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Plantation Pleasures: A national historic treasure is updated for family life

17 Jun 2013 | Author: | No Comments »

60-1The intriguing Rosella Plantation, situated near the tranquil beauty of Bayou Lafourche, has attracted visitors from each of the 50 states, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and Europe. It has exceptional detailing and a number of early features which are rarely found in even the oldest extant Louisiana plantation homes. Antebellum Rosella was acquired by a family with young children and it is no longer available for tours, but a scenic view is afforded from Hwy. 308 north of Raceland.

Formerly known as the Jean Baptiste Thibodaux House, it was completed in 1814 using cypress and bricks which were hand-hewn and home-baked on the grounds with the service of slave labor. On the eve of the Civil War, Rosella Plantation was one of the large slaveholdings in Louisiana. There were 74 slaves, nine slave dwellings, and two sugar mills.

The home has been enlarged several times, most recently by its new owners. Despite several additions, including one that was completed last year, the house retains features which make it architecturally significant. All the beams are beaded and exposed. Three sets of 12 light French doors, surmounted by unusual transoms with double rows of seven lights, open onto the main front gallery. The unusual columns each have four sets of lamb’s tongue stop-chamfering, thus permitting a separate chamfered length of column to coincide with the balustrade.


Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Rosella was purchased by Ben and Gemi Bordelon. Ben is a former LSU football player and is in the shipyard business; Gemi stays busy with their three children ages seven, five, and two. After a year of renovating and updating the home, the Bordelons moved in last October. Lewis St. Martin sold them the plantation and built a house right next door. The couple kept some of the home’s original antiques while adding their own antiques and comfortable furnishings suited to their casual lifestyle which includes cooking and entertaining outdoors.


“We didn’t have to do anything structurally to the house,” Gemi says. “We just had to make it more modern day. We also built a guest house/pool house.” An outdoor kitchen with a bar was added, in addition to an elevator and breakfast room on the second floor in the main house, and the kitchens on the first and second floor were also updated.

The three-story home of French Normandy type architecture now has its main living area on the second floor. This includes the main kitchen and the master bedroom; the children’s quarters are on the third floor.


The handsomely renovated raised Creole cottage is surrounded by Spanish moss-laden live oaks, including one that is among the largest trees in Louisiana, measuring seven and a half feet in diameter. Ten of the many oaks surrounding the property are 400 years old. “We’re only the fourth family to own the house in nearly 200 years,” Gemi states. Other trees on the grounds include pecan, ash, maple, magnolia, dogwood, and cypress.

“The big oak trees are majestic,” says Gemi. “We always had the intention of building. We wanted to build a home where we could entertain our friends and a place where our children’s friends would want to come in the future,” she says.


“But when we discovered Rosella Plantation we said that we would never move from this place because it is something that simply cannot be recreated, the character of this house and the property. The outside is truly our favorite thing about the house. The trees and the property itself are magical.”

Animals abound at Rosella. The children enjoy pets and they go fishing in a stocked pond in the front yard. “Alligators come over every now and then,” Gemi exclaims. “We have lots of animals and pets, including a horse, an emu, and two miniature donkeys. We have orphaned deer we take care of in a pasture in the back of our house.


They have been bottle fed and our kids hand-feed them,” she says. Oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, and satsumas grow in an orchard on the property. “We just go and pick the fruit off the trees and feed it to the deer in the back yard. Two bald eagles fly around the property, and there are all kinds of birds. The children love it.”

The Bordelons purchased 12 acres that stretch from the main highway to behind the plantation home. “It was originally 500 acres,” Gemi remarks. “Our property is 13 feet above sea level. It is on the highest ground around here. No storm has ever hurt this house.”


The plantation still has the original hardwood pine floors and other elements, including five concrete fireplaces. “When we took the plaster off the walls it had the original beams,” Gemi says. “You could see the wood pegs that were holding the structure up.” The dining room on the first floor was used as the master bedroom when the Bordelons purchased the home. “Our downstairs media room, which has a seven-foot screen that comes down and then goes into the ceiling behind a beam, used to be the stables,” Gemi explains. “When the screen is up it looks like a sitting room.”

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Although the first floor has a commercial kitchen and formal dining room, the Bordelon family spends most of their time on the second floor. “Our main family room is on the second floor, and our every day kitchen is on the second floor. That is where we did our major renovation,” Gemi says.

“We did a copper farm sink and a copper hood, we replaced the cook-top stove and updated the appliances, we replaced the black and white tiles with marble for the counter tops, we painted the cypress cabinets with an antique finish, and we put wood exposed beams on the ceiling to match the rest of the house. We used a lot of recycled wood during the renovation and tried to make it as close to the original house as possible.”

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A large pantry was added near the breakfast area. “You feel like you are in a tree house because of the large kitchen window,” Gemi reveals. “We added steps and French doors leading into the breakfast room so that the kids can be playing outside.”

“The pool was by itself in the adjacent lot, and it was 200 yards from the house, with no bathroom, and no place to cook or entertain friends. So we built a pool house that covered the pool, and a guest house. It is connected to the swimming pool,” Gemi explains.

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“What we love the most is being outside on the property,” Gemi says. “The kids swing on the swing, jump on the trampoline, and it is completely shaded under the oak trees. I can’t think of a better place for our kids to grow up.”

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