Newly refurbished and snatched from decay, St. Joseph Plantation is another jewel that can be added to the precious necklace of plantations encircling both banks of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Driving either bank of the River Road in Plantation Country is as sweet and Louisiana-like as sugar cane fields and café au lait. On the west bank, there are three plantation gems lying almost within shouting distance of each other: Laura, St. Joseph and Oak Alley, all open for tours. Lying between the sunny yellow charm of a recovering Laura and the age-old rose-peach stateliness of Oak Alley, St. Joseph Plantation presents itself in wedding cake white, an almost monochromatic but no less beautiful home surrounded by green fields and ancient oak trees. The oak trees that contribute to the ambience present at St. Joseph, that de rigueur vintage, primordial feeling most old plantation homes exude, are named for family members. Some of these oak trees have a girth of 23 feet and are more than 300 old. The plantation home, built circa 1830 by slave labor for the Scioneaux family who were sugar cane growers, contains 12,000 square feet filled with period antiques and deliciously wide porches that overlook 1,000 acres of land where sugar cane still grows.
After the War of Northern Aggression in the 1860s, Joseph Waguespack purchased the property in a sheriff’s sale; his descendants retain the property to this day. By the time the 20th century waned into the 21st, the plantation was sliding into decay. According to Waguespack’s great-great-great granddaughter, Joan Boudreaux, restoring the previously boarded and shuttered plantation was a work of family love. The Waguespacks joined forces with another family branch named Simon; formed a 201-family-member stockholding company; and came as far as Tennessee, Illinois and California to revitalize their family home and reveal its history to the public.
Just walking around the tree-shaded, sun-dappled grounds among quaint outbuildings is almost pleasure enough until you enter the bright, airy and expansive manor house, filled with austere charm and not a lot of fuss. Hardwood floors gleam under the pale walls; a statue of St. Joseph stands in welcome on a pedestal in a corner of the grand hall opposite a baby grand piano. The antique furnishings of this uncluttered plantation beauty are examples of understated loveliness, and antique medical instruments belonging to former residents add even more interest. For the entire month of October, the Plantation holds its Mourning Tour. The house is dressed in swaths of black draperies, and an antique coffin adorns the front parlor in the spirit of past mourning tradition. At Christmas, the house is festooned in garlands, and Christmas bonfires are lit to guide Papa Noel to Louisiana.
Boudreaux doesn’t hesitate to give credit where credit is due to tour groups.
“With the grace of God and a little help from St. Joseph, the patron saint of Joseph Waguespack, we hope to keep it prosperous for years to come,” she says. “Our family has been here for 130 years.”
St. Joseph Plantation, Louisiana Highway 18 (The Great River Road), Vacherie, (225) 265-4078, or visit www.stjosephplantation.com
The herb Saint-John’s-Wort (Hypericum perforatum) blooms on June 24 each year, the feast of St. John the Baptist, the night Marie Laveau danced on Bayou St. John in New Orleans. No doubt other voodoo devotees who danced the same way across plantation country in sugar cane fields or on levees upriver from New Orleans accompanied her nocturnal ceremonies if only in spirit. Saint-John’s-Wort was used by ancient herbalists (who believed it rid the human body of evil spirits) as a sedative and as treatment for depression, burns and wounds. Throughout Europe, it was gathered on St. John’s Eve and hung in windows and over doors to keep evil entities from spreading their dark forces within. With its bright-yellow starflower, the herb also got its name because of a second correlation with the saint who was first cousin to Jesus: Each year on Aug. 29, the day he was beheaded to appease Salome, dark-red spots that look like drops of blood appear on its leaves. (This is also the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a date that a good many people from the greater New Orleans area might associate with figuratively losing their own heads.)
It grows invasively wild in Australia and in many farm fields in Louisiana. Although some medical studies dispute the claim, a growing number of people report drinking teas or taking tablets made from Saint- John’s-Wort helps treat mild forms of depression. It has also been linked to reducing cravings for alcohol, a trait that might render it untouched on Mardi Gras Day. But if you wish to add a flavor of tranquility to your garden, Saint-John’s-Wort is best grown from seeds sown in almost any soil, including sandy and course, in full to partial sunlight with adequate watering.