Magnolia Mound is a tale of two houses — the old plantation house and the 1900s-style Hart House.
The main house, built in the late 1700s, has been restored, and now the Hart House, located behind the old home, is ready to face the public.
To celebrate its renovation and 44 years of accomplishments at the historic site, the Friends of Magnolia Mound is hosting a jazz brunch on Sunday, Sept.15, with proceeds going to Magnolia Mound projects.
The story of the two houses begins with Magnolia Mound, which was a center of social activity when it was owned in the early 1800s by Constance Joyce and her second husband, Armand Duplantier, who came to America from France as aide-de-camp to the Marquis de Lafayette during the American Revolution. The couple expanded the house and decorated it in the elegant federal style.
After Constance Joyce's death in 1841, the home was sold to George Otis Hall whose family lived at Magnolia Mound in the decade before the Civil War. The Halls were vacationing in Europe when Louisiana seceded from the Union; they never returned.
Over time, the home deteriorated as it went through a series of mainly absentee owners.
Around the turn of the last century, Robert A. Hart, who served as mayor of Baton Rouge from 1898 to 1902, purchased the property surrounding the plantation house and built a showplace behind the old home. He relegated the plantation home to relatives who needed a place to stay.
Members of the Hart family continued to live in the newer Hart House as the old plantation house with no electricity and inadequate plumbing fell into complete disrepair.
In the mid-1960s, the newly organized Foundation for Historical Louisiana and local preservationists realized the old plantation house was a treasure. In 1966, working with Mayor W.W. "Woody" Dumas, attorney Ashton Stewart and BREC Superintendent Eugene Young, the old house was expropriated as a BREC park, and a decades-long restoration began.
At the time BREC took ownership of the plantation house, the last Hart owner, Anna Belle Hart Anderson, was living in the Hart House, which she had inherited from her cousin Marie Blanche Duncan, Robert Hart's niece. Duncan, who purchased both homes from Robert Hart in 1929, modernized and lived in the Hart House until her death in 1958.
Anderson redecorated several times while she lived in the house. In 1979, she sold it to BREC for museum offices.
Over the years, as the main house was restored and beautifully maintained as a museum, the Hart House began to show its age.
"It was on a priority list to be updated for some time," said John Sykes, Magnolia Mound museum director.
Two years ago, as part of BREC's initiative to make all of its facilities available to everyone, BREC budgeted funds for an access ramp at Hart House, along with new heating and air-conditioning and a renovation of the bathrooms and the old kitchen.
At the same time, the Friends of Magnolia Mound and Estelle Rome, chair of the Hart House interiors, began collecting furniture and accessories for the Hart House.
"We thought if we could fix up the Hart House, it could be rented to groups for events. It would be a way to make some money," said Winnie Byrd, who has been involved with Magnolia Mound since the earliest efforts to save the historic home.
The main parlor, dining room, a front bedroom and library are now beautifully decorated with donations from a long list of supporters, among them Dr. Chet Coles, who assisted Rome, and his wife, Janie, who donated two antique bookcases from her family in Abbeville. Chairs and other items that belonged to the late Edna Sorelle White were donated by White's daughter, Barbara Bacot, and her husband, Pat Bacot, curator emeritus of Magnolia Mound.
Now hanging in the parlor are portraits of Leon Bonnecaze, French vice consul to Baton Rouge, and his wife, Caroline, the great-grandparents of Marie Blanche Duncan. Leon Bonnecaze greeted Lafayette, when he visited Baton Rouge in 1825. The portraits were given to Magnolia Mound by the family of Hart Dunbar, a Hart descendant.
A mirror, antique clock and sculpture in the living room were given in memory of Merle Leefe Alexander and Jesse Lee Alexander. Lynette Frazer donated a sofa, sideboard, chairs and a side table, and Virginia Noland provided draperies for several restored rooms and a library table and chairs. Winnie Byrd's son, Dr. Richard Byrd, gave a sideboard and rug.
"Estelle made a wide variety of donated furniture come together," Sykes said.
Projects still on the books include the restoration of the garden established by Marie Blanche Duncan at the front of the Hart House. Some of the proceeds from the jazz brunch, along with a bequest left for landscaping by the late Anne Gueymard Shirley, will be used for that.
The brunch will honor Young, who as BREC superintendent was instrumental in BREC's acquisition of Magnolia Mound, and John Turner, a dedicated benefactor and supporter. Turner's family, beginning with his mother, Sue Turner, has been involved with Magnolia Mound from the first restoration efforts and continues to support the museum.
Friends of Magnolia Mound Jazz Brunch
WHEN: Noon to 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15
WHERE: BREC's Magnolia Mound Plantation, 2161 Nicholson Drive
ACTIVITIES: Music by the Florida Street Blowhards, food, tours of all historic buildings at the plantation site, wagon rides and a silent auction
TICKETS: $100; $15 for ages 7-17; free for ages 6 and under. Makes checks payable to Friends of Magnolia Mound, P.O. Box 45848, Baton Rouge LA 70895. To charge on Visa or Mastercard, send account information to the Friends of Magnolia Mound at the post office box address.
INFORMATION: Patricia Comeaux, (225) 271-4187.
DETAILS: A celebration of the restoration of the Hart House and accomplishments at Magnolia Mound, including expansion of the site to 16 acres, acquisition of a collection of furniture and artifacts representing the life of 19th-century French and Creole families and offering "hands on" programs for both children and adults.