The Cane River National Heritage Trail contains many sites and we were sorry we didn't have more time to see much more of it. We are members of Harvest Hosts and try to stay at one of their properties when we can. Melrose Plantation came up on our route north from New Orleans to Dallas and happily, they were able to accommodate us. Earlier on the trip, we stayed at two other members, Bedner's Farm Market and the Southern Grace Lavender Farm. The overnight stay is free but you are encouraged to buy some products, or in this case, take the tour.
The tour is built around the story of 3 women in its history. The first, Marie Therese Coincoin, was born a slave in 1742 and as a young woman had 5 children with her husband until her owner "loaned" her to a Frenchman named Claude Metoyer, by whom she had another 10 children. When he left to return to France he purchased her and their oldest 5 children's freedom and gave them a large parcel of land. Over the next years, Marie and her children added more land and successfully built a series of plantations along the Cane River. She was able to purchase the freedom of her other children. Their descendants have thrived and many still live in the area. The Metoyers were free people of color for 4 generations before the Civil War! Her oldest son Louis Metoyer settled opposite his mother and built Melrose Plantation.
He and his son built the Big House, completed in 1832. The grandson inherited the Plantation in 1838 as a minor and over the next few years, his inexperience in business and the Panic of 1837 led to the property being sold to pay his debts. The Hertzog brothers bought it but had difficulty making it profitable in the wake of the Civil War and Reconstruction. In 1881 it was sold to Joseph Henry, an Irish immigrant. His son John inherited it briefly before dying and leaving it to his widow, our next amazing woman, Carmelite "Miss Cammie" Henry. She renovated and expanded the house, turning it into a writers' colony. One author was Lyle Saxon whose most famous book, Children of Strangers, was written about the Cane River history. Another, Francois Mignon (told everyone he was from France but actually was from NYC) came in the 1840s and stayed 34 years.
The third of the three women spent the most time at Melrose. This was Clementine Hunter, born in 1886, and then brought as a young girl to the Planation with her family and worked in the fields originally and later in the house. She never learned to read or write, but in her 50's started painting. She produced thousands of pieces and her work is held in museums all over the world. She received many honors and her work was exhibited all over the country. A series of her murals decorates one of the buildings on the property. She lived until 101 in a small house on the grounds and despite opportunities to travel (she was asked to come to meet President Carter at the White House but didn't want to leave home).
All three of these women accomplished much more than I could detail here. I recommend reading more about them - fascinating personalities that I had never heard of before. And the history of the Creole people in Louisiana is equally worth exploring.
|Here's a view of Melrose Plantation from the front yard. Originally the lawn went down to the |
Cane River, but now a road runs between it and the river. The Planation is owned and maintained
by the Association for Preservation of Historic Natchitoches. There is a gift shop and tours
throughout the day. We had a wonderful one and one-half hours with Jim as no one else showed
up at 3:15 PM for our tour!
|The cabin where many of the artists lived.|
|There are a number of smaller buildings around|
the property. This one, the African house has
Clementine's murals still on the second floor.
|Huge old oak trees decorate the grounds|
|This bell used to bring the field workers in |
at lunchtime and at the end of the day.
|A rooster like this appears in one of Clementine's|
popular paintings and on her anniversary, local
students made this rooster.
|The Cane River now flows in a different path|
and this is now part of a Lake created by dams.
|The cabin where Clemintine Hunter lived for most|
of her life, behind the Big House
|Here's one of Clementine's paintings|
|And another one.|