Just minutes South of Monroe and a World Away Lies Historic Logtown Plantation
article by Maré Brennan| photography by Martin G Meyers
Just off Highway 165, a quick ride along the top of the levee that overlooks the Ouachita River on one side and fields of row crops on the other leads to the plantation which unfolds itself first with the sight of its red barn buildings then its genteel picket fence and gate leading to its beautiful four-columned portico with fan-lit pediment. But the appreciation for the place that began as part of the settling of Louisiana takes on more meaning when we know the history.
The acres that make up Logtown Plantation were part of an enormous Spanish land grant to Jean Baptiste (Don Juan) Filhiol (1740-1821) in 1785. He was a Frenchman commissioned by Estevan Miro, the Spanish governor of New Orleans, to establish an outpost in the Ouachita River Valley in the early 1780s. Don Juan Filhiol named the post Fort Miro. In 1820, the post was renamed Monroe.
Don Juan’s grandson Jean Baptiste Filhiol (1815-1885) and his wife Nancy St. Clair Bellew Filhiol (1823-1887) built the first two rooms of the Greek Revival cottage in 1847. H. Layoux, a French cabinetmaker, directed the work. The cypress lumber was cut on the tract and sawn with a pit saw by slave workers. The bricks in the chimneys and in the piers which elevate the construction four feet above the ground were made on the site. The doors, sashes, transoms and fan windows were made by hand as well. The beaded exposed rafters in the parlor and the Rose Bedroom are a typically French construction detail and are very unusual for north Louisiana. The ceilings in these two rooms have always been painted a unique robin’s egg blue and have only been painted three times in over 150 years. Reminiscent of the grand style of Thomas Jeffersons’ Monticello, the entrance and parlor is perfectly portioned with elegant, tall ceilings, an entry with fan light and windows on all sides that bathe the space in natural light. One can easily imagine Filhiol creating this sophisticated home to entertain visiting dignitaries as they passed through the Ouachita River Valley.
The house has been enlarged many times, most notably in the 1880s when Roland M. Filhiol, (1848-1906) added a bedroom and a bathroom with unusual pocket windows of stained glass. He moved the kitchen and dining room, previously located away from the house because of danger of kitchen fires, adjacent to the house. He also replaced the original mantels in the parlor and Rose Bedroom with fancy Victorian millwork and redecorated the dining room in Victorian “Steamboat Gothic” style. The brass light fixture in the dining room is original to the house and probably burned kerosene. The fixture was rescued from the red barn by former owner Fred Hancock III in the 1980s, rewired and rehung in the dining room. Every old house is said to have a ghost and Logtown’s is rumored to be Roland, who died in the Rose Bedroom in 1906.
John Baptiste Filhiol (1876-1946) connected the kitchen and dining room to the house around 1910 and brought them to the same elevation as the rest of the house and under the same room for the first time.
The house and surrounding cotton fields and woods remained in the hands of the Filhiol family until 1999. The last Filhiol to live at Logtown was Marie Adelle Filhiol (1908-1997), who served as the principal of nearby Logtown School for many years.
In 2000, Fran and Don Beach thoughtfully extended the living room and added the wrap-around porch at the rear of the home. The old kitchen was converted into a bedroom and bath and a new kitchen was built in what had previously been a bedroom. All cabinets and hutches in the new kitchen were designed by Fran Beach and built of cypress by Ricky Harris and Everett Gilmore, and floors are made from reclaimed pine. The coat rack was made from siding taken from the red barn.
THE GARDEN AND DEPENDENCIES
The picket fence around the flower yard originally surrounded the residence of Jean and Nancy Filhiol’s friend M. Avet on Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans. The Filhiols so admired the fence that when M. Avet, a merchant and importer, replaced his fence with an iron one, he shipped the wooden one by boat to his friends on the Ouachita River.
The two-room cottage to the south of the main house was built prior to 1880 and is constructed with square nails. A modern gas fireplace and mantel mark the location of the original brick chimney and hearth that could not be saved in the building’s restoration in 2004. One of the neat details of the restoration of this building is that a small sample of the two oldest layers of wallpaper are “framed” and remain as a feature that graphically shows the building’s design history. The opening in the ceiling around the fan reveals the early, blue, “French” ceiling above the later beadboard ceiling which was added in the early 1900s. The centerpiece of the cottage’s bathroom, a claw foot tub, circa 1880, was original to the main house.
The Cistern House which is attached to the main house by way of a porch walkway could possibly be the oldest structure on the plantation and has been used as a wash room as well as a walk-in freezer. The cistern had gutters to collect rainwater from the roof. After a remodel in 2004, the Cistern House now boasts a bedroom and bath for guests.
There was a row of slave cabins northwest of the house as late as 1883 when they were torn down and the lumber reused in other structures on the plantation. The red barn on the north end of the property dates to the mid 1800s. The gardens feature a four-acre pecan orchard, several varieties of camellias and 130-year-old magnolias which tower beside the home. In early spring, dozens of Peruvian Scilla send up their star-shaped, electric blue blooms in the formal flowerbed around the birdbath. Despite its name, the bulb is native to the Mediterranean. According to family tradition, the original bulbs were a gift to the first Mme. Filhiol from Don Juan’s cousin, the Compte de Grammont. Gardeners will appreciate the variety of flora, including daffodils, narcissus, snowdrops, spirea, quince, redbud, dogwood, forsythia, azaleas, iris, crinum, daylilies, red spider lilies, canna, figs, pears, pecans, crepe myrtles, sasanqua, mock orange, magnolia fuscata, sweet olive, gardenia, roses and more.
Another fascinating part of the history of this plantation is yet to be written as the home and its outbuildings, which sit on 200 feet of Ouachita River frontage, are currently for sale. Additionally, four acres of pecan orchards located behind the home are also available for sale. For more information, please contact Nancy Inabnett or Mark Phelps at John Rea Realty 318.388.0941