Beyond The Great House
Archaeology at Ashland-Belle Helene Plantation
From the Discovering Louisiana Archaeology Series-volume one
Jill-Karen Yakubik Earth Search, Inc.
Rosalinda Méndez Earth Search, Inc.
Made possible by:
Shell Chemical Company Geismar Plant
In cooperation with:
Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism
Division of Archaeology
In June of 1992, Shell Chemical Company acquired the remaining 102 acres of the Ashland-Belle Helene Plantation, including the plantation great house. This land is immediately adjacent to Shell Chemical's existing Geismar Plant operations in Ascension Parish, and its purchase made possible a major expansion of the location's manufacturing capacity.
As part of the process to acquire the necessary permits to construct and operate the expanded facilities, Shell Chemical worked in cooperation with the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the Louisiana State Historic Preservation Office to recover and preserve archaeological artifacts and data from the plantation grounds. Artifacts from the archaeology have been donated to the State of Louisiana, and a detailed report of the data recovery has been produced for the State by Earth Search, Inc. who conducted the archaeology for Shell.
This booklet is an attempt by Shell Chemical, working in cooperation with the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism's Division of Archaeology, to share some of the learnings from this archaeology with the citizens of Louisiana and the general public. Shell Chemical is committed to preserving the plantation great house, but this study has shown us there is much in Louisiana's heritage that is not usually seen from the galleries of the plantation homes. Our hope is that the archaeological studies conducted at Ashland-Belle Helene and this volume will help provide additional insight into the rich history and the heritage of the community where we live and work.
Shell Chemical Company
Each year archaeologists undertake research at various sites throughout Louisiana. Through scientific excavation and analysis of the artifacts and ecofacts recovered from these sites, archaeologists work to piece together various aspects of the cultural heritage of the diverse peoples who have occupied this area for more than 12,000 years. The findings from these investigations are reported at professional meetings, in journal articles, in limited distribution site reports, and in Louisiana Archaeology Week programs. Even so, in the past, information from these archaeological site excavations and data analysis projects sometimes reached only a handful of the state's citizens.
A new booklet series, Discovering Louisiana Archaeology, now provides a way for more people to learn about recent archaeological projects. Beyond the Great House: Archaeology at Ashland-Belle Helene Plantation, is the first volume in the new series of publications coordinated and distributed by the Division of Archaeology. This series gives the reader a concise look at specific aspects of Louisiana's prehistory and history. Each volume will detail the results of a single archaeological investigation.
The Ashland-Belle Helene archaeological project goes beyond early archaeological projects at sugar plantations that focused on the "great houses." Instead, it provides insight into the processing of cane in the sugarhouse and about the life of African Americans who toiled and lived on the plantation. The day-to-day life of slaves, and later wage laborers, is generally not reported in history books. Through archaeological research we can better understand what that life was about.
The Division of Archaeology commends Shell Chemical Company for making this information available to the citizens of Louisiana. The archaeological investigations were undertaken by Shell in compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. Shell Chemical Company not only met its compliance responsibilities for its plant expansion project, but also explored ways to share the fascinating history of its property with the public. This booklet is the direct result of Shell's commitment to make the results of the archaeological project available to others.
Thomas H. Eubanks, Ph.D