Ashland (Belle Hellene)
Front of Ashland.
|Nearest city||Geismar, Louisiana|
|Area||34 acres (14 ha)|
|Architectural style||Greek Revival|
|NRHP Reference #||79001050|
|Added to NRHP||May 4, 1979|
Ashland Plantation, also known as the Belle Helene or Ashland-Belle Helene Plantation, is an historic building, built in 1841, that was a plantation estate and home of Duncan Farrar Kenner. Located in Darrow, Louisiana in Ascension Parish. The great house is an example of Antebellum Greek Revival. The plantation was listed on the National Register of Historic Places May 4, 1979.
The Ashland estate is located southwest of Gonzales on Highway 3251 (Ashland road) and Louisiana highway 75. The entire property of the estate belongs to and is surrounded by the Shell Chemical, LP, Geismar plant.
By 1830, William Kenner and his brother-in-law Philip Minor consolidated 1800 acres of land to form a sugar plantation. After William died his two sons Duncan Kenner and George R. Kenner inherited the property. In 1840 the Kenner brothers acquired the Oakland, Belle Grove and Pasture Plantations. Kenner was a man of considerable wealth and holdings. He acquired land and property that included not only what was to be named the Ashland Plantation and mansion that he built for his wife, Anne Guillemine Nanine Bringier, but also interests in the Bowdon (1858), The Houmas, the 1400 acre Hollywood, the Hermitage (his wife was the granddaughter of Emmanuel Marius Pons Bringier), the Fashion (home of his brother-in-law and partner General Richard Taylor), and Roseland plantations. Kenner was a horseman (with a race track built at Ashland), a lawyer, a gambler, an inventor, and a politician. Property also included leases in the New Basin Canal in New Orleans with Taylor. Kenner helped organize the New Orleans Jockey Club and the New Louisiana Jockey Club.
Construction on the mansion began in 1839, was completed in 1841, and presented to Kenner's wife. Built in the traditional Antebellum Greek Revival style the sixty foot square two story mansion has 28 columns, three foot square, and thirty-five foot high, the mansion is considered the "grandest and largest plantation houses ever built in the state" Twelve foot wide galleries wrap around the building on both floors. The building has eight Italian marble fireplaces that were destroyed by vandals in 1959.
Ashland Plantation was confiscated by the Freedmen's Bureau in 1865 but returned to Kenner in 1866 after Kenner swore an oath of allegiance to the Union.
The 1897-98 planting year the Belle Helene was the second best sugar producing farm in the area.
In 1889 John Reuss purchased Ashland and renamed the plantation Belle Helene in honor of his granddaughter who became Mrs. W.C. Hayward, Sr. From 1939 to 1946 the mansion was unoccupied and unattended but in 1946 the Hayward family began a major restoration. By 1959 the grounds were empty again and subject to vandalism.
Excavations were done in 1989, and again in 1992, this time by Earth Search, Inc., for Shell after acquisition. Evidence of the sugarhouse, 18 cabins, an overseer's house, a blacksmith shop, and other buildings were examined.
Duncan Kenner had a race track, raced horses, and in 1854 a slave named Abe Hawkins, riding Lecomte, won over a horse named Lexington in New Orleans. Abe was inducted into the Louisiana Racing Museum Hall of Fame in 1997. While Kenner was absent from Louisiana the Civil War ended. Abe left the plantation and in 1866 won the third running of the Travers Stakes, riding Merrill for Robert A. Alexander. The trainer was another former slave named Ansel Williamson. In attendance that day were Ulysses S. Grant, William Astor, Alexander Stewart, and Commodore Vanderbilt. Abe beat top Caucasian jockey Gilbert Patrick Watson in a match race before 25,000 fans in New York City.
Abe Hawkins was known as "Uncle Able Hawkins: The Black Prince”, “The Dark Sage of Louisiana”, “The Slayer of Lexington” and got his start at Ashland as a slave. Abe won at Saratoga in 1866, and the very next year returned to Ashland where he died of tuberculosis. He earned respect, was a renown jocky, but never made it into the National Museum of racing and Hall of Fame nor the American Racing Hall of Fame
Shell purchased the estate, that includes 102 acres, from the Hayward family in 1992, remodeled the exterior to the original colors, and replaced the roof for preservation in 1997.
In popular culture
The mansion was shown in several movies including, Band of Angels (1957) and shown on the movie poster, The Beguiled (1971), The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971), and The Long, Hot Summer (1985)
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09.
- Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. "Ashland Historical Marker".
- Google maps-Retrieved 2014-06-06
- L’Hermitage Plantation- Retrieved 2014-06-06
- grandest and largest mansion- Retrieved 2014-06-07
- Ashland mansion- p.12; Retrieved 2014-06-07
- The Founding of Ashland-Belle Helene Plantation- Retrieved 2014-06-07
- The Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer, Volume 20, p 36- Retrieved 2014-06-07
- Google books: The Majesty of the River Road; Ashland-Belle Helene Plantation- Retrieved 2014-06-07
- DUNCAN FARRAR KENNER PAPERS: LSU Library; Invention- p.4; Retrieved 2014-06-06
- Louisiana Department of CULTURE, RECREATION & TOURISM; Excavation- Retrieved 2014-06-06
- Southeastern Louisiana (NPS); grounds included a racetrack-Retrieved 2014-06-07
- Article: Forgotten black jockeys take their place in history- Baltimore Sun (March 14, 1999)- Retrieved 2014-06-07
- Cincinnati.com: Abe Hawkins- Retrieved 2014-06-07
- Chronicles of the Black Jockeys Volume II: When Americans were betting "Abe" on "Abe"- Retrieved 2014-06-07
- National Museum of racing and Hall of Fame
- American Racing Hall of Fame- Retrieved 2014-06-09
- Band of Angels-Retrieved 2014-06-06
- chronicle books excerpt- Retrieved 2014-06-06