“Yet it was not heavy, or pompous. It managed somehow, to combine vastness with delicacy; titanic proportions with grace and warmth . . ."
(John Clarence Laughlin, Ghosts Along the Mississippi)
I was introduced to Belle Grove Plantation through Clarence John Laughlin’s book Ghosts Along the Mississippi. I was hooked from the first picture. Many times I would study the pictures in Laughlin’s book. I would try to imagine what the house looked like while it thrived and people loved it. I would try to imagine what the view from the front porch was like for the people who lived there.
I would think of the noises of the inhabitants. The laughter. The sadness. All of it pressing against the walls in a permanent, life-affirming way.
John Andrews, who made his fortune in Virginia and owned 7,000 acres surrounding Belle Grove near White Castle in Iberville Parish, Louisiana, built the mansion for $80,000 between 1852 and 1857. Andrews had a legendary rivalry with John Randolph, the owner of neighboring Nottaway Plantation. Both men commissioned New Orleans architect Henry Howard to design their homes. Both mansions sport a mix of Greek and Italianate styles. Andrews more than 150 slaves who produced over one-half million pounds of sugar a year also provided free building labor. Lumber was used from nearby Cypress trees, and the pillars were, in fact, six feet wide cypress trunks and were hand carved. Bricks were produced on the plantation. Expert European craftsmen were hired to plaster and carve the walls and mantels. The front steps, rising twelve feet above the arches, were covered with imported marble. The door knobs and keyhole guards were of silver.
Belle Grove’s lower arches were 12 feet high, and ultimately the whole of the house stood 62 feet high and rambled 122 feet wide and 119 feet deep. Seventy-five rooms encompassed four floors. The wings rambled from the center in no particular pattern. Even a jail cell was built within the house. No expense was spared in its construction, and it is said Andrews refused to keep receipts or a cost analysis of the money spent. It was one of the largest mansions in the South, even larger than Randolph’s Nottoway Plantation.