For about 30 years, people came to Nottoway Plantation south of Plaquemine just to tour the grand old home, but over the last 10 years the visitor count has steadily increased.
When the plantation was first renovated after years of neglect in the late 1980s by Arlin K. Dease, the huge and historic home was the only attraction of Nottoway.
Now a multi-purpose facility with a restaurant, about 40 rooms to rent, a ballroom/convention hall for banquets and corporate retreats, new owner Neil Castaldi says the plan is to turn Nottoway into a vacation destination.
“We’ve decided to change the business plan and go for a full-fledged resort, with 40 rooms, tennis courts, a fitness center, a lounge,” Castaldi said, hinting at other amenities Nottoway Plantation will feature.
Without consideration for the future improvements of huge antebellum home even, there has always been reason to visit Nottoway – its sheer magnificence.
The three-story, 64-room plantation home in Greek Revival and Italiante style home is stunning and dominates its location on the River Road facing the Mississippi River.
Originally built for John Randolph, his wife Emily, and what would eventually be their eight children, the home had eight bedrooms upstairs and little of the grandeur of the ground floor.
“Upstairs was for the family,” said tour guide Shelli Wilson. “It was very utilitarian because you didn’t have to impress your family.”
In the late 1850s, though, when Nottoway Plantation was completed, impressions were very important. Sugar cane, the plantation’s cash crop was sugar and the Randolphs were wealthy and wanted to show it.
Sugar prices were high and plantation owners up and down the Mississippi River were making what would be millions of dollars every year, so many plantation owners wanted their homes to reflect that wealth.
In Randolph’s case, there was always a friendly competition between him and his nearest neighbor, John Andrews, as to who could build the grandest home. Belle Grove, Andrews’ plantation home, already damaged by years of neglect, burned to the ground in 1952.
Spared the fate of fire or being so deteriorated it could not be restored, the huge, white Nottoway mansion still stands proud.
“The first floor was purely for entertainment purposes, for social events, so it is much more extravagant and opulent than the rest of the house,” she continued, then led a group of 15 or so visitors into the most distinguished feature of the home, the White Ballroom.
In the hallway leading to it and in the ballroom itself, Wilson talked about the rooms’ elaborate molding.
“The molding actually tells a bit about the family,” she said, pointing out some individual intricacies the molding. One portion is a pattern which includes a design resembling praying hands, indicating the Randolphs were a Christian family.
Another pattern in the masonry reveals the nature of the Randolphs’ marriage.
“They actually loved one another,” Wilson said. “…Theirs was not an arranged marriage,” unlike many at the time.
The White Ballroom is said to be Randolph’s favorite room and its certainly the home’s most distinctive. The tour guide called it “the signature room of Nottoway.
Starkly white from ceiling to floor, a large portion of one wall is curved. The wall was made by soaking in water the boards that would make up the curvature, removing them and curving them, then repeating the process until the boards were appropriately curved, Wilson said.
“The curvature in that wall took two years to accomplish,” she continued.
Wilson said Randolph wanted the room in white for several reasons – it would always be brighter, white would conceal the powder on the floor to make dancing easier, but the primary reason, “was he wanted white to show off his daughters’ gowns.”
One wall of the ballroom is lined with floor-to-ceiling windows that could be opened during social gatherings to enlarge the room by about a third, Wilson said.
Another of Nottoway’s more notable rooms is its dining room, originally all pink, Emily Randolph’s favorite color. Wilson said.
When the plantation home was renovated in the 1980s, the pink theme was abandoned, although a trace of it remains in the molding In the camellias, Emily’s favorite flower, sprinkled throughout the design, pink can still be seen.
Even the china the Randolph family was primarily pink, Wilson said, although through the years the pink walls are no longer and the china is now primarily blue and each plate is different, showing the stages of courtship during the mid-1860s.
(Editor’s note: This is part II of a three-part series on Nottoway Plantation.)