Thursday, February 5, 2009
Welcome to the City of Plaquemine!
Welcome to the City of Plaquemine, Louisiana website.
Plaquemine, located in Iberville Parish, is a progressive city that also happens to be an architectural lover's dream, with its tremendous variety of architectural styles and antebellum gems.
Plaquemine is bordered by the famous Mississippi River, historic Bayou Plaquemine and minutes away from the Atchafalaya Basin. Plaquemine is situated along Louisiana Highway One, a Louisiana Scenic By-Way. A charming and quaint bedroom community featuring a variety of architecture features.
Baton Rouge is only a 10 minute drive - Lafayette lies 45 miles to the east - New Orleans is 80 miles west of Plaquemine.
The community is older than the United States, and National Geographic has documented Indian settlements in Plaquemine from well over 1,000 years ago. In fact, peaceful Bayou Plaquemine got its name from the Illonis Indian tribe word “Piakemine,” which means persimmon, because of the abundance of persimmon trees growing along the bayou. We hope you explore the site – and come to visit!
Mayor Mark “Tony” Gulotta
A Brief History
In the early 1800s, Bayou Plaquemine provided one of the most common routes from the Mississippi River to the interior of Louisiana, and by the mid 1800s Plaquemine became an important trade center because of its strategic bayou inlet. Easy access to water transportation also fostered other industries, including a thriving lumber industry from cypress in area swamps. By the late 1800s, Plaquemine was a major center of commerce with a railroad running through the heart of the city and thriving hotels, entertainment, restaurants and retail businesses. It was at this time that construction began on the historic Plaquemine Lock.
Many of the historic homes and buildings that line Plaquemine’s downtown streets were built in the booming days of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Agriculture and water commerce rounded out Plaquemine’s economic viability until 1961, when the lock was closed. By that time, the chemical industry was on its way. Dow Chemical Co. was the first petro-chemical company to locate here in 1958, and was followed by numerous other companies. Dow remains the largest petrochemical facility in the state. One facet of the old days remains strong – the Union Pacific Railroad running through the city, which dates to 1881, is the second busiest railway in the nation.
Plaquemine is the largest city in the Parish of Iberville, and serves as the seat of parish government. Today, it is a quaint, yet busy community supported by a variety of businesses and government operations. Our friendly residents welcome you.
A LONG HISTORY... Plaquemine and Iberville Parish share in pre-historic history as well as our national, state, and local history. Years ago the National Geographic claimed Plaquemine to be a trade route over a thousand years ago. The Chitomacha Indian mound at Bayou Sorrel was activated before the time of Christ.
THE INDIAN CONNECTION... Pierre LeMoyne, Sieur de Iberville came to Bayou Goula (between Plaquemine and White Castle) in 1699 on five different voyages. In December 1699, Father Du Ru with the Jesuits built the first church in the Louisiana Purchase near Bayou Goula amongst the Bayogoulas and the Mugulasha (two tribes domiciled in the same village). The Indians helped Iberville to map out the Indian trade routes from here to Mobile, Boloxi, Natchez, Baton Rouge. “The Indians… lived along a great river they called the Malbanchya, which it is determined must certainly be the Mississippi River.” This is according to Iberville’s journals.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Plaquemine is an Indian word, translated by the French, which means persimmon.
HISTORIC ROOTS... Plaquemine has been a Louisiana-designed Main Street City since 1992. There are 21 city blocks included in the National Register of Historic Places, along with the City's Historic District as well as the Garden District and Turnerville District.
LINK TO THE MASTER LOCK BUILDER... The Gary J. Hebert Memorial Lockhouse, which is part of the state park system and is located in downtown Plaquemine, was designed by Colonel George W. Goethals, who also designed the Panama Canal.
OUR MANY WATERWAYS... Plaquemine is bordered by the Mississippi River, historic Bayou Plaquemine and connects to the Atchafalaya Basin. It is also home to numerous waterways with plentiful fishing.
MANY RIVER ROUTES... The Mississippi River has a width of about 2,300 feet in this area and ranges from 5 feet to 50 feet in depth. The parish’s waterways are part of the Gulf Intracoastal system that is part of a 3,000 mile Intracoastal Waterway, a navigable toll-free shipping route extending along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts in the southern & eastern US. The Plaquemine-Morgan City waterway provides direct connection west of New Orleans with the extensive Mississippi River Valley system of inland waterways. Among the principal items moved on the route are petroleum and its products, industrial chemicals, pipe and other supplies for the oil fields and sulfur. Navigable rivers in Iberville Parish include: Outflow, Little Atchafalaya, Upper Grand Lake, Lower Atchafalaya, Atchafalaya Bay, Lower Grand River, Intracoastal Waterway, Upper Grand River, and the Atchafalaya Basin.
EFFORTS TO MAINTAIN OUR BEAUTY... The City of Plaquemine is proudly known for its efforts to beautify its beautiful waterways and community. One of the most breath-taking sites in the city is the Bayou Plaquemine Waterfront Park, which includes an extensive pier along the bayou, scenic views, park seating and easy access to the city’s most historic buildings in the heart of its Historic Downtown District. (See visitor information). The City is also proud to be a part of the following programs:
The Atchafalaya Basin Program – under the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.
The Atchafalaya Trace, under the Louisiana Dept of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, which develops national and state cultural/heritage trails.
Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, which is charged with developing a management plan for protecting and restoring more than 4 million acres between the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers.
TRAVELING THE MISSISSIPPI... Plaquemine has a ferry which travels to East Iberville and back every half hour from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. daily. It is operated by the La. Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD). For more information, call the Ferry Hotline at 1-888-613-3779.
Andrew H. Gay House
The Gay House (1911) is a one-and-a-half story, wood frame, Arts and Crafts style
residence located on a very large suburban lot in northern Plaquemine. There have been very few changes in the house since construction, and hence it easily retains its National Register eligibility.
The Gay House stands on a modest promontory near the rear of a well treed lot. The main floor is raised a full story above grade on an open cellar. This gives the principal rooms and the veranda a considerable view. The entrance veranda is approached by means of three flights of terraced brick steps. The large living room also serves as the entrance hall. Behind the living room is the stair hall, the dining room, and the rear kitchen wing. Beside the living room is a pair of bedrooms with bathrooms set between them. There are additional bedrooms in the garret. The plan is essentially hall-less; principal rooms are connected by means of large pocket doors. There are also numerous French doors which provide direct access to the outside.
The exterior is essentially a pitched roof cottage. The massing is enlivened through the use of a heavily proportioned veranda, pent and hip dormers, and protruding bays under separate roofs.
The main (front) veranda features massive brick pillars with vaguely classical capitals and a pergola style roof. The main entrance is marked by an ornamental parapet. Most of the eaves have exposed rafter ends and the gables are ornamented with oversized brackets. The siding is roughly cut on a circular saw and placed so that the kerf marks are in one direction on a given clapboard and in the opposite direction on the clapboard immediately beneath or above it. Chimneys feature ornamental corbel tops. There is also a rear kitchen gallery which is largely unornamented.
Both the living room and dining room feature double frame ceilings, paneled pocket doors, and massive mantels. The living room mantel has a brick front with a corbel table and a heavy wooden shelf. The dining room mantel has strapwork, modillions, and an elaborate paneled overmantel. The dining room also features a wide plate rail. The living room has a built-in bookcase under a long window grouping. The stair hall is accented with a Jacobean style mantel and a richly carved newel post, Other interiors feature a more or less conventional early twentieth century
decorative treatment. It is noteworthy that the house retains most of its original combination gas-electric light fixtures.
Bayou Plaquemine Lock
Bayou Plaquemine and the U. S. Government Lock is situated on the right bank of the
Mississippi River about 208.2 miles above the Head of Passes, and constitutes a navigable stream with its source at its intersection with the Mississippi River, at the point mentioned above, and extending some 12 miles to its intersection with the Intracoastal Canal(Gulf Intracoastal Waterway).
Prior to 1867 Bayou Plaquemine functioned as a distributary of the Mississippi River and was navigable by the largest vessels at high stages. Bayou Plaquemine is recorded on maps as early as 1732, by well-known geographer St. d'Anville on his map entitled 'Carte de la Louisiane'. Bayou Plaquemine is called on this map 'Rre. des Piakemines', and is shown flowing from the Mississippi River southwestward, finally breaking into three streams that enter the Gulf of Mexico. The three streams are also listed on the map as 'Bayou d'eau douce, qui conduit a l'ancien Villages des
Chetimachas', then just east of this is 'Bayou d'eau douce, and finally the eastern outlet is another 'Bayou d'eau douce.' The Acadian exiles from Nova Scotia traveled through Bayou Plaquemine to reach the Atchafalaya Basin and, eventually, the Teche and Attakapas country of Louisiana. Bayou Plaquemine's importance as a main water artery to the Mississippi River was evidenced as early as 1770, when the Spanish militia in Louisiana, through its commandant and the local magistrate of the
communities of Opelousas and St. Martin's of Attakapas, Gabriel Fuselier de la Claire, sent his most experienced engineer, Louis Landry, to survey the possibilities of opening Bayou Plaquemine to navigation. Just a few years later, in 1791, Jean Batiste Degruis proposed to Governor Miro that Bayou Plaquemine be dredged to a depth of 12 feet, as far as the Village of the Chetimachas Indians (located about six miles below the present-day City of Plaquemine, through which a trade route could be established. Residents of the Teche country of Louisiana again asked that something be done with Bayou Plaquemine in 1802. The original projects for improving Bayou Plaquemine were adopted by Rivers and Harbors Acts of August 2, 1882 and August 11, 1888, which provided for a lock at the river end of the Bayou, clearing and dredging the channel to dimensions of 6 x 60 feet, and the project was further modified by the Act of April 10, 1899, to increase dimensions in Bayou Plaquemine from 6 x 60 feet, to 10 x 125 feet. Construction of the Plaquemine Lock was begun in 1895, but not completed until 1909, and Bayou Plaquemine served as the Eastern gateway of the Intracoastal Waterway system for many years, after serving as a natural waterway outlet to the Mississippi River for over 100 years.
STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE
Bayou Plaquemine is a navigable stream located entirely in the Parish of Iberville, State of Louisiana, connected at its northern extremity to the Mississippi River in the downtown area of the City of Plaquemine by means of the Plaquemine Lock structure, and at its southern extremity to the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Its intersection with the Mississippi River is located about 208.2 miles above the Head of Passes point of the Mississippi River. The bayou meanders for approximately 12
miles through the fertile lands of Iberville Parish bordering primarily agricultural and residential lands, with several medium-sized industries also located on its banks. In 1961 the Plaquemine Lock structure was closed permanently to navigation, and since that time Bayou Plaquemine has been used only on a limited basis for navigational purposes. Areas of the bayou are used extensively for recreational and sporting purposes.
Bayou Plaquemine is one of the oldest bodies of water in Louisiana to be officially recorded on maps. The well-known geographer, St. d' Anville, showed Bayou Plaquemine on his map of 1732 which was entitled: "Carte de la Louisiane.' Bayou Plaquemine is called "Rre. des Piakemines' on this early map, and is shown flowing from the Mississippi River southwestward and finally breaking up into three streams which flowed into the Gulf of Mexico. The St. d'Anville map is recorded in the library of Louisiana State University.
Bayou Plaquemine was made famous for all time by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who
mentions the stream by name in his epic work "Evangeline." Longfellow, speaking of the Acadian exiles, said: "They, too, swerved from their course, and entering Bayou Plaquemine, soon were lost in a maze of sluggish and devious waters, which, like a network of steel, extended in every direction." Judge Felix Voohries, St. Martinville, Louisiana, in his work "Acadian Reminiscences,"
published in 1907 by E. P. Rivas, Inc., New Orleans, Louisiana, tells the story of the arrival of the Acadians in Louisiana, and most specifically of the life of Emmeline Labiche, Louisiana's "Evangeline," symbol of the thousands of exiled Acadians. He says of Evangeline and the Acadians traveling with her: "At last we launched on the turbulent waters of the Mississippi (River) and floated
down that noble stream as far as Bayou Plaquemine in Louisiana , where we landed. Once more we were treading French soil, and we were freed from English dominion. As the tidings of our arrival spread abroad, a great number of Acadian exiles flocked to our camp to greet and welcome us."
The International Acadian Festival is held in the City of Plaquemine each year to
commemorate the arrival of the Acadian exiles and call attention to the cultural contribution made by these peoples to the State of Louisiana. A major attraction of the Festival is an re-enactment of the arrival of Evangeline in the waters of Bayou Plaquemine. This ceremony is staged in downtown Plaquemine, in an area where Bayou Plaquemine winds gently to meet the Plaquemine Lock structure, and the bayou bank is lined with thousands of spectators for the ceremony.
Bayou Plaquemine's importance as a main water artery to the Mississippi River was
evidenced as early as 1770, when the Spanish militia commandant in Louisiana, and local magistrate of the communities of Opelousas and St. Martin's Attakapas, Gabriel Fuselier de la Claire, sent his most experienced engineer, Louis Landry, to survey the possibilities of opening Bayou Plaquemine to navigation. Just a few years later, in 1791, Jean Batiste Degruis proposed to Governor Miro that Bayou Plaquemine be dredged to a depth of 12 feet, as far as the Village of the Chetimaches Indians (located about six miles below the present-day City of Plaquemine), through
which a trade route could be established. Residents of the Teche Country of Louisiana again asked that something be done with Bayou Plaquemine in 1802. The original projects for improving Bayou Plaquemine were adopted by the Rivers and Harbors Acts of the U. S. Congress on August 2, 1882, and August 11, 1888. The Acts provided for a lock at the river end of the bayou, clearing and dredging the channel to dimension ; of 6 x 60 feet, and the project was further modified by the Act of
April 10, 1899, to increase dimensions in Bayou Plaquemine from 6 x 60 feet to 10 x 125 feet. The dramatic story of the building of the huge structure, spanning 14 long years, reads like a novel, interspersed with human and technical development that stagger the imagination.
Construction of the Plaquemine Lock was begun in 1895, but not completed until 1909.
The dramatic story of the building of this huge structure, spanning 15 long years, reads like a novel, interspersed with human and technical developments that stagger the imagination. Bayou Plaquemine served as the Eastern gateway system from 1909 until 1954, when the lock structure was judged to be inadequate, and a new lock structure built in Port Allen, La. The Plaquemine Lock is 55 feet wide and accommodated tons of 355 feet, operating on a 24-hour schedule.
Millions of tons of cargo being transported over the waters of Louisiana have traveled the waters of Bayou Plaquemine to be locked through the Plaquemine Lock during its long, historic service. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans District, possess in their records ample documentation of the significant role that the Bayou and its Lock played in early commerce in Louisiana, and the settlement of people.
Bayou Plaquemine is inseparably connected with the Plaquemine Lock structure, itself an engineering and architectural gem. The U. S. Government Reservation at Plaquemine occupies a 14 acre area. The Lock structure was designed by Colonel George W. Goethals of the United States Corps of Engineers, who later served as chief engineer of the construction of the Panama Canal Lock, as well as the zone's first governor. Because of the distinguished stature of this man the Lock structure bears historical influence, but above all, stands as one of the earliest major Lock structures in Louisiana, the United States, and the world, and enjoyed the distinction, upon completion of construction, of having the highest fresh-water lift of any Lock in the world. It also possessed a unique engineering plan which enabled the lock to operate on a gravity-flow principle until this operational feature was modernized and pump installed.
Gerald MClindon, Dean of the School of Environmental Design, Louisiana State University, has this comment about the historic importance of Bayou Plaquemine in terms of total development of the City of Plaquemine. "Viewing Bayou Plaquemine I see it in terms of the great scenic beauty it provides for the city, and as a fantastic potential for future development. The City of Plaquemine is itself a most unique and historic city and has a scale, character, and atmosphere which is most
appealing. Therefore, my immediate reaction to the proposal to fill the bayou for highway construction was that there has to be some other way of accomplishing this highway linkup. This conviction was strengthened when I learned of the historic significance of Bayou Plaquemine andthe connection with Evangeline and Acadian culture which has contributed so much to Louisiana."
The Desobry Building (c,1850) is a single story brick Greek Revival commercial building located near downtown Plaquemine. Despite some alterations, the building retains its National Register eligibility.
The Desobry Building consists of a large commercial space in front and living quarters to the rear. Apparently the commercial space was once a single large room, but over the years it has been subdivided into three rooms. The space is largely characterless with plain board walls and simple openings. The only Greek Revival interior features are the three shoulder molded front doorways. The subdividing partitions are of vertical planks and have a temporary look despite the fact that some of them are fairly old.
Behind the commercial area is the living space, which consists of a central hall and two rooms. Each of the rooms has a fireplace with a shoulder molded mantel. The window frames and doorways are also shoulder molded. The doors consist of four flat panels with bolection moldings.
The exterior features segmentally arched openings and a symmetrical front which culminates in a pediment shaped gable parapet. Whether or not the pediment shape was actually conceived of as a reference to a pediment is not known.
In about 1875 the living area received a second story frame addition which gave the building a camelback look. The addition features two aedicule style mantels and elaborately planed baseboards. Of course, adding a second story necessitated putting a staircase in the central hall.
Assessment of Integrity
Some of the shutters and doors in the commercial portion are evidently salvaged. In
addition, the present exterior cornice dates from the twentieth century. But despite these and other aforementioned changes, the building is still easily recognizable as a mid-nineteenth century commercial building. Moreover, it still retains all of its Greek Revival features. Hence in our opinion the building retains its historic integrity.
There are no interior view photos for the commercial space because there is no electricity in this portion. It was much too dark for photography.
Specific dates c.1850
Builder/Architect Builder: Louis Desobry
Variety Plantation/The Homestead Plantation Complex
The Homestead Plantation Complex (c.1855) consists of a frame Greek Revival plantation cottage, a doctor's office, and a kitchen house located in a bucolic live oak setting on Bayou Plaquemine. Despite a recent move and some alterations, the complex retains its National Register eligibility.
The three buildings were moved from Homestead Plantation to their present location at
Variety Plantation in 1976 (both in Iberville Parish). For the record, nothing historic remains from the original Variety Plantation. The three mile move was necessary in order to save the buildings. The former site, which is now a car dealership, was slated for development, and the buildings were sold to the present owner on condition that they be moved. The new setting is very sympathetic, and the
buildings were set in the same configuration that they had in their former location.
The only difference is that the doctor's office was placed ten feet further from the main house. Both dependencies appear to be contemporaneous with the main house, although there is no proof they were built all of a piece.
Local tradition indicates that the three buildings were not original to Homestead Plantation, but were moved there at the turn-of-the-century. One story has it that the original site was a place called Hunters Lodge near the town of Plaquemine.
There is no way to confirm this but two things are certain. (1) The vintage and architectural history of the three buildings is beyond question. (2) The buildings have been in their present configuration for as long as any of the locals can
Iberville Parish Courthouse (1848-1906)
The Plaquemine City Hall is set behind the Bayou Plaquemine levee near the northeastern edge of the business district of Plaquemine.
The stuccoed brick building has a central council chamber flanked by pairs of offices. There is also a rear wing. The council chamber is recessed within the facade to provide a large space behind the front portico. The building has 18-foot ceilings which have been lowered to a height of 13 feet. Two of the offices have been paneled over. The only other major change in the building has been the addition of a metal-sided rear wing.
The building is five bays wide, with a central attenuated pedimented portico consisting of four simple Doric columns, an unornamented frieze, and a plain tympanum. Most of the unornamented windows have six panes over six. There are also a few which have six panes over nine.
Detailing is simple, with triple framing boards which give the effect of moldings around the doorways. The front door is noteworthy for its multiple panel effect, and for its ear molded pedimented frame.
Specific dates 1848
Builder/Architect George and Thomas Weldon
Statement of Significance (in one paragraph)
Plaquemine City Hall with its stark articulation and handsome tetra-style Doric portico is a fine local example of the Greek Revival style. It is the only fully developed Greek Revival structure in Plaquemine's downtown area, most of which is characterized by late 19th and early 20th century commercial development. It is therefore an important part of the city's architectural legacy.
The Plaquemine City Hall is also of significance in the area of politics/ government since it was the Iberville Parish Courthouse from 1848-19C6 and the City Hall from 1906 to date. Thus it was the seat of parish government for over a half century and then the seat of city government for nearly three quarters of a century afterward.
The building was constructed in 1848 when the police jury purchased the site. The
contractor was the firm of George and Thomas Weldon of Natchez. The cost of construction was $16,119.
Plaquemine High School
The Plaquemine High School building is a three story brick and concrete structure erected in 1911. It is centrally located within the community in a mixed residential and commercial area.
Designed primarily in the Beaux Arts style, it also displays Neo-Classical decorative elements. The school has endured surprisingly few changes over the years, hence its National Register eligibility remains intact.
The three-story structure is composed of a concrete raised basement surmounted by two
additional stories of brick. Elements which contribute to the Beaux Arts character of the building include:
1) five part symmetrical plan with a central projecting pavilion, two projecting
pavilions, and two hyphen-like connectors.
2) overscaled architectural elements which combine to make the central pavilion the
structure's climactic feature. These elements include four monumental Roman
Ionic columns in antis, colossal corner piers, a monumental flight of stairs rising to the main entrance on the second floor, and a large cast concrete tablet which
highlights the pavilion's crown.
3) side elevations divided into three bays by monumental piers identical to those on
the central pavilion. Each side elevation contains its own slightly projecting central bay, reflecting the Beaux Arts tendency to emphasize advancing and receding
planes within the same elevation.
Most of the school's decorative elements are executed in cast concrete. Neo-Classical
elements include 1) molded pier capitals featuring roundels, 2) a molded entablature which extends around much of the structure, 3) a second tablet, this one located above the facade's second story door r 4) a dentil band located beneath the central pavilion's overhanging cornice, and 5) a tall brick
parapet with coping. Other interesting features include bands of large sash.. windows with cast concrete sills, high ceilings, and large glass transoms above classroom doors. Classrooms, with accompanying cloakrooms and original slate blackboards, and an auditorium with a balcony occupy the ground (basement) and second floors. The third floor contains only classrooms and cloakrooms.
The school has experienced relatively few changes since completion. These include the
installation of a fire escape on the facade, the construction of rear one story wings on the ground floor to house additional restrooms, the removal of the words "High School" from the face of the central pavilion's large tablet, and the painting of the original beige brick in a shade of red. The restroom wings are not visible from the front and, thus, do not impact the facade. Because the tablet itself remains intact, the loss or its former wording is hardly noticeable. The presence or the fire escape its unfortunate but, because it is recessed between projecting pavilions and painted the same color as the surrounding brick, its visual impact is lessened. Finally, the painted brick does not detract from the building's appearance. Instead, the dark color provides a better contrast for the light colored cast concrete elements which decorate the building. As one of the City of Plaquemine's most important architectural landmarks, the Plaquemine High School building is a prime candidate for the National Register.
Significant dates 1911
Plaquemine Historic District
The Plaquemine Historic District encompasses approximately 21 blocks of Railroad Avenue, Main, Eden, Church, Plaquemine, and Court Streets. Contributing elements range in date from c.1840 to c.1938 and embrace styles running the gamut from Greek Revival to Modernistic. Most are historic brick commercial buildings and residences of either brick or frame construction. There are only 36 intrusions, or 28% of the total number of buildings. This rate is well within the normal range for Register districts in Louisiana.
Incorporated in 1838, the town of Plaquemine is the only community of any size within
Iberville Parish. It originally developed as an interior port and a commercial center due to its location on the Mississippi River at the mouth of Bayou Plaquemine. Because the bayou in turn linked with other waterways, a lively steamboat trade centering upon Plaquemine penetrated well into the interior and made the community a bustling commercial hub. This trade was partially disrupted in 1866 when severe flooding problems required that a dam be built to separate Bayou Plaquemine from the Mississippi. Although local civic leaders turned to the railroad to restore their commercial ties, they continued to campaign for waterway improvements until the federal government opened the Plaquemine Lock in 1909.
However, the re-linking of Bayou Plaquemine and the Mississippi River played only a temporary role in the community's growth. By 1909 railroads had gained the
ascendancy and steamboat traffic throughout the Mississippi Valley was on the decline. As a result, the community's focus shifted inland from the river and bayou to Plaquemine's new railroad corridor.
This shift was given additional impetus by the numerous "cave-ins" which occurred along the Mississippi's west bank during the late nineteenth century. Because Plaquemine is situated on a sharp curve of the river, its land has tended to erode away, precipitously plunging streets, businesses, and residences into the river. A major cave-in occurred in 1888, but there were many others.
Because of these cave-ins and the normal processes of deterioration and neglect, most of the original town of Plaquemine is gone. The historic district includes 1) the few Greek Revival structures which have survived the ravages of the river and time, 2) the later commercial area which developed along portions of Railroad Avenue, Main and Eden Streets between the 1880s and the 1930s, and 3) the residential neighborhoods which grew between the railroad and the river as well
as along the west end of Main Street.
Although the Plaquemine Lock (National Register) is the only structure which remains to directly reflect the importance of river traffic in the development of the town, the influence of the railroad is clearly visible within the historic district. Tracks divide the east and west segments of Railroad Avenue. The community's depot stands at a place of honor at the head of Railroad at its intersection with Main, while the Beaux Arts courthouse (the third to serve the parish) anchors Railroad at its opposite end. The buildings between the two, as well as those within the 300 and 400 blocks of Main and the 200 block of Eden, are one and two story brick structures in a variety of styles. Several display fine Italianate or Renaissance Revival detailing. One has a cast-iron shopfront, another displays a pressed metal cornice, one contains a stylish Neo-classical loggia and arcade, two reflect the influence of 1930s Modernistic styling, and two are in the eighteenth century French Neoclassical style. Some of these buildings have party walls, while others stand independently. Several of the commercial structures feature their original metal awnings.
The majority of buildings in the district's two residential neighborhoods are one story in scale and represent a variety of late nineteenth and early twentieth century styles. The post-1880 houses range from shotguns to simple galleried Italianate cottages to small Queen Anne dwellings to 1920s bungalows. Highlights among these residences include a large two-story Queen Anne style house with elaborate Eastlake trim, two fine Colonial Revival dwellings, a finely crafted Italianate cottage, and two Craftsman style residences. It is also within these residential areas that the community's pre-1880 Greek Revival structures are to be found. These include several small cottages, a large two story dwelling, St. Basil's Academy (National Register), and the 1848 City Hall (National Register). Also located within the Main Street area of the historic residential district is the
above-ground St. John Cemetery. Its oldest tomb dates to 1850. (See boundary justification for more information on cemetery.)
The district is significant as an outstanding historic commercial and residential sector, with contributing elements ranging from c. 1840 to c.1938. While some of the buildings obviously make a greater contribution to the significance than others, any 50+ year old building that has not been badly altered should be considered a contributing element.
Although the Plaquemine Historic District's 28% intrusion rate is well within the norm for Louisiana Register districts, the area does contain a gap located within the mid-section of Railroad Avenue. However, despite the loss or alteration of a great many of the buildings which front this street, the space forms an important link in the Plaquemine Historic District. The distinctive streetscape is characterized by a wide boulevard with a rail line down the center. This arrangement
survives complete with a historic railroad depot. In addition, the one story parapeted streetscape character survives. In our opinion, this railroad space vigorously conveys the importance of the railroad in developing the new (post-1880) town of Plaquemine. Indeed, the community's fine late Italianate, Queen Anne Revival, and twentieth century eclectic buildings owe their existence to the
coming of the railroad. The importance of the railroad as the new town hub is further underscored by the fact that the new (1906) courthouse was built next to it. Thus, the relative paucity of historic buildings in the present Railroad Avenue corridor should not be seen as a reason to terminate the district. Although it represents something of a break in-visual character, it is a great historical link
between the collections of historical buildings on both sides. Moreover, there are many precedents.
Rivet, Pierre Ernest House
The Pierre Ernest Rivet House (c. 1860) is a one-and-one-half story frame cottage in the Greek Revival style. It also shows some influence from the French Creole building tradition. It stands within a landscaped corner lot in a residential neighborhood of Plaquemine, Iberville Parish’s governmental seat. Although the house has received some alterations, its architectural character and National Register eligibility remain intact.
The cottage’s restrained Greek Revival styling is found on the exterior. Its three bay gallery is composed of Greek Revival boxed columns supporting a Grecian entablature. The facade also has two four-panel doors surmounted by transoms. This type door was common during the Greek Revival era. The residence has two features which place it within Louisiana’s French Creole tradition. The first is its hall-less Creole floor plan, which is reflected in the fenestration pattern (window-door-door-window) of the façade. The plan is composed of a full-width front gallery, two rooms in the front range, and three spaces in the rear range. The latter consists of two rooms and a central loggia with a staircase leading to the attic. The loggia probably remained open until the 1920s (see below). The home’s other Creole characteristic is the decorative treatment of its two mantels, both of which feature diamond shaped lozenges on their entablatures. (Both are subdivided into two panels which have a single lozenge within each.)
Other features found in the house include six-over-six windows (containing old glass with waves and bubbles) whose surrounds have Roman Numerals carved into them beneath several layers of paint, plaster walls and board ceilings in the front rooms, and flush board walls and ceilings in the original rear range. The attic (where square nails are visible in uncovered areas) contains one large rectangular space, part of which is finished in wide beaded board. Cypress shake shingles can be seen above the rafters beneath the current metal roof.
Alterations to the house came in the 1920s. At that time a two-room board-and-batten kitchen with narrow beaded board walls in one room and wider beaded board walls in the other was moved close to the rear of the original home and an enclosed space was built to connect the two. This caused the enclosure of the formerly open loggia. The kitchen (which probably dates to the turn-of-the-twentieth century) and connector were offset from the main house in order to leave an original window in the home’s rear wall uncovered. As a result, the kitchen and connector protrude beyond the house
on the other side. The connector originally contained the home’s bathroom and one other room. At some point a narrow covered space was attached to a side wall to house a hot water heater.
St. Basil`s Academy
St. Basil's Academy (c.1850) is a brick and frame two-and-a-half story Greek Revival
structure, with rear additions dating from 1905 and 1932. It is located behind a high wall in a garden setting in the Mississippi River levee town of Plaquemine. The building has undergone several alterations over the years, but it still retains enough significant features to merit listing on the National Register.
The property has a large garden lot with trees in the rear. The front of the property is separated from Church Street by a high, stuccoed, brick wall surmounted by an ornamental cast-iron balustrade. Though this wall is a relatively old feature, its origin is not known.
The house began c.1850 as a 2-1/2 story residence with features associated with both the French Creole and the Anglo-American architectural traditions in Louisiana.
St. Louis Plantation
Typical of the late 1850's, "St. Louis" reflects the Louisiana styles of colonial architecture and the emerging "gothicness" of the New Orleans Garden District.
Typically, it is two stories high with an attic under a tripped roof. As in other Louisiana and colonial homes, each floor has four large rooms with a huge hall down the middle.
What makes the house distinctive are the galleries around each story. Each has a
story-high row of six columns, with the bottom gallery fluted Ionic and the top row a more fancy, fluted Corinthian. The flavor is that of the Greek revival of the period.
There is a belvedere, or captain’s walk, on the top of the house which affords the only view over the levee to the Mississippi.
Two things make the house unusual. Each gallery has beautiful, and ornate grillwork in a grapevine pattern, and there is sloped and guttered cellar, partly below ground level, which at times was used as a prison.
In the rear is a wing with an old, preserved and beautiful kitchen, plus storage and servants' rooms. There is a French recessed porch on that side.
The grounds are landscaped in oak and magnolia. On one side is a slightly neglected
Victorian garden, with cross paths meeting at an old urn Picayune and green roses, jessamine and oleanders, still grow.
Interior decoration includes a proliferation of huge mirrors, a tradition started in Erwin's "Peach Blossom", where the girls used to wear the rugs out in the hall by standing so often between the mirrors on each side. The downstairs hall is dominated by a 10 x 5 mirror between gold columns, brought on a mule cart from "Rosedale Plantation" long ago.
Each downstairs room is graced by a large marble mantle over a fireplace. Purportedly
carved in Italy, the mantles are in different shades. There is an ornament, called a rose, on each.
The Gay family bought them in Philadelphia when the plantation was built. A quite similar house, built at the same time and perhaps by the same builder, is in the
Garden District, at 1134 First Street.
Statement of Significance
The house was built in 1857 by Edward J. Gay who came to Iberville Parish from St. Louis, Missouri. He also laid out the gardens and grounds which surround the house.
Mr. Gay's early background was as a merchant in St. Louis. There he was the first to
engage in the direct importation of coffee by cargo into St. Louis. He was at the head of a firm whose trade extended from New Orleans to the sources of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.
After moving to Louisiana in 1856, he became the largest and one of the most influential planters in the state. He was first President of the Louisiana Sugar Exchange of New Orleans. He was active in opposing the secession movement in Louisiana, partly because his grandfather had been a soldier of the Revolutionary War. However, after the die was cast he sided with the people of Louisiana. For reasons of health he did not serve in the War between the States, but his eldest son
served in the Confederate Army. The elder Mr. Gay remained at home and saw around him the ruin and destruction that followed. After the war he bent his energies to rebuilding the economy. He was reluctant to take part in the politics of Reconstruction, but Louisiana leaders assured him that only by his going to Congress could the Kellogg carpet-bag rule be abolished. In 1884 he ran against Kellogg himself and was elected by a handsome majority after a hard fought battle. He had a
distinguished career in Congress serving on the Appropriations Committee, and was reelected twice. In 1889, while still serving as a member of Congress, he died at the St. Louis residence.
After Mr. Gay's death the house was occupied by his widow and then by his son, Andrew H. Gay. In 1909 the grandson of the founder, also named Edward J. Gay, brought his bride to live in the residence, and there they raised their five children. Young Edward J. Gay served with distinction as a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives for sixteen years, and was Chairman of the
Appropriations Committee. In 1918 Mr. Gay was a candidate for the United States Senate to fill the unexpired term of Senator Robert Broussard. His opponents were former Governor Luther Hall and Mr. John Overton of Alexandria who later served in the Senate himself. Mr. Gay was nominated in the first primary and served Louisiana as United States Senator until 1921. He did not run for reelection. Later in his life Mr. Gay was on the Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University and served as Chairman of the Building Committee when the University was rebuilt on its present site.
Thus the St. Louis Residence was the home of at least two historical figures who made their work in history. One was Joseph Erwin who came from Tennessee to establish the St. Louis Plantation in 1807, after his son died in a duel with Andrew Jackson.
The other was Colonel Andrew Hynes of Tennessee who married Mr. Erwin's daughter.
Colonel Hynes took part in the Battle of New Orleans, and his accounts of that battle and the events leading up to it were found years later in the attic of the St. Louis Residence, preserved there by Colonel Hynes' son-in-law, the first Edward J. Gay. The New Orleans Times Picayune called the collection of papers "one of the most important discoveries of original Battle of New Orleans material found in many a day".