DARROW — When the Great River Road Museum and Interpretive Center opens on the grounds of Houmas House this fall, visitors will walk through an entrance reminiscent of the massive paddle wheel of a steamboat and into an experience of 1800s-era steamboat grandeur.
"The whole space is going to feel like the grand ballroom of a steamboat. Floating palaces is what they were," Houmas House owner Kevin Kelly said.
He's been the owner since 2003 of the nearly 200-year-old antebellum mansion on River Road in Ascension Parish and the surrounding 38 acres of lush gardens.
The museum project, already underway, is being built at a cost of around $15 million. It will feature a 28,000-square-foot museum with a cafe and performance stage and a 10-foot-wide walkway that will wind through the gardens. The walkway will rise in stages to a 24-foot-high pedestrian bridge that will cross River Road, in front of Houmas House, to the top of the Mississippi River levee.
The museum, expected to be completed by October, will highlight the history of the Lower Mississippi River and how it helped create the culture of Louisiana.
There will be exhibits on historic maps of the river, displays about river folklore and information about commerce on the Mississippi and the passenger travel via steamboats that brought entertainment to stops up and down the river.
Visitors will be able to sit in front of screens that will give them the feeling of traveling by boat on the river, including during a stormy voyage.
"I think it's going to be a great asset to the state," said Doug Bourgeois, assistant secretary of the Louisiana Department of Tourism. "The museum will tell the story of all the people who helped build the Mississippi corridor."
Construction of the Great River Road Museum is being funded by a $5.8 million federal scenic highway grant, Kelly's own funds and money raised through the nonprofit Houmas House Foundation.
The federal grant requires that the museum, which will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., must be self-sustaining. With that in mind, the space has been designed so that exhibits can be rolled into the walls within an hour of the museum's closing, creating an open space available for catered events or concerts, Kelly said.
While it appears unlikely, Houmas House also could conceivably have become home to three Confederate statues removed from prominent public spaces in New Orleans last year and kept in storage since then, while a task force created last month considers new homes for them.
Kelly made an offer in April to New Orleans to bring the statues of Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard to the grounds of Houmas House.
Earlier this month, a seven-member task force convened by Mayor LaToya Cantrell recommended that the statues of Confederate generals Lee and Beauregard be moved to Greenwood Cemetery on Canal Boulevard, with the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis going to Beauvoir, Davis' former estate, which is now a museum, in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Three statues of Confederate officials removed from their prominent public locations in New Orleans last year would be divided up between Gree…
"I gave an alternative" for the monuments, Kelly said recently. "It's the mayor's decision."