Jean Lafitte
Historic Resource Study (Chalmette Unit)
NPS Logo



The Rene Beauregard House is located on the site of the Battle of New Orleans. Built approximately eighteen years after the battle, the house therefore has no historical association with that historic encounter. Moreover, the house has practically no other historical significance beyond a remote association with the famous Confederate hero General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard. His son, Rene Toutant Beauregard, after whom the house is named, lived in it from 1880 to 1904. The value of the house rests not on any historical significance but on its architectural merits: it is a very fine example of a Louisiana plantation house of the ante-bellum period. Further, it represents a way of life and standard of living that characterized the sugar plantation owner in the New Orleans area.

Few early descriptions of the house exist, and those are brief and provide only a general sketch of the architectural fabric. The Notarial Archives of New Orleans Parish and St. Bernard Parish provided valuable and interesting data on the land, but contained little information on building contracts or inventories of real and personal property of occupants of the house.

Studies of the house have been undertaken over the years by the National Park Service. The first two, one prepared in 1938, the other in 1948, were relatively brief and were based on secondary works. [1] Two other studies, one in 1952 by Francis F. Wilshin, and the other in 1956 by historical architect Samuel Wilson, Jr., were far more comprehensive and were based largely on primary sources. Wilson's study is well documented, and provided the basis for the 1957-58 restoration of the Beauregard House to its present appearance. [2] In the absence of specific documentation, particularly that dealing with descriptions of the house, considerable reliance was placed in this study upon comparative historical and architectural evidence of ante-bellum plantation houses on the Mississippi River. By matching such information with the existing architectural fabric of the Beauregard House, certain inferences can be drawn.

The Chalmet Plantation, upon which the Beauregard House was later built, stood about five miles downstream from New Orleans in St. Bernard Parish. It was situated on the left bank of the Mississippi River, fronting for a distance of 22 arpents, 3 toises, and 3 feet on the river. [3] The plantation was owned by Ignace de Lino de Chalmet, whose name, always spelled without the final "te," became synonymous with the battlefield itself. The Beauregard House occupies a site that at the time of the battle was near the upper part of the Chalmet plantation in an area known in colonial times as Point St. Antoine, so named because of a bend in the river a few thousand feet below the house. [4]

In 1817, in default of a mortgage, Chalmet's heirs transferred the plantation to Chalmet's half brother Pierre Denis de la Ronde for $55,000. De la Ronde immediately sold the property to the brothers Hilaire and Louis St. Amand. [5] In 1832 the brothers agreed to sell part of their land, and to do this they subdivided their plantation into five lots as shown on a March, 1832, map drawn by Allou d'Hemecourt, a New Orleans surveyor. Lot No. 2, an area of more than six arpents, was sold to Alexander Baron for his mother-in-law, Mrs. Madeleine Pannetier, widow of Guillaume Malus. One year after this purchase, Baron transferred the title to his mother-in-law. [6] A notice of sale in a newspaper described the property as follows:

On Friday the 23d inst. at 12 o'clock at Hewlett's Coffee House, will be sold,—10 arpens of the Plantation of Messrs. Helaire and Le [sic] St. Amand five miles below New Orleans, and known by the name of Battle Ground. Of these ten arpens six are situated at the upper limit of the plantation on the side of the city—The two first arpens contiguous to the boundry of Mr. Edward Prevost's property, reach only 15 arpens more or less in the depth; and the four other arpens go to 80 arpens in depth. The 6 arpens at the lower limit are contiguous to the plantation of Antoine Bienvenu. They are intitled [sic] to the double concession of 80 arpens, and conformably to the act of sale of Mr. Denis de la Ronde, reach as far as Lake Borgne. The sellers do not warrant this prolongation. On the 6 arpens of the upper part is found the line of defence of the American Army in 1815, and on the 4 arpens of the lower part are the four majestic Oaks, where all those who come to visit the field of battle generally end their walk. The proximity of the city, and the improvements of the lower part in commerce and industry, are a sure warrant to capitalists and speculators that they will place their funds advantageously, — Those lots would suit for brickyards, sawmills, and gardens. [7]

Neither the notice of sale nor the act of conveyance made any references to improvements or to existing structures on this lot. If there had been improvements, it would have been logical to mention them.

After the Widow Malus died in 1835, the property was transferred to her son Francois Malus, and to her daughter, by then the widow of Baron. In 1848 the latter transferred her interest in the property to a second brother, Lucien Malus. In this conveyance reference was made for the first time to "buildings and improvement erected" on the property, but without any description. [8] The property remained in the Malus family until 1856, when it was sold to Caroline Fabre, widow of Michel Bernard Cantrelle. The act of conveyance mentioned buildings but contained no descriptions. [9] In the 1830s the Cantrelle family, in joint partnership with Michel Martin Villavaso, operated a steam sawmill close to the land Madame Cantrelle eventually purchased. The Cantrelles also bought Lots Nos. 3 and 4 of the St. Amand tract, adjacent to Lot No. 2, which was purchased the same day by Alexander Baron. The sawmill was well known in this area, and since it existed about the same time that Baron purchased Lot No. 2, it is a fair assumption that any house or structure built on that lot was constructed with timber from the sawmill. Architects and builders purchased materials from the sawmill. The well known James Gallier and his son James Gallier, Jr., were customers of the sawmill, and the younger Gallier even married Villavaso's daughter Rose Aglae. [10]

Madame Cantrelle lived on the land purchased from the Malus family up to the conclusion of the Civil War, and in 1866 she sold it to a Spaniard by the name of Jose Antonio Fernandez y Lineros. The sale included the dwelling and all outbuildings. The notice of sale described the property as follows:

Splendid Summer Retreat Five Miles Below New Orleans, fronting the Mississippi River and one mile from Dauphine Street cars.

That Splendid Summer Retreat, situated in the parish of St. Bernard, in this State left bank of the Mississippi, heretofore forming part of the Hilaire and Louis St. Amand plantation, about five miles below the city of New Orleans, designated the No. 2 [lot] on plan drawn by Allou d'Hemecourt, said portion of ground measures 204 feet 10 inches front to the Mississippi river, or the line AB of said plan, and running in depth between two lines closing at a point to the letter D—2748 feet 9 inches on the upper limits of the line No. 1, and 2834 feet 6 inches on exterior limits of the No. 3, together with all buildings and improvements thereon, which consist of a beautiful two-story brick building, slate roofed, containing three rooms on the ground floor, and three on the first story, gallery front and rear, pantry, cabinets, etc., brick kitchen, stables for six horses, carriage house, hayloft, negro quarters, etc., also a splendid orchard, containing every variety of rare fruit trees and vegetables, a beautiful flower garden, containing the choicest plants to be found. [11]

Fernandez immediately enlarged his property by purchasing the adjoining Lot No. 1, adding five acres and thereby bringing his total holdings to twenty acres. [12] With the advent of the 1870s and the depression that gripped the nation his fortunes took a noticeable decline. In 1873 he was forced to sell Lot No. 1, and three years later his wife won a judgment against him transferring the property to her name. [13] In 1880 Mrs. Carmen Lesseps Fernandez placed the land on the market. The notice of sale described it as follows:

Positive Sale of Bueno Retiro, A delightful Suburban Residence, Farm and Orangery, on the city side of the Mississippi River, and less than a mile below the United States Barracks and the terminus of the City Horse Car Railway.

[The tract] measures 208 feet 10 inches front on the public road, with batture rights on the Mississippi River by a depth of 2834 feet on the lower side dividing it from the State Agricultural College, and 2784 feet on the upper side dividing it from the property of A. Lesseps, Esq. The width is irregular converging to a point.

The property is improved by a substantial two-story Brick Mansion, and other dependencies, such as stabling and poultry houses, laborers' quarters, shaded by a magnificent lawn of magnolia and oak trees. The land is exceedingly rich and productive, and under cultivation for vegetables and flowers. The Orchard Contains a fine assortment of fruit trees, comprising Orange, Mespilus, imported Pears and Pecan Trees, besides a large variety of Figs, Grapes, etc., thrifty and bearing, within half an hour's drive of the centre of the city, a steady demand and market for all that can be produced, and a house of superior comfort and advantages of scenery renders the property desirable, not only for permanent residence, but as an investment of great prominence and productiveness. [14]

The purchaser of the property in June 1880 was Rene Toutant Beauregard, eldest son of the Confederate hero General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard. [15] With this purchase the property enjoyed its longest period of uninterrupted private ownership. Two years later, Beauregard granted the Mississippi Terre Aux Boeufs and Lake Railway Company a right-of-way across the northern limits of his property, and in 1888 he repurchased Lot No. 1 from Octava Toca, enlarging his holdings. [16]

By this time, the total area began to undergo a change with the introduction of heavy industry. This in turn forced changes in the levee, with resultant alterations to property lines facing the river. As a result, a number of stately cypress trees were removed from the Beauregard lawn. [17] Reacting to the pressures of these changes, in 1904 Beauregard sold his property to the New Orleans Terminal Company for $18,000. The act of sale described his property as follows:

A certain tract of land situated in the Parish of St. Bernard, in the State of Louisiana, on the left bank of the Mississippi River, about one mile below the City of New Orleans, known as the Buen Retiro Place, and measuring according to a sketch annexed to an act of sale by Mrs. Carmen Fernandez to the present vendor before James Fahey, Notary Public, June 4, 1880, Two hundred and four feet, ten inches (204' 10") front on the public road with batture rights on the Mississippi River by a depth of Two thousand eight hundred and thirty-four feet, six inches (2834' 6") on the lower side line dividing it from the State Agricultural College, and Two thousand seven hundred and forty-eight feet, nine inches (2748' 9") on the upper side line dividing it from the property of A. Lesseps, the width being irregular and converging to a point; together with all and singular the buildings and improvements thereon and all appurtenances, rights, ways, privileges, and servitudes thereunto belonging or in any wise appertaining.

Being the same property acquired by the present vendor from Mrs. Carmen Fernandez by the act before James Fahey, Notary Public for the Parish of Orleans, dated June 4th, 1880, registered in the Parish of St. Bernard in Conveyance Book #14, folio #230. [18]

In 1948 the railroad company transferred the property to the state of Louisiana, and in the following year it became part of the National Park System. [19]

There is no known documentation that establishes the original construction date of the Beauregard House. In fact, there is no known documentation that would unequivocally establish that the existing structure is without doubt the original building. These questions, as well as the dates of succeeding remodelings of the house, must be answered largely through inference. In the first place, architectural features of the house should provide some indication of the construction dates. Secondly, other plantation houses in Louisiana can provide evidence of existing similarities. Finally, the few written documents that are available, albeit inconclusive, can provide some degree of probability as to the original date of construction.

In the absence of adequate documentation, the history of the house, i.e., date of original construction, data on its architect and builder, description of its early and later designs, has been enshrouded in mystery and cloaked in a veil of misinformation. Seldom if ever has the house been presented in its true perspective. Popular writers, as well as serious students of architecture, have accepted half-truths. It was not until recent years, after Messrs. Wilshin and Wilson prepared their studies, that many fabrications about the house were seriously questioned. The origin of these falsehoods stemmed from a number of newspaper articles written by John Coleman in the 1920s and 1930s, and more recent authors have been content to accept them without question. [20] These writers, some of them very reputable, stated that the house was built in 1840, but there is no evidence to support this thesis. On the contrary, there is sufficient proof to show that the existing house was constructed as early as 1833-34.

Prior to 1848 the Notarial Acts, in describing the sale of land upon which the Beauregard House now sits, made no reference to structures or improvements on the land. This is especially evident in the notice of sale that appeared in the Louisiana Courier on March 7, 1832, in which the specific plot of ground is described without reference to structures of any kind. If there had been a structure of significant proportions on the grounds, it would have been mentioned since it would have increased the land's value and salability. Hence, one would have to conclude that if any structures were built, they were constructed after 1832. In fact, the notice of sale, in referring to the adequacy of the land for commercial purposes, states that "those lots would suit for brick-yards, saw-mills, and gardens." [21] This statement, particularly the reference to the gardens, is an indication that no structures, at least of any sizable dimensions, were on the land.

A New Orleans surveyor named Allou d'Hemecourt measured the tract of land owned by the St. Amand brothers in March 1832, dividing the land into five lots. Lot No. 2, as indicated, was sold to Alexander Baron. Although this map is cited in almost all the acts of conveyances pertaining to this property, it has never been found. In 1833 Charles F. Zimpel produced a topographical map of New Orleans and vicinity in which he depicted the St. Amand subdivision. Instead of showing Lot No. 2, Baron's name is given. What is important about this map is that it shows the Baron lot with four symbols representing structures. [22] Two of these symbols, rectangular in shape, are much larger than the other two, which are squares. Unfortunately, the symbols are so small that it is difficult to obtain any accurate measurement. Nevertheless, one of the larger symbols is on the approximately spot now occupied by the Beauregard House. The two small squares are located about where the outdoor kitchen and stables once stood in relation to the Beauregard House. The only question rises around the second of the two large rectangular symbols, which is located to the southeast, close to the levee. There is no record of its origin, its purpose, or when it was torn down. One fair supposition is that it may have been the slave quarters. In his 1948 study, Dawson A. Phelps wrote that the structures on this map were probably erected by the St. Amand brothers before 1832 to increase the property's value. [23] This is hardly likely, for if improvements had been made at this time they would have been mentioned in either the conveyance or the notice of sale, but this was not the case.

Logic would seem to dictate that prior to 1832 there were probably no structures on Lot No. 2, because it was only a small part of a much bigger estate. For the St. Amand brothers to have constructed buildings of the size indicated on the Zimpel map, including the Beauregard House, simply to make the property more appealing seems unlikely in view of the fact that Alexander Baron purchased the lot for the relatively small sum of $3,700.

The property purchased by Baron in 1832 remained in the Malus family until 1856. The conveyance transferring the property from Baron's widow to her nephew, Lucien Malus, for the first time provided some indication of structures on the land. The act stated: "Together with one undivided half or morty [sic] of and to all and singular the Buildings and Improvements thereon erected...." [24] Thus, there is written evidence indicating there were buildings on Lot No. 2 after 1832. Together with the Zimpel map, this is conclusive proof that buildings existed on the lot between the years 1833 and 1848. It is logical to assume that since Baron purchased the lot for his mother-in-law it was intended for residential purposes and, therefore, a house similar in size and floor plan to the existing Beauregard House was probably constructed around 1833. This is, therefore, the approximate date of construction of the Beauregard House.

Existing architectural features of the house support this date rather than a later one. These reveal that the present design is not the original one. There is clear evidence that drastic alterations were made to the house in later years, changes that could lead the inexperienced layman to conclude that the existing house is an entirely new one. Samuel Wilson disavowed this theory, however, concluding that although the existing features of the house are not the original, the basic structure nevertheless remains. Although the style of the present structure is essentially Greek Revival, there are many features, which are in the French Colonial tradition, a style that was common in early Louisiana plantation architecture but that was fast disappearing by 1840. It was not likely that a French Colonial house would have been built in 1840 or later.

The architect of the original structure remains unidentified, a mystery that has led some writers, on the flimsiest of evidence, to speculate that it might have been James Gallier, Sr. There are several reasons why Gallier, Sr., could not have designed the Beauregard House. First, a construction date of about 1833 for the house would have excluded Gallier, who did not arrive in New Orleans until 1834. Second, neither his autobiography nor his manuscripts refer to the construction of a plantation house in St. Bernard Parish. Finally, assuming that the original house was French Colonial rather than Greek Revival, it would be difficult to link Gallier, Sr., to the former style during a period when he was strongly associated with Greek Revival. Only if the house were originally Greek Revival could we possibly conclude that Gallier was the architect. All evidence seems to point otherwise.

Other circumstances also led other people to believe that Gallier, Sr., was the architect. But again, the evidence is so speculative that such a deduction seems unjustified. Gallier's son, James Gallier, Jr., himself a prominent architect, married the granddaughter of Caroline Fabre, widow of Michel Bernard Cantrelle, who owned the Beauregard House from 1856 to 1866. Because of this relationship, some have concluded that Gallier, Sr., was the architect. Although Gallier, Jr., may have been responsible for later changes to the house, it is illogical to conclude that because he married Madam Fabre's granddaughter, his father must have designed the structure. Thus, all conclusions pointing to Gallier, Sr., as architect of the Beauregard House have little support. If Gallier, Sr., were not the architect, who then was? It may be that the designer of the original French Colonial plan was a relatively unknown architect, perhaps even a builder who knew designs well. As in so many instances in the United States in that period, builders frequently designed their own projects, possibly with the help of draftsmen who were frequently in their employ.

As earlier noted, the Beauregard House was originally built in the French Colonial style prevalent in Louisiana during the French occupation and through the first quarter of the 19th century. The meager evidence points to a construction date of about 1833, too early for it to have been built in the existing Greek Revival style. (While Greek Revival was enjoying widespread popularity as early as 1820 in the northeast, especially in New York City, it did not become popular in New Orleans until 1840.) Moreover, Samuel Wilson's studies in the 1940s and 1950s of the Beauregard House showed that the structure had undergone several remodelings over the years, drastically changing the original appearance of the house. More importantly, he found evidence in the interior fabric of the house indicating that the original structure had been in the French Colonial style.

A change as drastic as this was not unusual in Louisiana. Many plantation homes were built in the French Colonial style and were remodeled over the years to resemble the very popular Greek Revival architecture. As a result, many of these homes were neither completely French Colonial nor Greek Revival but a combination of the two. The Beauregard House was perhaps more fortunate in this respect in that its transition from one style to the next was so smoothly effected that this dichotomy is not clearly evident. Perhaps this was attributable to the high level of skill of the architect or builder who made these changes. The list of plantation homes originally built in the French Colonial style that later underwent considerable change is indeed long. Among these were the Hermitage and the Macarty plantation. Both were of an earlier period than the original Beauregard House. The architect Benjamin Latrobe described one of these houses in 1819 as "of the usual French plantation houses of the first class, and I think by far the best kind of house for the climate, namely a mansion surrounded entirely by a portico or gallery of two stories." [25]

One student of Louisiana architecture described the French Colonial style prevalent in the New Orleans area as follows:

Along the whole distance from New Orleans to Baton Rouge was a succession of most elegant villas, mostly in the French and Italian style of architecture, many of them on a scale of great magnificence. The residences were usually large, roomy and commodious, and a large space was always devoted to the duties of hospitality. A room or two for invited guests, or the strange wayfarer, was not the uncommon appendage of a planter's house.... A peculiarity of their plantation residences, and, by the way, one which proved of superior advantage over the homes of our Northern farmers, was the broad, airy and lofty galleries, that rested on massive stuccoed columns and encircled the four sides of the habitation, instead of the pretentious porches so frequently seen at the North. The rooms were, therefore, thoroughly ventilated and cool, freely admitting the summer breezes wafted from the lake and the Mississippi River, and afforded ample room to the little ones during the rainy season to romp and play. The basement, converted in summer into a spacious dining room, was oftentimes the coolest portion of the house.... [26]

Although describing some of the later Greek Revival features of the Louisiana plantation houses, another student of architecture noted similar features in the French Colonial style. Thus, in speaking of the Beauregard House, he said:

Architecturally, the house forms another important step in the evolution of Louisiana architecture from the Colonial style. The great cement-covered brick columns which supplanted the original squattish brick columns below and wooden colonettes above, and then appeared in a single colonnade, are here presented at the next stage of development—a second identical colonade was created at the rear of the home. The floor plan is that of the second stage, however: three rooms wide, and one deep, with a hall absent. All the rooms front and rear, open onto the galleries. [27]

Unfortunately, there are no detailed descriptions of the Beauregard House during the early period of ownership, that is, during the Baron-Malus or Cantrelle periods. However, Alexander Walker, writing a series of articles in 1855 on the Battle of New Orleans, noted that:

The scene of these events has experienced slighter changes in the last forty years than the arena of any similar occurences in this land of change and progress.... There is a handsome villa, quite ancient too in its aspect, standing near the road in the centre of the lines and about a hundred yards from the ditch. This, however, has been built since the war. Chalmette's buildings, which were destroyed by the Americans to give full play to their artillery, were at least two hundred yards in the rear of this edifice. All else is as it was in 1815. [28]

Walker referred to the "ancient" aspects of the Beauregard House in 1855. T.K. Wharton, a friend of Walker, speaking of the Hurst plantation, which was built in 1832, only one year before the Beauregard House, said that it was "one of those old plantation houses which are fast disappearing." [29] References to "ancient" and "old" can only mean an old style of architecture, which had to be French Colonial.

Thus, in all probability the house was originally built in the French Colonial style. Further evidence, though meager, has established some specific details of the house when it was first built. In an advertisement of sale in 1866 it was described as follows:

That Splendid Summer Retreat, situated in the Parish of St. Bernard, in this State, left bank of the Mississippi river, heretofore forming part of the Hilaire and Louis St. Amant [sic] plantation, about five miles below the City of New Orleans, designated by the No. 2 on plan drawn by Allou d'Hemecourt... together with all the buildings and improvements thereon, which consist in a beautiful two story brick building, slated roof, containing three rooms on the ground floor and three on the first story, gallery front and rear, pantry, cabinets, etc., brick kitchen, stables for six horses, carriage house, hay loft, negro quarters, etc., also a splendid orchard containing every variety of rare fruit trees and vegetables, a beautiful flower garden, containing the choicest plants to be found. [30]

This advertisement described the house as a two-story brick building with a slate roof and a gallery in front and rear. Describing the interior, it noted only that each floor contains three rooms. Despite its brevity, this description permits comparison of the structure with later or existing conditions thereby allowing come conclusions concerning the original appearance of the house in 1833. Samuel Wilson not only agreed with the 1866 description but has provided a rather complete, though conjectural, picture of what the house probably looked like during the years 1833-56. His observations on the textural fabric led him to distinguish between the structure's early style (French Colonial) and its later style (Greek Revival). He discovered that the brick which appeared under the stuccoed cement had been painted red. It was a common practice to paint the exterior of brickwork red in New Orleans to protect the soft, poorly burned, locally made brick from the weather. After 1840 references to red-painted brickwork were seldom found. Wilson believed that this is a strong argument in dating the construction of the house around 1832. [31]

Wilson explained other changes that took place over the years, revealing how the house may have looked when it was first built. For example, he discovered (and this can readily be seen by the layman) that the roof had been altered and the six dormers rebuilt or moved to a higher level on the roof, as evidenced by the fact that beneath each dormer on the supporting rafter there are triangular notches where the windowsills of the old dormers were set. As for changes in the roof, there is proof that the present curved roof was originally straight. The main evidence supporting this opinion is a series of regularly spaced nail holes along the upper surface of each rafter indicating where earlier roof sheathing had been removed. The pitch of the roof was changed when the existing heavy Greek Revival cornice was added and the lower part of the roof was raised to accommodate its additional height. Raising the roof in this manner required that the dormers be placed in a higher position along the roofline. [32]

The existing monolithic columns on both the front and rear of the house do not appear to be original. Wilson referred to a photograph taken around 1890 showing the old brick kitchen just northwest of the Beauregard House. In front of this small building appear four square columns on high bases supporting the overhanging roof. Wilson was convinced that the original columns of the Beauregard House consisted of a double row of square columns—one on the first level, made of bricks, similar to the columns on the old kitchen, but painted red like those of the Avondale plantation, and a second row on the upper level made of turned wood. This double row of columns, would have been more the style, and hence appropriate, to receive the thin cornice that the house seems to have had originally. [33]

After making a thorough study of the house and speculating upon some of the later changes that occurred, Wilson made a sketch of his conception of the original structure. The result was a house that resembled the French Colonial style rather than the existing Greek Revival architecture. [34]

The interior of the house may be generally surmised from the brief description of it given in the 1866 advertisement of sale and from an examination of the fabric itself. There were three rooms below and three above. Today there are four rooms below and three above. A staircase accounts for one room above and one below. It is apparent that this staircase did not exist in the original house. Access to the upper floor then was probably by means of the outside galleries as was usually the case in the French Colonial plantation houses. There were probably six fireplaces, one in each room, which merged into two brick flues in the attic, which in turn united into a single chimney above the rooftop. These two flues in the attic resembled an inverted Y.

As in the case of the house itself, there seems to be practically no evidence to describe the landscape of the original structure. At the time that Alexander Baron bought Lot No. 2 for his mother-in-law in 1832 it was still known as part of the "Battle Ground" where the Battle of New Orleans was fought. The notice of sale made no reference to the property's landscape other than that it was part of a plantation. If any sugar or other products were grown, it is not clear. Visitors apparently came to visit the site where the battle was fought. The Widow Malus and her heirs must have made some improvements to the land, but exactly what they were may never be known.

The Beauregard House underwent several changes over the years, but the major ones may be classified into three periods according to the house's ownership at the time: Madame Cantrelle period (1856-66); Fernandez y Lineros period (1866-80); and Rene Beauregard period (1880-1904). The restoration of the structure as an ante-bellum plantation house has stressed the Madame Cantrelle period. Since documentation and more positive evidence is lacking, this period, understandably, has overlapped into the late 1860s. Although homes such as the Beauregard House that were originally French Colonial in style took on a different appearance as Greek Revival grew in influence, they retained many of their basic characteristics. In some cases the transformation was rather sudden in others it was more gradual. The change that overtook the Beauregard House seems to have occurred swiftly.

A. Madame Cantrelle Period (1856-66)

It was probably not until the Cantrelles purchased the house that the first major alteration was undertaken, a change that gave the structure its Greek Revival character. The only two sources of evidence that exist—one in 1855 just prior to this period, the other in 1866—give some clue as to the changes that occurred during the years in between. In 1855 Alexander Walker referred to the house as "a handsome villa, quite ancient." [35] It is illogical to suppose that he would have referred to the house as "quite ancient" if it had undergone major alterations to the Greek Revival style, a mode of design quite recent in New Orleans. Instead, this was probably an appellation given to a house that was indeed old both in style and age.

In the notice of sale that appeared in 1866, the house was described as a "Splendid Summer Retreat... which consist[s] of a beautiful two-story brick building, slate-roofed, containing three rooms on the ground floor and three on the first story, gallery front and rear.... [36] While on the surface this description does not indicate that the house was significantly different from the original construction, it was probably during this period of occupancy that the house underwent radical changes in its appearance. As Wilson stated, "It would indeed have required major surgery." [37] Still, this was not an unheard of occurrence in Louisiana, and Wilson cited several examples of plantation houses that were originally built in the French Colonial style but that were later renovated in the Greek Revival style leaving few traces of the original fabric of the building. [38]

The monumentality and simplicity of the Greek Revival style gave many of these former French Colonial houses very stately appearances. The double row of columns (the upper row usually consisting of wood and the lower row consisting of squattish square columns of brick) were converted into monolithic brick columns extending the full two stories. These columns often surrounded the house on all four sides, but frequently, as at the Beauregard House, existed only on the two main sides. They often were topped with Doric or Ionic capitals supporting the overhang roof that sheltered the second-floor gallery. In the case of the Beauregard House, the old columns were most likely replaced with monolithic ones (eight in front and eight in the rear), rebuilding the cornice and dormers, and changing the roofline. [39]

The exterior of these houses frequently differed in details depending on their size and extravagance. If the columns were of brick, they were sometimes plastered over, and if the house were originally constructed of brick, the latter was plastered and sometimes scored to resemble stone. In the French Colonial style the brick would have been painted red and pencilled. In the case of the Beauregard House, this Greek Revival feature came in two separate stages, and in this sense the transformation to Greek Revival was more gradual.

The original structure, as in most houses of the early period, had a staircase on the outside at one end of the gallery. It was usually of a simple design and led directly to a handsome doorway at the front of the house on the second floor. At the Beauregard House the staircase was at the rear of the house at one end of the gallery. During the Cantrelle period the interior staircase was built, thereby reducing the size of the two rooms on the east, which in the original house matched these on the west. The original outside staircase was probably removed when the galleries were altered to receive the new columns.

The major differences found on the interior of a house between the French Colonial and the Greek Revival styles lay not so much in the arrangement of rooms as in the details of windows, doorways, fireplaces, mouldings, and cornices. In the Greek Revival style, mantels were sometimes made of marble and other times of delicately carved wood. The plaster cornices and center rosettes of the major rooms were of Greek derivation. Door and window casings were treated alike, wood paneling being used between the windowsills and the floor. In many of the more elaborate plantation houses, door mouldings and window casings were elegantly inscribed with leaves and garlands. The Greek Revival style of the Beauregard House lacked much of this elegance; instead, many of its architectural details, both on the interior and exterior, were of a simple variety.

The interior floor plan, except for the addition of the staircase, probably looked substantially as it did in former days, but perhaps added details were more in the Greek Revival style, however simple it might have been. Wilson attributed the remodeling done during the Madame Cantrelle ownership to James Gallier, Jr., because he was married to Madam Cantrelle's granddaughter and was also then at the height of his career in New Orleans—a logical person to design a house in the Greek Revival style. [40] Whether Gallier, Jr., was the architect of these later changes is difficult to say, but certainly in the absence of more adequate documentation, this theory seems plausible.

B. Fernandez y Lineros Period (1866-80)

When Jose Fernandez y Lineros, otherwise known as the Marquis de Trava, purchased the property in 1866, he called the house "Bueno Retiro." [41] Fernandez was born in Malaga, Spain. An educated man, he was undoubtedly familiar with the famous seventeenth-century palace of Buen Retiro in Madrid; hence, the probable origin of the name associated with the Beauregard House. [42]

After Fernandez bought the house he made several major changes to it. [43] The principal one at this time was the addition of a two-story brick wing at the west end, probably because he needed more room after the birth of his child, Fernando Francisco Jose Fernandez, on January 29, 1866. [44] The new wing had a flat roof and one room on each floor, each exactly the same depth as the rooms in the original house. The addition was constructed with eight-inch brick walls. It was at this time that the entire house, including the wing, received an exterior coating of stucco, scored and painted to resemble stone courses. Although the brickwork of the addition was not bonded into the original brickwork of the house, the stucco markings appear to have been laid out continuously over both areas. It is because of these construction features that the period of this remodelling can be approximated.

At the same time that the wing was added, the upper rear gallery was enclosed in glazed casement windows set above wood panels between the columns. It was also at this time that the shafts of the columns, originally only of whitewashed brick, were covered with stucco. This was proved by an examination of the way in which the gallery windows were set into the stucco. [45] The interesting, almost circular, exterior staircase in the rear gallery was probably also constructed at this time. Evidence of all these changes was found when Wilson restored the house for the National Park Service during 1957-58. [46] Some alterations to the interior of the house would have occurred at this time, but they probably involved only replacement of the wooden fireplace mantels and other less obvious details. Much of this, however, is supposition.

Samuel Wilson has reflected on the possibility that James Gallier, Jr., may also have been responsible for the remodelling done at this time because he was related to Fernandez's wife, Caroline Fabre. "If James Gallier, Jr. had made the first alterations in 1856 as previously suggested, the alterations of 1866 would have been a logical extension of his earlier work" stated Wilson. He went one step further in his rationale: "The change from the house as it probably was first built in 1832 to what it was on the completion of the alterations of 1866 was so complete that if Gallier was responsible for them, it was not surprising that he should be considered as the architect of the house." [47]

C. René Beauregard Period (1880-1904)

In 1880 Mrs. Jose Fernandez, who earlier had been awarded the property in a judgment against her husband, decided to sell it. In June it was sold to Rene Toutant Beauregard for the relatively small sum of $4,100. [48] For several years afterward no major alterations seem to have been made on the house. Extant photographs depict the house as it appeared during the Fernandez period. Later, a two-story frame wing was added onto the east end of the structure. It was probably about this time that the old brick kitchen disappeared. The new wing was out of character with the rest of the house, its designer obviously possessing little architectural skill. [49]

Other than this wing, no visible alterations were made to the exterior of the house. On the other hand, there might have been some changes made to the interior. An exhibit in the Beauregard House, which is now being used as a visitor center for the National Park Service, contains a silver coin dated 1853 and two small pieces of tile—one red, the other blue. The exhibit states that the coin, placed under the hearth tiles for good luck, helped to establish the year of construction of the fireplace. Obviously, such a conclusion is misleading, since construction of the fireplace could have taken place anytime after 1853. Wilson believed that the tile was probably used in remodelling the hearth during the Beauregard period of ownership and not in the 1850s as the exhibit suggests. [50] Thus, although there were some changes made to the interior, in the absence of further evidence it is difficult to say what they were. In all probability, as in the case of the fireplaces, the changes involved minor architectural details and not major alterations.

In 1904, as a result of the many industrial changes affecting the Chalmette area, the Beauregards sold their land to the New Orleans Terminal Company. In the following years the railroad company used the house for various purposes, and it was once occupied by tenant caretakers. During World War I it was used to quarter American troops preparing to embark for Europe. [51]

As long as the house was used as some form of habitation, it was maintained at some reasonable level of preservation. In 1934, at the time it was recorded by the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), the house was still in fairly sound structural condition, although abandoned. [52] Not long after, however, both wings collapsed and vandals destroyed the interesting arched chimney in the attic as well as many brick walls on the interior and exterior and fireplaces. Almost all the woodwork was torn out and destroyed. Fortunately, the acquisition of the house and property by the state and its transfer to the National Park Service in 1949 saved it from total destruction. [53]

During 1957-58, under the direction of Samuel Wilson, the Beauregard House was stabilized, preserved, and partially restored at a cost of approximately $100,000. [54] The house was adaptively restored to serve as a visitor center for Chalmette National Historical Park. With the exception of the stucco, the exterior was restored to its approximate appearance of 1856-66. The exterior stucco, it will be recalled, was placed on the building during the Fernandez period (1866-80). It was not considered feasible to remove the stucco and restore the original brick because when the stucco was applied, the brick was severely hacked in order to provide a bond for receiving it. [55] The interior was adaptively restored to house exhibits on the Battle of New Orleans and to facilitate other visitor services. Work involved removing the original grooved cypress floors on the first story and replacing them with one-inch-thick Georgia marble. Two of the rooms on the upper level were combined for better visitor circulation when viewing the exhibits.

D. The Landscape

When Alexander Baron purchased Lot No. 2 in 1832 there were references only to the existence of a plantation. Neither the notice of sale nor the act of conveyance said anything about what was grown on this lot. It was only in 1848 when the Widow Baron donated her interest in the property to her brother, Lucien Malus, that something was said about the existence of "buildings and improvements" on the land. It is a fair assumption to say that soon after the house was built in 1833 "improvements" in the landscape probably followed, for it is difficult not to imagine a French Colonial structure in New Orleans without an attractive landscape as well.

The first specific evidence of a formal landscape surrounding the Beauregard House appeared in the 1866 notice of sale, when the property was sold to Jose Antonio Fernandez y Lineros. The notice referred to a "splendid orchard, containing every variety of rare fruit trees and vegetables, a beautiful flower garden, containing the choicest plants to be found." [56]

Little more was apparently said about the landscape until 1880, when an advertisement of sale described the structures as being "shaded by a magnificent lawn of magnolia and oak trees." Moreover, it depicted the land as being "exceedingly rich and productive, and under cultivation for vegetables and flowers." The notice of sale elaborated even further, stating that "the orchard contains a fine assortment of fruit trees, comprising orange, mespilus, imported pears and pecan trees, besides a large variety of figs, grapes, etc., thrifty and bearing." [57] In the 1880s, changes made to the levee forced changes in the property line of the Beauregard House, which reportedly forced the owners to remove many cypress trees from the lawn. Thus, the cypress was another species found on the property. [58]

The written evidence appears to be fairly abundant to prove that the Beauregard House was blessed with an attractive formal landscape. Even lacking this evidence one could hardly imagine this home, both as a French Colonial structure and later as a Greek Revival plantation house, without an attractive landscape to match its beauty. Nevertheless, in the absence of early illustrations, it would be difficult to determine precisely in what manner the property was landscaped.

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 05-Sep-2004