Books

 
Southern Splendor
Saving Architectural Treasures of the Old South

By Marc R. Matrana, Robin S. Lattimore, Michael W. Kitchens

Few things evoke thoughts and memories of the past more than a house from a bygone era, and few places are identified and symbolized more by historic dwellings than the American South. Plantation houses built with columned porticos and wide porches, stout chimneys, large rooms, and sweeping staircases survive as legacies of both a storied and troubled past. These homes are at the heart of a complex web of human relationships that have shaped the social and cultural heritage of the region for generations. Despite their commanding appearance, the region's plantation houses have proven to be fragile relics of history, vulnerable to decay, neglect, and loss. Today, only a small percentage of the South's antebellum treasures survive.

In Southern Splendor: Saving Architectural Treasures of the Old South, historians Marc R. Matrana, Robin S. Lattimore, and Michael W. Kitchens explore almost fifty houses built before the Civil War that have been authentically restored or preserved. Methodically examined are restoration efforts that preserve not only homes and other structures, but also the stories of those living in or occupying those homes. The authors discuss the challenges facing specific plantation homes and their preservation.

Featuring over 275 stunning photographs, as well as dozens of firsthand accounts and interviews with those involved in the preservation of these historic properties, Southern Splendor describes the leading role the South has played, since the nineteenth century, in the historic preservation movement in this country.

University Press of Mississippi, 2018.  404 pages,  ISBN-10: 1496811003,  ISBN-13: 978-1496811004

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Lost Plantations of the South

By Marc R. Matrana

The great majority of the South's plantation homes have been destroyed over time, and many have long been forgotten. In Lost Plantations of the South, Marc R. Matrana weaves together photographs, diaries and letters, architectural renderings, and other rare documents to tell the story of sixty of these vanquished estates and the people who once called them home.

From plantations that were destroyed by natural disaster such as Alabama's Forks of Cypress, to those that were intentionally demolished such as Seven Oaks in Louisiana and Mount Brilliant in Kentucky, Matrana resurrects these lost mansions. Including plantations throughout the South as well as border states, Matrana carefully tracks the histories of each from the earliest days of construction to the often contentious struggles to preserve these irreplaceable historic treasures. Lost Plantations of the South explores the root causes of demise and provides understanding and insight on how lessons learned in these sad losses can help prevent future preservation crises. Capturing the voices of masters and mistresses alongside those of slaves, and featuring more than one hundred elegant archival illustrations, this book explores the powerful and complex histories of these cardinal homes across the South.

University Press of Mississippi, 2009.  336 pages,  ISBN-10: 1578069424, ISBN-13: 978-1578069422

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Also available in audiobook format.

 
Lost Plantation:
The Rise and Fall of Seven Oaks

By Marc R. Matrana

 

Along the fertile banks of the Mississippi River across from New Orleans, planter Camille Zeringue transformed a mediocre colonial plantation into a thriving gem of antebellum sugar production, complete with a columned mansion known as Seven Oaks. Under the moss-strewn oaks, the privileged master nurtured his own family, but enslaved many others. Excelling at agriculture, business, an ambitious canal enterprise, and local politics, Zeringue ascended to the very pinnacle of southern society. But his empire soon came crashing down. After the ravages of the Civil War and a nasty battle with a railroad company the family eventually lost the great estate. Seven Oaks ultimately ended up in the hands of distant railroad executives whose only desire was to rid themselves of this heap of history. Lost Plantation: The Rise and Fall of Seven Oaks tells both of Zeringue's climb to the top and of his legacy's eventual ruin.

 

Preservationists and community members abhorred the railroad's indifferent attitude, and the question of the plantation mansion's fate fueled years of fiery, political battles. These hard-fought confrontations ended in 1977 when the exasperated railroad executives sent bulldozers through the decaying house. By analyzing one failed effort, Lost Plantation provides insight into the complex workings of American historical preservation efforts as a whole, while illustrating how southerners deal with their multifaceted past.

 

The rise and fall of Seven Oaks is much more than just a local tragedy-it is a glaring example of how any community can be robbed of its history. Now, as parishes around New Orleans recognize the great aesthetic and monetary value of restoring plantation homes and attracting tourism, Jefferson Parish mourns a manor lost.

University Press of Mississippi, 2006.  204 pages, ISBN-10: 1578069009, ISBN-13: 978-1578069002

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© 2018 by MARC MATRANA