NATCHITOCHES, Louisiana – The recently-renovated Yucca House will be one of the featured structures during the 40th Annual Melrose Plantation Arts and Crafts Festival scheduled for May 3-4. Constructed in 1833, the Yucca House was the first “big house” built on the property that now comprises Melrose.
Yucca House features the construction methods of that era as well as period furniture. While most of the structure is painted, one wall has been left bare so visitors can see how bousillage was used to build walls and fill the spaces between wooden beams during construction. Bousillage was a major factor in construction at that time, and preparation of the material was an art unto itself. Builders combined moss, mud, animal hair, and various strengthening ingredients that could be found locally.
Moss for the Yucca House was Spanish moss pulled from trees in the area. The mud came from the banks of Cane River, and the animal hair was scraped from the hides of domestic and wild animals when they were slaughtered. Once the moss was aged, the ingredients were mixed together in a small pit dug into the ground. Water was added, and the builders, including family members, walked on the mixture, until it gained the consistency of wet cement. The bousillage was then stuffed by hand between the wooden beams of the structure.
On the back porch area of the house is a fan common to that time period. It is a piece of wood suspended from the ceiling of the porch and connected to a rope by a pulley system. When the residents sat outside, the rope was pulled to move the fan and create a breeze. It was a very early version of today’s ceiling fan.
During the early 20th century, a period often referred to as the “Southern Renaissance,” Melrose became a retreat for artists and writers. During that time, Lyle Saxon lived in the Yucca House at Melrose and wrote his best-known novel, “Children of Strangers,” which was based upon the culture of Melrose and the Cane River area. Other prominent figures who lived at Melrose in those years, either in the Yucca House or the newer “big house” on the plantation, included William Faulkner, Rachel Field, Ada Jack Carver, Roark Bradford, and Albert Kinsey.
In the early 1940’s, Francois Mignon arrived at Melrose for a six-week visit. He stayed 32 years and lived in the Yucca House. While there, he wrote his “Plantation Memo” and thousands of pages of journal entries chronicling daily life at Melrose Plantation.
The furniture in the Yucca House is not original to the building. The area which eventually came to be known as Melrose Plantation was sold in 1970, and all the furniture was sold at auction at that time. However, many pieces of the original furniture have since been donated to the APHN and were placed in the Yucca House.
There are seven other historic structures on the Melrose Plantation grounds, including the “big house,” African House, Clementine Hunter’s house, The Bindery, the Writer’s Cabin, the Weaving House, the Barn, the Ice House, and the Ghana House. Visitors to the Melrose Arts and Crafts Festival will be able to tour several of the structures, view all of the buildings, and investigate the offerings of the more than 100 vendors who will be present for the festival.