ASHLAND/BELLE  HELENE  PLANTATION


Once one of the grandest plantations on the River Road, Ashland was built in 1842 by Duncan Kenner, a prodigal Anglo who was in many ways the Southern myth personified. Planter, statesman, gambler, and horse racer, among other attributions, Duncan Kenner was praised by all who knew him or of him. Unlike many of his fellow Confederates, Kenner's fortunes did not evaporate with the futile war effort. He was worth over a million dollars when he died in 1887.

Shell Chemical Company acquired Ashland in May 1992 from the Hayward family as part of a 102-acre parcel. Shell had no need for the principal house, but not wanting to be seen in the eyes of the community as an unwitting accomplice to Ashland's demise, Shell decided to purchase the house along with the land they needed for plant expansion. Shell put a new roof on Ashland and, in the fall of 1997, repainted the exterior to its original colors—lemon yellow with green shutters and white trim. These steps, along with continued exterior maintenance, guarantee the preservation of the house. There are no specific plans for the restoration of the interiors, since with no specific use in mind, a massive restoration is rather impractical.

The above view of the double parlors at Ashland shows the exposed masonry foundations beneath the main floor, which rotted out and had to be removed.

A graceful stair ascends from the rear of the center hall. The outlines of two pieces of art can be seen on the left, telltale reminders of a movie production company's patination of the walls. Seven movies and several music videos have been filmed here, among them Band of Angels (1957), The Beguiled (1971), The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974), The Long, Hot Summer (1985), and Fletch Lives (1989). Ashland's previous owners had not occupied the house on a regular basis since the 1920s, and for about twenty-five years it was completely abandoned. Post World War II efforts at restoration were not fruitful. Revenue from movie companies was about the only source of income that the grand mansion provided.


The elegant ceiling medallion in the front parlor has survived, though the chandelier that once graced it is long since gone. A bare lightbulb hangs beneath the plaster Greek Revival design of acanthus and shell motifs.