While having their personal issues, the spirits express the gift of hospitality.
Destrehan Manor has the distinction of being the oldest antebellum home found along the Mississippi River. It was built in 1790 for a free mulatto, Charles de Logny and his bride, Robin. Destrehan Manor’s two story core structure has the basic architectural idea known as the raised cottage West Indies-Creole building plan, originally brought to the new world by the Spanish, and adopted by the early planters for their homes, as it has features which fit in well with life along the Gulf Coast and Mississippi.
The first floor is raised above ground to protect against moisture and floods. The top floor features a “wide hipped roof and large, shady galleries to protect against the heat and dormers to ventilate the attic” to prevent problems from the humidity.
Destrehan Manor was built with hand-hewn cypress timbers. The insulation in the walls was called bousillage, made up of a blend of horsehair and Spanish moss.
Like homeowners everywhere, the descendants who bought the Destrehan Manor changed the place over the years to accommodate family needs and changes in style. In 1810, Charles de Logny’s daughter, Celeste and her husband, Jean Noel d’Estrehand built two wings, known in cultured circles as garconnieres, as additions off the main structure to provide separate living space for their growing family, which ended up being 14 children. When the boys of the family reached their teen years, they were moved to these additions along with their personal servants.
In 1840, in the middle of the antebellum period (1830-1862), family descendants, Charles’ granddaughter, Louise and her husband Judge Pierre remodeled their plantation home to reflect the popular Greek Revival period.
They modernized and refined Destrehan Manor’s appearance by covering up the original columns with brick Doric columns, adding curving staircases to the other floors, constructed a curving rear walls and plastered the then exposed ceiling beams, and changing and adding the capitals and moldings, mantels and door surrounds.
As long as the oil companies ran their refinery on the land, the Destrehan Manor was protected. When the refinery built there was shut down in 1958, the Destrehan Manor became open to scavengers who were either there looking for Lafitte the pirate’s treasure or taking anything of value from the inside of the home itself. However, No one could figure out how to remove the solid marble bathtub!
Despite a few hiccups, Destrehan Manor was the beloved family home of Charles and Robin deLogny’s descendants, up until 1940. Except for the 12 years it stood abandoned (1958-1970), the Destrehan Manor in one way or another has always been a working property, being put to good use from its very beginning.
From 1790-1860, Indigo was the crop raised on his plantation, which later was switched to sugar cane, because this crop thrived in the hot, wet muggy weather. Being a working plantation, slaves were an important part of the work force. Stephen Henderson, who married the youthful Eleanor Destrehan, 30 years his junior, only lived in this place for a few years, tried to change this reality. In his will, he freed all the slaves and left his money for a factory to be built on the estate which would manufacture shoes and clothes for black people. This of course went over like a lead balloon with the surviving family. Other family members contested the will, and it was thrown out in 1838, allowing the sale of the plantation to Charles’ granddaughter, Louise and her husband Judge Pierre.
During the Civil War, the Union army took over the Destrehan Manor making it a place for freed slaves to learn a trade. After reconstruction, the family gained control of the Destrehan Manor again until 1940 when they sold it to an oil company.
By this time, oil was the source of income for the town of Destrehan, so it made sense to build a refinery on part of Destrehan Manor’s acres. This provided jobs to the community as a whole, and brought oil money to their economy.
The dark period for the Destrehan Manor was from 1958-1970, as it was possible to easily break in and help oneself to whatever wasn’t tied down. It seems that little effective security existed at this time. Luckily, The River Road Historical Society formed and rescued Destrehan Manor, now a woe-be-gone shell of its former self, starting with getting the manor declared National Historical site.
After negotiating with this society, the oil company deeded to the River Road Historical Society 4 acres of the original estate and the Destrehan Manor. The Destrehan Manor once again had proper security, allowing the years of renovations needed to begin immediately. By 1973, the mansion, though needing a lot of renovation work was in good enough shape to offer the public tours, which helped to raise money for this huge task.
Over the years, The River Road Historical Society has so to speak put the Destrehan Manor back to work again. To pay for the restoration, this society has raised money through tours, demonstrations and their annual festival.
Visitors can take a tour of the Destrehan Manor with tour guides dressed in period costume, who lead them through the various rooms filled with antiques and reproductions so lovingly put on display. One room remains unfinished to remind us all that old buildings need restoration funds.
Destrehan Manor was chosen to be one of the filming locations for the film, INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE. It does look pretty spooky at twilight, just before the sun goes down.
Destrehan Manor offers their visitors a trip back into history with demonstrations of period crafts and the old ways of living. Visitors get to see on some days demonstrations of “indigo dying, candle making or open-hearth cooking.”
Destrehan Manor has it annual fundraiser, called the Annual Cajun festival, held every fall. The festival has more than 175 artists and crafters from all over the United States. There is a Cajun and Creole food tent with more than 20 chefs preparing a wide variety of food. Also, the 1830s Mule barn will have more than 12 antique and collectible dealers, offering treasures for sale. Of course, there is also historical reenactments and a fine flow of musical entertainment to add to the fun!
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS
Stephen Henderson married 16 year old Marie Eleonore “Zelia” Destrehan, who was 30 years younger. They lived happily together at Destrehan Manor until Marie Eleonore died at the tender age of 19. Stephen never quite recovered and died a few years later.
Pirate John Lafitte made his huge fortune by robbing Spanish ships loaded down with treasure in the Gulf of Mexico. Lafitte lived in New Orleans but also did business with the plantation owners. He was a personal friend of Stephen Henderson and liked to visit Destrehan Manor.
Other entities who used to live here may also be around, making an occasional appearance. An entity identified as Lucy, who was a former mistress of Destrehan Manor, was guilt ridden because of her cruel treatment of her house slaves. She used to slap them around.
The hauntings began in the 1980s, when the River Road Historical Society began to make great progress in renovating and restoring this plantation, giving it some of the TLC it badly needed. The entities, while having their personal issues, are pleasant, complete with gentle southern manners of hosts, willing to share their home with the living, probably thrilled that someone fixed the place up finally!
Entity of Stephen Henderson & Marie Eleonore “Zelia” Destrehan Henderson
Apparitions of both Stephen and Marie Eleonore have been identified by staff and visitors.
A white, misty form has been seen sitting in its favorite chair, crossing the driveway and peering out a second floor window.
The apparition of John Lafitte
Has also been seen by some.
Disembodied voices have been heard by staff and visitors.
Staff have had odd experiences with the resident entities.
Tourists taking pictures are surprised to see apparitions, orbs and mists in their photos that weren’t there when the original photograph was taken. The staff has put such photos on display for all to see when amazed tourists send these pictures to them.
A rocking horse in one of the upstairs rooms, would rock back and forth vigorously by itself, freaking out the workers restoring the rooms. The rocking horse was finally removed from the room. An apparition of a woman has been seen standing on the back staircase.
It was around 7:15 pm when we finally found Destrehan Manor, and of course it was closed. It was still light enough to get some photos for our website.
Tom and I stood in the front of the mansion, getting our pictures from the roadside. Suddenly, one of the curtains hanging in a first floor window moved in a quick, jerky fashion, like someone had been watching us from within the manor itself, and left suddenly. Yikes!
There have been plenty of eye witnesses and pictures of the entities themselves who are enjoying their newly renovated home.
13034 River Road
Destrehan, Louisiana 70047
The Destrehan Manor Museum can be found in the lower Mississippi River Valley, about thirteen miles north of New Orleans, and eight miles from The New Orleans Airport.
Directions: Take Interstate 10 West to Exit 220 (I-310 South), stay on I-310 for about 6 miles. Exit onto River Road, and turn left at the light. (Warning: There are no signs to advertise this museum or even street signs, thanks to Katrina?). (Side bar: The few signs we did see in LA, they expect you to pay attention, because no time is allowed to see it, making it hard to even make the turn.) If you are unfamiliar with this area, this makes it difficult to even find, unless you are armed with a really good map and great verbal instructions from a museum staff member. Be sure to call the museum for directions.
- “Plantation Mansions on the Mississippi” on nytimes.com
- Destrehan Manor page on unsolvedmysteries.com
- Haunted Places: The National Directory
by Dennis William Hauck
The Penguin Group
- Destrehan Manor article on St. Charles Herald Guide
- Destrehan Manor House page on prairieghosts.com
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr