Maison Chenal Plantation
Pat and Jack Holden moved Maison Chenal Plantation eleven miles to its current location before meticulously restoring it as their residence.
The house known as Maison Chenal is one of a collection of Louisiana vernacular buildings saved from demolition, moved to a site in Chenal, and restored by Pat and Jack Holden. Almost all the structures are easily visible from the road. The first structure the Holdens acquired, in 1975, was a raised Creole cottage, which was restored to serve as their residence; it was originally located beside the False River, eleven miles from its present site. Construction techniques and nail analysis indicate a date before 1790 for the core of the house, but its exterior appearance suggests a date of circa 1820, and the restoration has adhered to that era.
A characteristic of Creole cottages is their asymmetry in room layout and facade elevation. The off-center chimney indicates the division of the two front rooms, with the larger, the parlor, on the left. Other deviations from symmetry are the unequal spacing of the gallery posts and the off-center staircase rising to a six-bay gallery. These irregularities give the facade a special animation. The house has a double-pitched hipped roof over a Norman truss. The ground-level floor, possibly lower when first built, has been remodeled for family use; a staircase was added in one of the cabinets flanking the rear loggia. The windows are the original single large casements. Exterior and interior colors have been restored to the colors found under later layers of paint.
Several outbuildings have been added over the years, some from Cedar Bend Plantation in the Natchitoches area, whose culture was similar to that of Pointe Coupee Parish. These structures include a square wooden pigeonnier with a bousillage first-floor exterior sheathed in wood, a frame upper floor, and doorjambs and lintel of beaded wood. Behind the main house are two dependencies, placed here in the same relationship to the house as was at Cedar Bend. One was a kitchen and laundry room, the other probably a garconniere; both have brick floors and open ceilings. Smaller structures include a privy, a chicken house, pens and coops for chickens and geese, and a barn that dates from circa 1829. To the right of Maison Chenal is a small cottage transferred from nearby Labatut Plantation.
Gardens have been recreated from extensive written and graphic evidence of nineteenth century gardens. The front entry garden has been laid out in the French manner, with a parterre of lozenge-shaped beds divided by walkways, designed to be viewed from above. The rear garden includes vegetables as well as regional flowers and bushes, such as Cherokee roses and native azaleas. Pieux (upright post) fences enclose both the front and rear gardens. Across the road from Maison Chenal are two other buildings the Holdens have acquired. The smaller is a cottage of bousillage construction, with cabinets and a loggia behind the front rooms and a double-pitched, gable-end roof. More intriguing is the enormous frame and bousillage structure known as the LaCour House, moved from its original site a few miles away. It resembles drawings (now in the National Archives, Paris) made in the 1720s of the earliest buildings constructed in French Louisiana, such as the barracks. This structure has wide openings with segmental arches, which are similar to those at Madame John’s Legacy and the Ursuline Convent in New Orleans. The building’s date and purpose are unknown, although some speculate that it was a large house or a structure connected with the Pointe Coupee fort.
Adapted from Karen Kingsley’s Buildings of Louisiana, part of the Buildings of the United States series commissioned by the Society of Architectural Historians (www.sah.org) and published by Oxford University Press.