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Brief History of Southdown Plantation Home and Museum in Houma, Louisiana
Fifty miles south of New Orleans in Houma, Louisiana sits a 19th Century plantation home surrounded by beautiful lush oak and hackberry trees along Bayou Terrebonne. The first home was originally built in the early 1800's, during Spain's period of control in the Louisiana territory. Two men from Havana, Cuba were given a thousand acre land grant, as long as they agreed to the Spanish stipulations. These included, but were not limited to being Catholic, growing a cash crop, and establishing a permanent settlement on the land. Thus, the first phase of Southdown's history was born.
Jim Bowie and his brother Rezin purchased the property from the Cubans in 1821 and began to assemble an indigo plantation. Most visitors to the site believe that the area was always rich in sugar cane and that it has always been the major cash crop of the region, when it was actually too costly to plant and harvest until the mechanized harvesting machine was developed. In 1831 Jim and Rezin brother sold the home to William Minor, who would have the now famous plantation home built in 1859 and in time turn Southdown into one of the most unique sugar plantations in southern Louisiana.
Today Southdown Plantation is owned by The Terrebonne Historical & Cultural Society and it functions as a tourist destination and museum. Each room within the home functions as a memoir to the culture and history of the region, as well as maintaining the historical significance of the home itself. Some of the attractions within the walls include:
· Native American artifacts (pottery, hand-made baskets, weaponry)
· A Mardi Gras themed exhibit
· Exact recreation of Senator Allen Ellender's office from Washington D.C. (complete with shrunken head!)
· Hand crafted banisters and railings made by the plantation's former slaves
· 19th Century furniture and music box
· Purchasing agreement in the Bowie - Minor sale
· Original brick and glass hand made by plantation slaves
· One of a kind porcelain nature scenes and birds
· Priceless Meissen Porcelain carriage
Tours are given Tuesday - Saturday from 10AM-4PM, every hour. All tour guides are volunteers who are extremely passionate about the home, culture, and surrounding region. They will provide you with a wealth of knowledge, as many are former teachers from the area. The plantation home is also available for wedding rentals and other social gatherings. A pavilion is provided about forty yards from the home, complete with kitchen and restrooms.
The Museum also serves as a host to the annual Voice of the Wetlands Festival, which raises awareness for the withering coastline of Louisiana. A bunch of great bands, some local and some abroad, are invited and of course there is a ton of great Cajun cooking!
The best known event held at Southdown Plantation is its bi-annual Marketplace. This one day event brings together over 300 craftsmen and women from all over the region to display their one of a kind merchandise. Everything from old fashioned forged metalwork, deep south traditional dishes and recipes, hand woven clothing and baskets, to woodworking can be found at the marketplace. Southdown Marketplace is held in the spring and in the fall, exact dates can differ. This is a 25 year tradition at Southdown and is something that tourists and locals alike should visit. Food, drinks, music, and shopping all in one place. The museum is also open during the marketplace for self-guided tours, with a tour guide in each room to answer questions.
As a former tour guide for the museum, several classmates and I were given the option to volunteer there as part of a community service project in our senior seminar History class, I would recommend this tourist destination to anyone who enjoys and appreciates different cultures. The tour has a large focus on the way of life in southern Louisiana and how it has changed and the people have adapted over the years. Fans of the TV show "Swamp People" will enjoy the large alligator head and other swamp memorabilia within the home. As I stated earlier, all tour guides are working for free, so you will receive their best effort and they really do enjoy the time spent with visitors, American and foreign alike. More information and pricing can be found at the Southdown Museum homepage, links are located below the pictures.
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Excellent illustrations and historical information on plantation homes in Southern Louisiana.
For the more adventerous, an excellent writeup on the "Haunted" Plantations of South Louisiana