Until artist Weeks Hall donated Shadows-on-the-Teche to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1958, the New Iberia property had been in the Weeks family since the original Spanish land grant in 1792.
Sugar planters David and Mary Weeks built Shadows-on-the-Teche, a Greek Revival house in New Iberia, on the Spanish land grant given in 1792 to David Weeks’s father. The house was constructed by their slaves under the supervision of local carpenter James Bedell and mason Jeremiah Clark. Weeks chose to live in New Iberia because it was less isolated than his large holdings farther south, on what is now known as Weeks Island, where around 200 slaves worked the family’s sugar plantation.
The two-and-a-half-story, sixteen-room house was built of handmade red brick and is fronted by a gallery with eight full-height Tuscan columns of white-plastered brick standing on high square bases and topped by a Doric frieze. Three pedimented dormers pierce the gable roof. The house has a traditional Creole plan on both floors, with three rooms across the front and two rear rooms flanking an open loggia. A dining room occupied the center room of the ground floor, above which was a parlor. An exterior staircase is located on the left side of the front gallery, hidden behind louvered panels. Interior walls were covered with wallpaper; the cypress doors were painted to simulate oak and fireplaces were given a false-marble finish. Because the house is 20 feet above the bayou, it was provided with an underground brick cistern, 6 feet deep and 11 feet wide, with a 3-foot-high domed top and a capacity of over 4,000 gallons. The kitchen and slave dwellings were separate buildings on the Bayou Teche side of the house. On moving into her house, Mark Weeks wrote to her husband in June 1834: “I never saw a more delightful airy house, my room particularly. I have all the children in it and open the doors and windows every Night.”
In 1922, William Weeks Hall, David and Mary Week’s great-grandson, returned from studying art in Paris and commissioned architect Richard Koch of the firm Armstrong and Koch to restore Shadows. Weeks Hall also remade the two-acre garden. The house became famous for his soirees, attended by notable arts-related guests including movie directors D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. De Mille and writers Anais Nin and Henry Miller. (The house and Weeks Hall are featured in Miller’s story “The Air-Conditioned Nightmare.”) At his death in 1958, Weeks Hall bequeathed Shadows to the National Trust for Historic Preservation which commissioned Koch and Wilson to restore the house before opening it to the public as a house museum. In the 1990s, Diana Balmori and Associates with Jon Emerson and Associates of Baton Rouge restored the garden, on the basis of research by Suzanne L. Turner, to its appearance when Weeks Hall lived there. The restorers retained the paths that Hall had made out of bricks from the slave dwellings he demolished but marked in fieldstone the corners where the structures and the kitchen once stood. The house is open to the public.
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.