Cane River Creole National Historical Park | MAGNOLIA PLANTATION

Slave quarters at Magnolia Plantation, Cane River Creole National Historical Park

Slave quarters at Magnolia Plantation, Cane River Creole National Historical Park


5549 Highway 119
Derry, LA 71416

Magnolia Plantation is no longer accessible from Oakland Plantation via Highway 119. The road is closed when heading south from Oakland due to erosion caused by the Cane River. It actually ends within sight distance of the Magnolia Plantation grounds—close enough to walk—but there is no place to park, and you might get towed or ticketed if you leave your car at the end of the road. The state of Louisiana does not want to fix it and is determined to reroute the entire road. The National Park Service wants it opened but doesn’t own the land. It is trying to get the park boundary expanded, which will include the closed section of the road, and if so, the federal government will fix it.

If you start your visit to Cane River Creole National Historical Park at Oakland Plantation, which is recommended due to it being more developed, take Highway 494 from Oakland and turn left on Highway 1 / 493. Take this to Highway 119 and turn left again, which takes you north to Magnolia Plantation. Most GPS mapping services have corrected for the road closure.


Visitors to Magnolia Plantation are welcome to explore the grounds every day from 9 AM to 3:30 PM. A selection of the historical buildings are open to the public on Wednesdays through Sundays. All facilities are closed on federal holidays. Times can always change, so before heading to the park be sure to check out the National Park Service’s official Operating Hours and Seasons web page for Cane River Creole National Historical Park.


The portion of Magnolia Plantation that is part of the historical park is only a fraction of its original size. Currently 18 acres are part of the park, and if Congress approves the boundary expansion, only 46 more acres will be added (including the section of Hwy 119 that is currently closed). However, there are still twenty original buildings on the property, some of which are open to the public for self exploration.

Keep in mind that unlike Oakland Plantation, the Big House at Magnolia is privately owned and is not open to the public at the time of this writing. The Hertzog Family, which owns the house, has already agreed to donate it, and the last descendant has moved out. However, even when the National Park Service does acquire it—if Congress even approves the acquisition—it will still be at least another five years before the house is ready for public visitation.

Park Rangers lead guided tours of the grounds on Wednesdays through Sundays at 2:30 PM. Meet at the Magnolia Plantation Store if interested in attending. There is no need to register or reserve a spot. In truth, it’s not really worth visiting Magnolia Plantation unless you attend the tour. The buildings may not even be open until tour time due to staffing shortages. When I visited the park, there were plenty of people at Oakland. When I arrived at Magnolia for the 2:30 PM tour, I was the only person in sight.

It is best to start your visit to Cane River Creole National Historical Park at Oakland Plantation. In addition to there being more to see, this is where the park Rangers are headquartered, and brochures and other park information are readily available. At Magnolia Plantation, there aren’t any Rangers other than at tour time, but you can pick up a map of the grounds at the Plantation Store. Though the main part of the building may be closed, there is an open atrium where the brochures are stored. Restrooms are also accessible from the outside of the building.

There is a Cell Phone Tour of Magnolia Plantation. When you arrive at a building that is part of the tour, there will be a placard with a phone and tour stop number. Dial the phone number and enter the stop number to listen to a narration about the building’s history.

Cell Phone Audio Tour placard at Magnolia Plantation in Louisiana

Cell Phone Audio Tour placard at Magnolia Plantation in Louisiana

For photos and information on each building, see the following web pages here on National Park Planner:

Blacksmith Shop

Cotton Gin and Press Barn

Hospital / Overseer’s House

Plantation Store


Slave / Tenant Quarters

Cotton Picker Shed


What eventually became Magnolia Plantation started as a French land grant to Jean Baptiste LeComte in 1753. At the time, the Louisiana Territory was still part of France (this was much larger than the modern state of Louisiana—it was the land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains). The family saw the land become Spanish territory when Spain acquired it from the French at the end of the Seven Years War in 1764. Louisiana was reclaimed by France in 1800 as part of a land exchange with Spain (Louisiana Territory for land in Tuscany), and three years later it became part of the United States as a result of the Louisiana Purchase.

The original crops grown on Louisiana plantations were tobacco, corn, and indigo. At the time, short-staple (fiber) cotton, the only cotton that would grow in the inland regions of the southern United States, was not a viable crop due to the amount of labor it took to process it. Machines—cotton gins—developed in India for processing long-staple cotton had been around for centuries, but long-staple cotton only grew in the eastern coastal areas, particularly South Carolina where high quality Sea Island Cotton was popular.

In 1793, when Eli Whitney modified existing gins developed in India so that they could rapidly clean the seeds and other debris from short-staple cotton, the cotton industry in America boomed. Other inventors made improvements, and by 1799, short-staple cotton gins were readily available to farmers. By the early 1800s, the now very profitable cotton became the main crop, nearly replacing tobacco and indigo completely on Louisiana plantations.

It was Ambrose LeComte II who established Magnolia Plantation on the land his great grandfather first settled nearly a hundred years earlier. In 1824, his grandmother gave him her half of the land. She died the next year, along with his father, so perhaps she gave the land to her grandson due to her son possibly having a terminal illness (his mother had died in 1811). When his grandfather, Ambrose LeComte, died in 1834, Ambrose II inherited the rest of estate, as he was the only surviving male heir. He was 27 years old. He purchased additional land the next year, and eventually split his property into two plantations, which he named Magnolia and Shallow Lake. While the land was always being farmed, it is not known for sure when the split occurred, although records show that the two plantations existed by 1850. Magnolia Plantation consisted of roughly 2,500 acres with five miles of river frontage.

Ambrose II married Marie Julia Buard in 1827 (she died in 1845), and they had a daughter, Ursula Atala, in 1830. After Atala married Matthew Hertzog in 1852, Ambrose gave the newly weds a 40 percent share of his Magnolia Plantation, and the three operated it in partnership. After Ambrose’s death in 1883, the couple inherited the entire plantation. This ended the LeComte family line at Magnolia, and from that point on a Hertzog descendant lived on the plantation. The Big House, which Matthew and Atala built in the 1890s on the foundation of the original house that was burned down by Union troops during the Civil War, remained occupied by a Hertzog until just recently. As mentioned earlier, it is now before Congress to enlarge the park boundary to include the Big House and the surrounding property.

The LeComte Family used slave labor from the start, but with the switch to cotton production, the demand for slaves to pick the high-value crop skyrocketed. By the time the Civil War began, Ambrose II was the largest slave owner in Natchitoches with 235 slaves. He was also the area’s largest producer of cotton.

Slaves were considered property, and property was wealth. On some plantations, the slaves were worth more than the land. Thus, when the Civil War ended and the slaves were finally freed, Southern plantation owners such as LeComte lost much of their fortune. They now had to figure out a way to get people to work without paying them in cash.

The ex-slaves and poor whites, most of whom knew nothing other than farming, had no money themselves for land, seed, equipment, and draft animals, so starting their own farms was out of the question. The plantation owners, who had to borrow money from northern investors just to stay in business, had very little cash themselves. Thus the profit-sharing system of sharecropping and tenant farming gained momentum by 1870.

Sharecropping differs from tenant farming in that tenant farmers have money and supplies, just no land, whereas sharecroppers don’t have anything at all. Tenant farmers rent the land; sharecroppers supply the labor while the landowner supplies everything else to raise a crop. Housing, but not food, clothing, and other essential goods, is typically included. Once the harvest is sold, the profits are split, typically 60-40 (60 percent to the landowner) if the landowner provided all supplies and seed and 50-50 if the sharecropper paid for supplies. With either of these systems, workers, usually a family unit, had their own plot of land to farm (typically 40 acres). At Magnolia Plantation, most of the workers were sharecroppers, but there were a few tenant farmers.

Of course, the landowners hated parting with any of the money, so they came up with the idea of the plantation store. With no money and no credit with the town merchants, sharecroppers became a captive consumer base for the store. There were prices for cash purchases and prices for credit purchases, typically 20 to 50 percent higher, and the credit price was owed even if the product was paid for the next day. The landowner now sold the sharecroppers everything they needed to live—food, clothing, medicine, etc.—which was paid back from their profits, if there were any. In many cases, the sharecroppers ended up owing money and thus were stuck working another season to pay off their debt. The landowners had essentially figured out a way to keep the former slaves as slaves, and better yet, they added poor whites into the mix. By 1889, an estimated 75 percent of white sharecroppers and nearly 100 percent of black sharecroppers were in debt to their landlords.

Matthew Hertzog opened a plantation store at Magnolia in 1870. While it began with the sharecropper customers in mind, it quickly became a general store for the entire community. Those with cash paid the cash price, whereas those without money paid the credit price just like the sharecroppers. Matthew also had his office inside the store.

Atala Hertzog died in 1897 and Matthew in 1903, and Magnolia Plantation was split between their two children, Ambrose and Fanny. Ambrose inherited most of the plantation, but Fanny got the working portion of the estate—the cotton gin, overseer’s house, and tenant housing. So that Matthew could continue operating the plantation, she sold him her portion and moved to her own place with her husband. However, it was not a good time to be a cotton farmer. The boll weevil was making its way east from Texas. Infestation was first reported in Louisiana in 1904, and by the start of World War I, much of the southern cotton crop was in ruin. Prices did pick up at the start of the war in 1914, but by 1920 they collapsed again due to new synthetic materials, foreign competition, and over production.

Ambrose wasn’t around to see what became a national agricultural depression, for he died in 1921 and his eldest son, Matthew II, took over Magnolia Plantation. (Ambrose’s wife Sally, Matthew II’s mother, continued living at Magnolia until her death in 1960). Matthew II didn’t have any better luck than his father. Not only had the cotton market collapsed after the war, but also black sharecroppers were heading north for better jobs, and the boll weevil was still doing damage. Times were tough for Southern cotton plantations, and the Great Depression was still a decade away.

In the early 1930s, record cotton yields dropped prices to almost nothing, prompting the Roosevelt Administration and state governments to force farmers to destroy portions of their crops and limit the planting of new cotton crops in order to drive prices back up. To help alleviate the financial problems, Matthew II allocated some of his land for raising cattle and breeding mules.

At the end of World War II, cotton prices soared and the Hertzogs and other cotton plantation owners were once again able to make a decent living. But times were changing. The sharecropping / tenant farming system of labor was being negatively impacted by the rise of mechanized farming equipment. No longer were large labor forces needed to harvest cotton. By 1959, only a few day laborers and house servants remained living in Magnolia Plantation housing, and the very last family moved out in 1970. Matthew II died in 1973, and the plantation store that his grandfather started nearly 100 years earlier closed soon afterwards.

Matthew II’s daughter Elizabeth Jane, better known as Betty, took over Magnolia Plantation after his death from a heart attack. Many of the buildings were in dilapidated condition, and with no money for preservation, Betty donated them and the land to the non-profit organization Museum Contents in 1976. All of the existing buildings at Magnolia Plantation that are currently part of Cane River Creole National Historical Park were included in the transfer of ownership. An attempt to turn the grounds into a museum never happened, though the buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. When Cane River Creole National Historical Park was created by Congress in 1994, Museum Contents transferred the property to the National Park Service. The deal was completed in 1996. However, the Big House was not included, as Betty Hertzog still lived in it at the time. In fact, for many years she had been giving tours of the house as a way to make money. In 2021 she turned 92 and was ready to transfer the house over the the park.

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Last updated on November 30, 2022
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