Daniel Turnbull, one of the richest men in the nation before the Civil War, married Martha Barrows, ten years his junior, from the Greenwood Plantation.They spent a year in Europe and came back to Louisiana filled with ideas for their new home.
Daniel Turnbull built Rosedown for his wife Martha Barrows Turnbull in 1834. it was finished in 1835. It is now a National Historic Landmark. It had approximately 450 slaves of which 200 stayed after the Civil War, more commonly known in the south as The War Between the States. At Rosedown the slaves picked, planted, and cultivated the cotton. They also did the housework, cooked, and cleaned. Rosedown also had carpenters, nurses, blacksmiths, and many other things. The Turnbulls treated their slaves very well. There was never a harsh overseer at Rosedown.
Rosedown is a blending of Louisiana and Georgian classic styles. It is two stories high. Unlike many other plantations, it was not built on a Spanish Land Grant but on a group of seven purchases made by Daniel Turnbull from 1820-1840. The house itself is made of cypress and cedar. It is a federal style house. It has a variety of statues and fountains on the grounds.
Martha Turnbull made the oak alley that leads up to the house herself by having slaves walk in front of her digging trenches while she walked behind, her apron filled with acorns, dropping the acorns in the trenches. The whole house cost about $13,109.20 to build. Nothing else in the United States quite compares to Rosedown's gardens. Martha Turnbull was an amateur horticulturist. There are 30 acres of gardens leading up to the Big House.
On August 8th, 1829, the Turnbulls had their first son. William Daniel Turnbull. Sarah was born two years later. She later became the national belle in 1849. Sarah had many suitors. The story is, she had a collection of rings from different suitors. She checked who the suitor was and decided if he was a maybe or no. If she wore his ring, half the battle for her heart was won. But if you did not recognize the ring you were out of luck.
On August 2nd, 1836, the Turnbulls had another son, James Daniel Turnbull. He died seven years later of yellow fever. After that Daniel Turnbull moved a doctor on to Rosedown's grounds. The doctor had responsibility over roughly 500 human beings. He had his own doctors office on the grounds which may have doubled as a school house.
William died crossing Old River. Upon his death Sarah became the heir to Rosedown. Before William died, he married Caroline S. Butler, who was the great great grandchild of Martha Washington. Sarah married James Bowman of the Oakley Plantation. Daniel Turnbull died in 1861, one year before the Civil War. His death marked the steady downfall of Rosedown. Martha died in 1869 leaving Rosedown to Sarah Bowman. Sarah died eighteen years later leaving Rosedown to her four unmarried daughters: Corrie, Isabel, Sarah, and Nina. James Bowman died in 1927. The daughters gradually began to lose money. They did everything they could do to keep Rosedown alive. They used self-labor. They even opened the house to the public for a fee. By the time the last one died in 1955, all mortgages and debts where paid. They left Rosedown to their nieces and nephews who put it up on the market. For the first time, Rosedown went out of the family.
Catherine Fondren Underwood came to Louisiana in 1956 and fell in love with Rosedown. She bought it and began an extensive eight year restoration. Mrs. Underwood had a motto and she was clear: "If there is a better way to do it, do it that way. If you can't find what you need, have it made."
Later, a man by the name of Gene R. Slivka bought Rosedown when Catherine Underwood died and put the house on the market. He did about as much damage as the Civil War and the Depression put together. He practically closed the house to the public. He put plexi glass over the door frames and installed a sound system. If you came to Rosedown, you would walk up to the door, peek in, and press a button to hear a brief audio about Rosedown. This scared away most of the tourists. Later he decided to have an auction and sell most of Rosedown's small valuables. Then he decided to move to Georgia in 2000 and whatever he did not sell at the auction he took with him to Georgia. This put Rosedown on the market again. The community of St. Francisville realized how important Rosedown was to Louisiana's history and petitioned to have the state of Louisiana buy Rosedown. Louisiana bought Rosedown in 2000 and opened it to the public.
Today, Rosedown is open to the public. You can walk right up the oak alley and tour the gardens and house. Rosedown is on the National Historic Register along with Monticello and Mount Vernon. About 85% of the original artifacts are on display in the house. Most are on loan from private collectors. Every Thursday, they have cooking demonstrations in the kitchen where they cook things that the Turnbulls might have had to eat. The tours are held every hour from 10:00 a.m. till 4:00 p.m., seven days a week except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. The state still owns 371 acres of Rosedown's original acreage. Rosedown is more than a house. It is a house with a history.