If you travel from New Orleans on River Road, on the East Bank of the Mississippi River, you will come to a magnificent building at River Road and Central Avenue, a short distance from the Huey P. Long Bridge. Set behind beautiful Magnolia trees is the old White Hall Plantation Manor, gleaming brightly in its majestic splendor. This stately structure is the ancestral home of the de la Barre family. The name, which this jewel of the past still bears, was given to the home when it was built in 1857.
As was the usual routine for this period, material preparation and construction of the plantation was done on the grounds. This magnificent icon of history bears its roots in the social, economic, and political events of the pre-Civil War era. Monsieur de La Barre, the original owner, obtained the property in one of Jefferson Parish’s first land sales when he and his brother, Pierre Francois Valant de La Barre, sold land to each other on both sides of the river. Francois Pascalis de La Barre built and operated White Hall as a sugar plantation until 1891. At that time, the plantation covered 8,000 acres extending from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain.
Records indicate that life at White Hall Plantation was one of gaiety and festivity. Christmas season in particular was most festive with other plantation owners, their families, and friends invited to celebrate Christmas Eve. The ladies danced to the Minuet in G by Chopin and waltzed to the strains of the Vienna Woods by Strauss in their old fashioned gowns with the gentlemen of their choice.
War Clouds Appear
The roll of war drums and cannons forever changed plantation life when Fort Sumpter fell in 1861. Mr. de La Barre saw his years of hard work coming to an end as the federal troops made their way toward White Hall. In 1862, New Orleans fell and during the days following, many beautiful plantations and their manors were destroyed. Sugar houses and cotton gins were blown to bits by Union boats coming up the Mississippi River.
General Morgan, of the House of Morgan in New York City, chose White Hall for his headquarters because it was close to New Orleans and could be reached by a dirt road that led to the Metairie Ridge via what is known today as La Barre Road.
Before the arrival of the Union troops, the de La Barre family moved to their home in New Orleans where they would be safe. However, as the story goes, before leaving, Mr. de La Barre instructed his servants to be courteous to General Morgan and his staff billeted in White Hall. So efficient were they, that General Morgan showed his appreciation by giving orders that the penalty was death to anyone who pillaged the manor or the grounds.
In 1865, General Lee surrendered at Appomattox and the de La Barre family returned to the plantation. General Morgan kept his word, and White Hall was saved, enabling the de La Barres to continue planting sugar cane as they had before the war. The sugar house operated until 1886 when a cooperative sugar house was built in St. Charles Parish that would serve White Hall, St. George, and surrounding plantations. The land continued to be cultivated as a sugar plantation until 1891 when the last of the de La Barres sold the land consistent with the depressed land values of that date, to the Wiendahl family, and it became known as the Wiendahl Plantation. The Wiendahls split up the plantation and leased sections to truck farmers keeping 12 acres for themselves; including the old manor.
Casino Gambling in White Hall
In 1917, I.B. Renyson, a well known real estate agent, purchased the 12 acres, including the manor, from the Wiendahls as an investment. In 1919, he sold it to Morse Boasberg, known to the local elite as “Jack Sheen”, who renamed it Suburban Gardens. Converted to a gambling casino, the manor featured dancing to the music of well known orchestras and dining in a fabulous restaurant. The meals were delicious, the music superb, and if Lady Luck smiled on you, your trip home was delightful.
Magnolia School is Born
In 1935, the wife of a local pediatrician gave birth to a child with a developmental disability. Wishing to provide for his son, Dr. Charles Bloom soon realized that special training would be required. He quickly discovered that there were no schools available to meet his son’s needs, and in turn led a group of businessmen in search of finding property to build such a school.
During this year, the Manresa Retreat moved to its present location in Convent, Louisiana. Dr. Bloom heard that this property was for sale, and thus Magnolia School was born.
Forming a nonprofit corporation, without capital stock, the Board of Governors created the Magnolia School- existing only on private donations and monies received from the tuition of its students.
During the early years, the school operated with White Hall and a few frame buildings. In 1960, brick dormitories stared to sprout up on the campus: Riess Cottage and Stern Cottage. Bloom Hall, named after the founder, served as the cafeteria and auditorium. Soon after, Karen and Schwegmann Cottages were added.
Through the able leadership of the Board of Governors and the professional staff, the building program has continued to grow through the years, with the school responding to the needs of the people it serves.
Today, serving adults with developmental disabilities, Magnolia Community Services is known for its leadership, advocacy and high quality services.
Currently on campus there are five residential homes, sixteen vocational centers, an art studio and gift shop, greenhouse, and multipurpose center. There are also fourteen group homes dispersed throughout the local community. We also provide supports to those who choose to live and work in the community through our Supported Living and Supported Employment programs.
We continue to develop facilities and programs, which exceed the requirements, regulations, and laws, set forth by the government, so that we may one day achieve our vision, in which all individuals, including those with developmental disabilities, thrive and grow and are recognized for their contributions to society.