EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the third in a series of articles on the Audubon Pilgrimage.
The West Feliciana Parish Historical Society is gearing up for the 45th annual Audubon Pilgrimage on March 18-20.
Always a popular feature during the Pilgrimage is Rosedown Plantation, now a state historic site and national historic landmark.
In the early 1830s, Daniel Turnbull and his young bride, Martha, of the Barrow family, built a 8,000 square feet double-galleried home, costing $13,109.20 and completed in six months. Much of the labor was performed by slaves during the winter months when planting chores were few, according to local historian and author Anne Butler.
During the Turnbulls’ lengthy wedding trip through Europe, Martha Turnbull gleaned the inspiration for the gardens she would develop to complement the house.
A century after Rosedown was built in 1834, author Stark Young used it as a picturesque setting in his acclaimed Civil War novel “So Red The Rose,” saying, “Of all the houses in the world it seemed to be the beloved of its own trees and gardens.”
That same charm and appeal continue today at Rosedown, a house surrounded by 27 acres of 19th-century gardens and live oaks, Butler said.
The Turnbulls’ daughter, Sarah, married James Pirrie Bowman, son of Eliza Pirrie, of Oakley Plantation.
It would be the Bowmans’ eight daughters who would struggle to maintain Rosedown through some lean and difficult years after the Civil War.
In 1956, when the late Catherine Fondren Underwood, of Houston, purchased Rosedown Plantation from descendants of the original family, she recognized the lush beauty of the extensive formal gardens and haunting dignity of the house even through the creeping undergrowth and peeling plaster, Butler said.
A meticulous 10-year restoration salvaged the house and its collection of plantings, and today Rosedown is considered one of the South’s finest examples of antebellum splendor, Butler writes.
The detailed horticultural diaries of Martha Turnbull, spanning some 60 years until her death in 1896, proved that she was one of the first to introduce azaleas and camellias to the South.
These records were invaluable guides for the garden restoration.
On the grounds, a compelling collection of original outbuildings — barn, plantation doctor’s office, milk house, latticed gazebos — provide further understanding of the operations of early plantation communities.