in different directions. When a young man came courting the couple was always chaperoned.  Mother sat in the room feigning knitting or reading while ease dropping on the couple. The room also contains a mirror strategically placed so that father could sit across the hall in the men’s sitting room and also keep an eye on the couple. Courting candles were used to set boundaries for his daughter. When the daughter's suitor came calling, the father would light the courting the candle. When the candle burnt to the metal at the top of the candle holder, it was time for the suitor to promptly leave. However, the father could change the height of the candle based on how comfortable he felt about the suitor.

The most interesting thing about the main floor is that many of the rooms are formed by LARGE folding doors.  When all the doors are open and the furniture is removed the space can be used as a ballroom. Since the walls are not really fixed and load bearing walls there are numerous cast iron Corinthian columns that support the third floor, roof and widows walk.

The third floor is a REALLY HUGE attic enclosed with shutters. Every day during warm weather servants would go up in the attic and open all the shutters to allow a cool breeze from the river to flow through the house.
The house was eventually abandoned and remained empty for 40 years. In 1973 the plantation was purchased by a local oil company who deeded a small plot of land and the house to the San Francisco Plantation Foundation. After several years of research the oil company underwrote $2,000,000 to restore the house to its former glory.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the history lesson Laura, we did not get to the Plantations while there. Glad you are able to get out for awhile to see some sights!