Rosedown Plantation

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Rosedown Plantation
Rosedown Plantation
Rosedown Plantation is located in Louisiana
Rosedown Plantation
Rosedown Plantation is located in the United States
Rosedown Plantation
Location12501 La. Hwy. 10, Saint Francisville, West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana
Coordinates30°47′46″N 91°22′15″W / 30.796015°N 91.370945°W / 30.796015; -91.370945Coordinates: 30°47′46″N 91°22′15″W / 30.796015°N 91.370945°W / 30.796015; -91.370945
Area371 acres (150 ha)
Architectural styleFederal, Greek Revival
NRHP reference #01000765
Significant dates
Added to NRHPAugust 7, 2001[1]
Designated NHLDApril 5, 2005[2][3]

Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site is an 8,000-square-foot (740 m2) historic home and former plantation located in St. Francisville, Louisiana, United States. Built in 1835 by cotton planters Daniel and Martha Turnbull, it is one of the most documented and intact plantation complexes in the South and is known for its extensive formal gardens surrounding the house.

House and grounds[edit]


Sited on the highest point of the plantation at the edge of a bluff on Alexander Creek, Daniel Turnbull contracted with carpenter Wendell Wright to construct a house in the transitional Federal-Greek Revival– style designed by an unknown architect. Built of cypress and cedar milled primarily onsite, the westward facing five bay, two-story house features a two-story gallery with smooth Doric columns and a bulbous vase like balustrade, matching fluted pilasters and a Doric entablature. At the center of the house, both upstairs and down, is a Federal-style elliptical arch doorway, with six horizontal panels, distinguished by boldly formed fluting, a layered entablature, a keystone, and leaded patterns superimposed on the glass. The fanlight features a series of loops in a radial design, while the side lights feature ovals and roundels. One-story brick side wings were added to the north and south of the building by T.S. Williams in 1845, with Greek-style end porticoes.[4]

The south elevation has a three column Doric portico spanning its width, while the north wing though larger of the two has only a two column portico. The columns at the end of both wings are fluted while the pilasters are smooth, and the Doric entablature and eave treatment match the main block. Each wing is topped by a balustrade with balusters similar in shape to those on the gallery, while the main block's side elevations feature a wooden fan design in the gable peaks. The eastern facing rear elevation has a small room on each side of a porch set under a shed roof.[2]


Rosedown's floorplan is in the French or Early Louisiana design in contrast to the American scheme of a hall through the center of the house. The plan has a main entrance hall, decorated with block-printed wallpaper by Joseph Dufour et Cie of Paris, with an elliptical mahogany staircase to the second floor, a parlor to the right, music room to the left, and an office, butler's pantry and dining room in the rear that features a punkah.[5] Upstairs are the family bedrooms. The north wing houses a guest bedroom with an en-suite bathroom that features an early form of a shower supplied with water from a cistern on the roof. The bedroom was built to house a suite of furniture that was originally to have been installed in the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House for the presidency of Henry Clay. Clay lost the election in 1844 and Daniel Turnbull, a Clay supporter, purchased the 13-foot tall rosewood Gothic Revival bed. The bed was found in the room for over 150 years until the last private owner of Rosedown sold it to the Dallas Museum of Art for $450,000.[6] The south wing houses a library that was utilized by Turnbull as an office for his oversight of the plantation. The home was furnished with imported goods from Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Europe. Most of the furnishings remained with the house during the years after the American Civil War, and a large percentage of original pieces are still displayed at Rosedown including a tapestry stitched by Martha Washington.


The grounds of Rosedown are currently composed of 371 acres (150 ha) with the focal point being the 18 acres (7.3 ha) of ornamental gardens that were inspired by the great formal gardens of France, Italy, and England that were visited by the Turnbulls on their European Grand Tour. One of the few privately maintained formal gardens in the United States, they were overseen by amateur horticulturalist Martha Turnbull who kept a detailed garden diary during her 60-year tenure at Rosedown. The gardens were actually begun prior to the construction of the house and in 1836, there are records showing the purchase of camellias, azaleas, and other plants from William Prince & Sons in New York.

Rosedown Plantation in 2008, viewed from the 660-foot-oak (200 m) tree allée
Rosedown Garden gazebo

The landscaped gardens are accessed through a Greek-Revival wooden gate at the head of a 660-foot-long (200 m) oak allée or tree avenue that terminates at a large oval forecourt with a diamond yaupon holly parterre flanked by two water oaks in front of the house. The unique length of the allée reflects a land survey technique of the 19th-century when property was measured with 66-foot long chains, meaning that the allée is 10 chains long.

Eight white marble Italian sculptures on brick pedestals accent the allée, however these are not original to the landscape. The twelve statues that the Turnbulls purchased in Italy in 1851 were removed by the previous owner, and the eight that are now found are close approximations of the originals. Flanking the allée are both Baroque gardens with formal geometrical landscaping, as well as English style gardens with meandering paths that include now rare varieties of plants.[7]

The most sunny and open area of the gardens is what is referred to as the Flower Garden located to the southwest of the house. Planted with several varieties of roses, the layout combines rectangular forms with irregular, curved paths and ornamented with one of three latticed gazebos with onion-domed roofs found on the property. Nearby is a subterranean hothouse (heated greenhouse) and brick tool shed that had at one time been connected to a greenhouse which is no longer extant. The other two gazebos center the large gardens on each side of the allée, and are placed directly opposite from each other to imply a cross-axis.[2] The gardens were restored in 1956 by landscape architect Ralph Ellis Gunn, whose sensitive renovations included adding a reservoir to the southeast of the house and fountains to complement the existing gardens.

Near the main house are several ancillary buildings including a Greek temple-style doctor's office, privy, milk-house, wood shed, and barn. Originally Rosedown had two wings which attached to the rear of the house. The north wing housed the kitchen that was moved up and attached to the house at an unknown date, while the south wing was added in 1859 to house the Turnbulls, once they turned the house over to their daughter Sarah and her family. During the restoration in 1956, the kitchen wing was removed and reconstructed near the house, while the south wing now known as "Miss Nina's wing" was moved a few yards to the southeast to overlook the reservoir.



Étagère from Rosedown Plantation. 19th Century Rococo Revival

Society in and around St. Francisville, at the time that Rosedown was constructed, was dominated by European, primarily British, settlers who became cotton planters on an enormous scale. Most of the 19th-century cotton barons in the area had requested and received their plantations lands through the Spanish government, the titles to which remained valid after the establishment of the United States government. The parents of Martha Barrow Turnbull, who owned the land that later became 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 not assembled via Spanish land grants, 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 began construction on the main house at Rosedown in November 1834, completing it six months later in May 1835 for a total cost of $13,109.20. The contribution of slave labor to the construction and upkeep of the plantation, as well as to the agricultural prosperity and wealth accrued by Daniel Turnbull, was immense. During peak years of cotton production, Daniel owned 444 slaves with around 250 working just at Rosedown.

The couple had three children, William, Sarah, and James Daniel. James Daniel died of yellow fever in 1843, at the age of 7. William married Caroline Butler, and had two children, William and Daniel. In 1856, William drowned in a boating accident while crossing "Old River," at the age of 27. That left their daughter Sarah, who had married James Pirrie Bowman from nearby Oakley Plantation, to inherit the plantation. The Bowmans moved into Rosedown and had ten children, eight girls and two boys. Martha and Daniel Turnbull retired to a wing in the back of the house in 1859, to accommodate Bowman's growing family.

After Daniel's death in 1861, the family 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 Union troops and by the loss of the slave workforce. The family stayed at Rosedown throughout the war, protecting and farming the property as best they could with 250 sharecroppers.


Rosedown Plantation in 1934

Martha Turnbull died in September, 1896, leaving Sarah in sole possession of Rosedown. After Sarah's death in 1914, Sarah's four unmarried daughters Corrie, Isabel, Sarah, and Nina took over the plantation. In the 1920s, they decided to open the house to tourists interested in the remnants of the prosperous cotton culture. The sisters sacrificed to hold Rosedown, and when Nina, the last surviving sister, died in 1955, there were no bills or mortgages outstanding on the property; and they still had 3,000 acres of land and the house with all its furnishings. The family was Episcopalian and are interred at the Grace Church Cemetery in St. Francisville.[8]

After Nina's death, Rosedown passed to her nieces and nephews, who sold the plantation in 1956 to oil heiress Catherine Fondren Underwood, herself an enthusiastic amateur horticulturalist, and her husband Milton Underwood. The Underwoods began an eight-year, $10-million restoration to restore the house and formal gardens to their former grandeur, while the plantation functioned as a working cattle farm. The house was opened to the public in 1964.


Rosedown Plantation was purchased in 2000 by the Louisiana Office of State Parks as a state historic site to illustrate plantation life in the 1800s. The plantation was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2005.[2]

Cultural references[edit]

In South and West: From a Notebook, Joan Didion writes that Ben Toledano's wife suggested she visit the Rosedown Plantation as well as the Asphodel Plantation, the Oakley Plantation and Stanton Hall to understand the South better.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ National Park Service (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  2. ^ a b c d Donna Fricker; Patty Henry & Erika Martin Seibert (March 2001). "National Historic Landmark Nomination: Rosedown Plantation / Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site" (pdf). National Park Service.
  3. ^ "Rosedown". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. 2008-06-24. Archived from the original on 2011-03-08.
  4. ^ Kingsley, Karen (September 24, 2014). "Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site". KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Retrieved June 15, 2015.
  5. ^ "Rosedown Plantation, St Francisville Louisiana". Historic Structures. June 18, 2014. Retrieved June 17, 2015.
  6. ^ Moonan, Wendy (November 3, 2000). "A Gothic Tale Of a Bedstead Fit for a President". The New York Times. Retrieved June 17, 2015.
  7. ^ "Rosedown Plantation St. Historic Site - St. Francisville, Louisiana". Explore Southern History. Retrieved June 22, 2015.
  8. ^ "Turnbull, Martha Hilliard Barrow". Louisiana Historical Association, A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography ( Archived from the original on September 23, 2010. Retrieved December 30, 2010.
  9. ^ Didion, Joan (2017). South and West: From a Notebook. London, U.K.: 4th Estate. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-00-825717-0.

External links[edit]