This Louisiana plantation is full of history and Creole charm.
New Roads, LA
Name of House: The LeJeune House
Year Built: Circa 1800
Architect: Unknown, most likely designed by its first owner, François Samson
Style: Louisiana Creole with Neoclassic elements added later
Current Owners: Randy Harelson, a horticulturist, and Richard Gibbs, an architect
Built on the banks of the False River in the early 1800s by François Samson, the home thrived as the epicenter of a 500-acre indigo and tobacco plantation until the 1830s. The LeJeune family bought it then and remained until the 1970s, when they sold the house to Michael Rollinger and Mary Champagne, the well-known society editor of the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate. The couple hired the Southern master architect A. Hays Town to restore and renovate the house, but it is unknown whether any of his plans were actually carried out. Today, Richard Gibbs and Randy Harelson own the house and its 2½ acres—the rest was developed as part of the town of New Roads, Louisiana.
If These Walls Could Talk
The oddest thing about the house is probably the family who lived in it the longest. The LeJeunes had 12 children, 11 of whom lived to adulthood. None ever married. "They're famous for having always stayed with the house," says Randy. "They would leave to do various kinds of work and come back. When they were here, they would all eat around the big dining table and would put a quarter under their plates to pay for groceries and upkeep. They kept to themselves and were known for living in near silence, almost as if this were a convent."
Evolution of the House
It was originally a four-room structure when built by François Samson, a planter and soldier who fought in the American Revolution. He owned the entire 500 acres. At some point, the original hipped roof burned and was replaced with a gabled one. The house grew as its porches were enclosed. Other rooms were added until it reached its current size of 14 rooms.
All About the Details
The fanciest downstairs rooms have cypress-paneled walls and cypress ceilings. Doors have inset panels and baseboards so that when closed, all of the woodwork in the room appears continuous. The living room is done in boiserie, a French-style carved wooden paneling, and it has a coffered ceiling.
Meet the Owners
What led you to life in a landmark?
College experiences. When I [Randy] was at LSU, I lived in a former orphanage called the Goat Castle, where the quirkier people rented. Richard bought and renovated an 1840s Greek Revival at age 21 and did all the work with his Rhode Island School of Design classmates.
What do you like best about your home?
Twelve exterior French doors! Our 300-year-old live oak is even more enchanting when viewed through old, wavy glass windows.
Critics say older homes are money pits. Do you agree?
Everyone spends his money on what he considers valuable. Old houses do require authentic materials and appropriate craftsmanship, which costs more. Understand that, and belly up to the bar.
How do you decorate a 200-year-old home?
Use materials that are true to the period of the house: natural textiles, wood, clay, and glass. And candlelight! It's as beautiful in the 21st century as it was in the 19th.