The timeless beauty of Maison Chenal is a cherished part of Louisiana’s architectural history. Located on 70 acres on Bayou Chenal just a few miles from False River, the raised Creole plantation home in the small Pointe Coupee Parish community of Chenal is a remarkable restoration story. The private home of dedicated preservationists Dr. Jack Holden, a retired Baton Rouge pathologist, and his wife, Pat, the 18th-century Creole house has been restored to museum perfection.
“We both have always shared a special interest in Louisiana history, historical architectures and antiques,” Jack says. “When we discovered Maison Chenal in 1973, we were amazed at its beauty and structural integrity. The house was in much need of repair, and we inquired if we could purchase it and move it about 11 miles to our land.”
With the deal sealed and the move completed, the couple began restoring the house with patience and love. “I became the general contractor, architectural researcher and day-to-day on-site worker,” Pat says with pride. She was well-prepared for the task because she and Jack had attended classes taught by the late Sam Wilson, a noted New Orleans architect who was considered the authority on Louisiana architecture.
“We were living in New Orleans while Jack completed his pathology residency at Louisiana State University School of Medicine,” she says. “The classes were an excellent preparation for the task of overseeing the project of bringing the house back to life.”
Not content just to own one of the finest examples of Creole architecture in Louisiana, the couple immediately began assembling other important structures to create an interesting tout ensemble that includes a pigeonnier (home for pigeons), a garçonnière (young men’s quarters), a kitchen and laundry building, a barn, chicken coops and even a privy. “The buildings were moved to the site from several locations around Louisiana,” Pat says. “We feel that the authentic historical buildings add interest to the home and tell the story of plantation-living at the time.”
“We love having chickens running around the property and Lightning, our mule, and Zachary, our horse, grazing in the pasture,” Jack adds. “It adds to the charm of re-creating in some small way life on an authentic plantation home setting. I purchase 100 baby chicks each spring, so there are always chickens to meet you when you drive up to the house. Yes, we lose a few to the coyotes and hawks, but our chickens thrive and love the free run of the grounds – not to mention that we always have fresh eggs.”
Although complete documentation of the early history of the house does not exist, evidence does point to the house dating to the 1790s. It is known that Julien Poydras, a planter, merchant, jurist, philanthropist and framer of Louisiana’s first constitution, purchased the property in 1808 and that his nephew, Benjamin Poydras, also a well-known native of Louisiana, resided on the property for a number of years. (Julien Poydras also owned a home and extensive other real estate holdings in New Orleans, and Poydras Street, a major thoroughfare in the Central Business District of the city, was named for him.)
The Holdens found all aspects of the project of restoring Maison Chenal exhilarating. “We enjoyed each discovery we made about the house,” Jack says. “There were many signature indications that helped us authenticate the approximate actual period of the construction, including the type of nails and the type of bousillage (mud and moss) used.”
The home is furnished in some of the finest documented Louisiana antiques; in fact, part of the furnishings appear in the massive 552-page Furnishing Louisiana: Creole and Acadian Furniture, 1735-1835, which lists Jack as an author. Published by The Historic New Orleans Collection, the book is considered the reference bible on the subject. “It was a huge project that could only have come about with the help of many people and the board and staff of The Historic New Orleans Collection,” he gratefully acknowledges.
Creole Houses: Traditional Homes of Old Louisiana, written by John H. Lawrence, director of museum programs at The Historic New Orleans Collection, with photographs by Steve Gross and Sue Daley, features Maison Chenal and the Holdens’ apartment in the historic Pontalba Apartments, overlooking Jackson Square in the French Quarter.
Today the couple enjoys living in both homes. “It is a pleasure to live in places with such a sense of history, ” Jack says.
Pat agrees and adds, “I feel a part of Maison Chenal because of what it is today, and I often say my heart is at Maison Chenal, but my soul is in New Orleans, where I was born.”