Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site
St. Francisville, LA
Rosedown Plantation is located in West Feliciana Parish, north of the town of St. Francisville, in one of the most historic corridors of South Louisiana.
Societies in and around St. Francisville at the time at Rosedown was constructed were dominated by European, primarily British, settlers who became cotton planters on an enormous scale. Most of the19th century cotton barons of all nationalities had requested and received their plantations through land grants from the Spanish government, the titles to which remained valid after the establishment of the United States government. The parents of Daniel and Martha (Barrow) Turnbull, the original owners of Rosedown, achieved high social status in West Feliciana through their immense cotton operations, and Daniel Turnbull himself was known before the Civil War as one of the richest men in the nation.
Rosedown, named for a play that the Turnbulls saw on their honeymoon, was assembled not by Spanish Land Grant, but in a group of seven purchases made by Daniel Turnbull from the 1820s through the 1840s. At its largest, Rosedown comprised approximately 3,455 acres, mostly planted in cotton.
Daniel and Martha Turnbull began construction on the main house at Rosedown in 1834, completing it by May the following year for a total cost of $13,109.20. The home was furnished with the finest pieces available, most imported from the North and from Europe. A surprising amount of the furnishings purchased by the Turnbulls remained with the house during the lean years after the Civil War and many original pieces are on display at Rosedown to this day.
The formal gardens at Rosedown were begun around the same time as the house. As early as 1836, there are records showing the purchase of camellias, azaleas, and other plants from William Prince & Sons in New York. The gardens were the province of Martha Turnbull throughout her life. The gardens grew out from the house over a span of several years to cover approximately 28 acres. In the 19th century, Rosedown was the only privately maintained formal garden of this scope in the United States.
The contribution of slave labor to the construction and upkeep of the plantation, as well as agricultural prosperity and wealth accrued by Daniel Turnbull was immense. During peak years of cotton production, operation of Rosedown utilized as many as 50 slaves.
After Turnbull's death in 1861, Sarah and her children saw a steady decline in a way of life that could no longer be supported. Rosedown and two other Turnbull plantations were ravaged during the war both by the invasion of Northern troops and by the loss of the slave labor workforce. The Turnbull/Bowman family stayed at Rosedown throughout the war, protecting and farming the property as best they could.
Martha Turnbull died in September 1896, leaving her daughter's family in sole possession of Rosedown. In the 1930s, the sisters decided to open the house to tourists interested in the remnants of the prosperous cotton culture. The sisters made extraordinary sacrifices to hold on to Rosedown, and when Miss Nina, the last surviving sister, died in 1955, there were no bills or mortgages outstanding on the property.
After Miss Nina's death, Rosedown passed to her nieces and nephews, who decided to sell the old plantation. In 1956, Catherine Fondren Underwood, herself an enthusiastic amateur horticulturalist, purchased it and began an eight-year historic restoration of the house and formal gardens. The Underwoods returned Rosedown to function as a working cattle farm, as well as restoring the old home to its former grandeur.
Currently, the main house, historic gardens, 13 historic buildings, and 371 remaining acres of Rosedown Plantation are preserved as a state historic site by the Office of State Parks. State Parks staff and volunteers conduct tours and programs to illustrate plantation life in the 1800s.
Source: Louisiana State Parks brochure
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