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Whitney Plantation restoration continues, historic site reopens

Work continues on Whitney Plantation one year after Hurricane Ida hit, damaging several historic buildings.

ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH, La. — Recovery efforts are ongoing on the East bank and Westbank of St. John the Baptist parish. The Whitney Plantation Museum, located in Wallace on the Westbank, experienced significant damage after Hurricane Ida tore through the community.

The non-profit plantation museum shuttered its grounds as they worked to rebuild. The plantation museum interprets only the lives of the formerly enslaved who lived and worked on Whitney. This attempt to educate the public about the histories and legacies of slavery has brought thousands to Wallace.

Now, the plantation museum has re-opened and only months after Ida made landfall.

“I was happy to be open in December, I will tell you that there was so much that was up in the air we couldn't predict,” Dr. Joy Banner, Director of Communications at Whitney Plantation Museum said. “Every single structure on this site was damaged, we thought we wouldn't be open until a year later.”

While there is damage to some structures, several are still standing. Work continues one year later to fully repair the damage Ida caused. One building still not open to the public is a church towards the front of the plantation museum. The church was built my emancipated men and women in the 1870s and donated to Whitney from a benevolent society.

“We almost lost this church,” Dr. Banner said. “With the extent of history, it has with it and the amount of time that it has been in existence is a testimony of the great work that it has been able to sustain these storms.”

Two cabins that interpreted how the formerly enslaved lived on the grounds were reduced to rubble during the storm. Another that sustained significant damage was in the process of being put back on its foundation.

“This one was completely pushed off its foundation which is why it was slanting off so the preservationist created this system of chain and pulley and literally wrenched it back on to its foundation over the course of a month or two.”

Though work continues to repair the damage at some of the cabins, Dr. Banner said Whitney wanted those visiting the museum to know what caused all the damage. So, they had panels installed on the grounds, to discuss the aftermath of Hurricanes, their devastation to Whitney and the surrounding community and climate change.

“At the time we still had the debris and remnants of the cabins that we lost still on sight. We knew as visitors came, they would wonder, what happened to the cabin and why have they collapsed.”

 “As a staff we were thinking about everyone's physical safety and psychological comfort and safety of our staff, who as local people who work here have questions constantly about the hurricane. We didn't want that to be traumatic.”

While most of the debris has gone away, and the restoration efforts begin on the cabins, Dr. Banner, a Wallace native and descendant of the formerly enslaved at Whitney said every structure wiped off its slate on the Westbank is a loss to the community.

“It's just a memorial, a monument to a family, to a house, to a history that was once there at least structurally that's not there anymore.”

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