WFP Historical Society

Contributed from the 1973 Audubon Pilgrimage Booklet
by the WFP Historical Society

More than a century and a half (now 175 years) has passed since the first William J. Fort carved Catalpa out of the Feliciana wilderness. When he finished, two gateways, three hundred yards apart, opened onto an elliptical avenue leading to the house. To the north of the house was a small lake, home for wild ducks and white swans, and beyond this was a deer park. On the south were creekbeds bordered with roses, winding walkways, a wisteria-covered cistern house, and immense greenhouses tall enough for tropical fruit trees and exotic flowering shrubs. Behind the house extended the plantation, acres of cultivated land for cotton, corn and sugar cane, and sugar houses for grinding the cane to make sugar.

There remain two entrances to Catalpa; the live oaks still line the only elliptical avenue in Louisiana, and among them azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas, and every spring-blooming ornamental native to this area abound. The gateways, the greenhouses, the sugar houses with their huge kettles, even the elaborate fences, were all destroyed during the Civil War by pillaging soldiers and straying stock. This destruction and the death of the master were followed by still another calamity. In 1885, the house burned to the ground. The carefree days of ice cream parties and home-grown bananas, fish frys and the calls of pet peacocks seemed endlessly remote. Sally Fort, however, was one of those remarkably stalwart Southern women. She drew her family to her, built them a simple home on the site of the old grand one, kept her acres more or less intact, and though blind in her later years, never lost her love of flowers and natural beauty.

Catalpatoday is her gracious Victorian cottage, mellowed now in its setting. Its entrance walk is the same hand-made brick one laid by the slaves; the same English cast iron dogs guard the steps. The sugar kettles are now used as planters, augmenting the graceful urns from the original garden. Exquisitely maintained, present-day Catalpa is modest only by comparison.

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