If you travel from New Orleans along 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 and a lush grand lawn is the old Whitehall 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 Whitehall 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 Whitehall 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.
The roll of war drums and cannons forever changed plantation life when Fort Sumpter fell in 1861. The following year, New Orleans fell and in the days following, many plantations and their manor homes 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 Whitehall 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 Whitehall. 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 Whitehall 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 Whitehall, 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.
In 1917, I.B. Renyson, a well known real estate agent, purchased the 12 acre site as investment, including the manor. 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 Whitehall and a few frame buildings. In 1960, brick dormitories stared to sprout up on the campus: Reiss 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, Magnolia Community Services is a multi-service non-profit providing support for adults with developmental disabilities as they pursue their best life
Currently there are five residential homes on campus, twenty three vocational centers, an art studio and gift shop, greenhouse, and multipurpose center. There are also sixteen residential group homes dispersed throughout the community. Additionally, we 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.