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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Open Floorplan: 1938

Open Floorplan: 1938

1938. Iberville Parish, Louisiana. "Belle Grove." The rear of the mansion. 8x10 inch safety negative by Frances Benjamin Johnston. View full size.

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Belle Grove's Demise

Although vandals and scavengers did their destructive worst to Belle Grove, it is generally believed that her demise came about due to her roof. Over the years after her abandonment, her roof was not maintained, which allowed rainwater to seep into her attic. The water continued downward, dissolving plaster and rotting wood. As vandals broke windows and smashed doors and shutters, more rainwater entered. Had the roof been maintained, and the windows and doors boarded up, less destruction would have occurred. At that point, Belle Grove's new owners could have put their full attention toward shoring up the foundation, which - through fraught with problems - could have been fixed.

Belle Grove

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How beautiful it must have been!

I grew up in a wonderful antebellum home (c. 1840) in Mississippi. It certainly didn't have 75 rooms (about one-third that). The large windows were to allow cooling breezes to come in off the river, as the heat could be unbearable. The high ceilings help to concentrate the hot air near the top, and the house was elevated off the bottomland to help shield the residents from the "unhealthy vapors." Thankfully, we had the luxury of window air conditioners! My old home was sold years ago, but it has been kept in fine repair and dazzles on Pilgrimage tours today. (I sure with I had that house today!) So sad Belle Grove died a tragic death. Kind of makes you wonder what went on there.


Louisiana is a harsh environment - the constant humidity isn't just present in the warm seasons, but also during the winter. Hard freezes followed by quick thaws and long scorching summers wear out even the strongest structures quickly. Building foundations also tend to shift and buckle, since there's not much - if any - bedrock under the southern half of the state.

Not the builder's fault

I read a little last night about Belle Glade Grove, and the damage seen here was mostly caused by scavengers looting for woodwork, fittings, used bricks, etc. They brought down that wall, and the weather finished the damage. The building was left vacant for years.

Sic Gloria Mundi

Decay caught mid-stride. This photo was taken about 10 [actually more like 20] years after Belle Grove had been abandoned. About ten years down the road [14 years -- 1952], what was left of the carcass caught fire and was leveled.

The house was built in three wings. The man is standing in the central hall of the main wing, the front door can be seen in yesterday's photo. The door to his left and gallery of windows are the remains of the dining room. The fallen catwalk was originally a balcony facing the sugar fields that made up the plantation. No doubt this is where the owners took guests to show off their property, real and "personal".

The wing to the right held the kitchen and domestic slaves' quarters, while the arches below gave access to the carriage houses, jail, and storage. There is no basement: the house is yards from the Mississippi River and the water table is too high.

The third wing had collapsed some years earlier and was positioned in the foreground. Had it survived, the man would be at the foot of a vast, circular staircase to his right. The treads are gone, but diagonal bands of plaster can still be seen. The wing also held guest rooms and the library. The bricks have long disappeared to scavengers.

Contrary to rumor, there was no ballroom in the attic. It's just a confabulation that borrows on the grandeur of the Knickerbocker Hotel.

The mansion went through many hands in its last years, each new owner vowing to restore it. I suspect the house could not be saved. It's well photographed, and even the first generation of post-abandonment pictures show cracks in walls that are well out of plumb: the muddy land just slipped out from under the foundations and the rest was inevitable.

So quickly to ruin

How odd that such a magnificent structure didn't even last 100 years. There are stone and brick buildings all over the world that are hundreds, even thousands, of years old and in better shape than this. I'd complain to the general contractor for sure, I think he cheaped it out with the masonry subs.

I can fix this.

All I need is duct tape, super glue, a multi tool, and two weeks, tops!

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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