DUBBERLY — Light is returning to the Shadow Estate in Dubberly by Denton Culpepper, who recently purchased the property from the Shadow heirs.
The two-year process included dividing the estate among nine decedents- Shadow grandchildren who wanted to see the home continue to live on and be loved.
Culpepper said restoring the home has been a dream of his since his youth and will be a labor of love.
“As a teen I was a junior member of Cultural Crossroads and was involved when the Shadows and Cultural Crossroads tried to collaborate to restore the estate in the late 1990s,” he said.
However, the project was abandoned and the property returned to the family after two descendants, the Mattingleys, made it extremely difficult for things to progress.”
Culpepper said derogatory comments at that time were made against all parties involved, but that sometimes things happen for a reason.
“Despite the Mattingleys, the rest of the Shadows family desperately wanted to preserve the home,” he said. “I feel so lucky to have been able to purchase it and be able to bring it back to life and honor the history here.”
Since the failed preservation attempt between the Shadows and Cultural Crossroads, the house has since fallen into even more disrepair as vandals, thieves, and other various intruders have plundered the house.
“As the years have passed time has taken its toll on the old home place,” Culpepper said.
“However, through the Civil War, carpet-bagger reconstruction, the Great Depression, many failed restoration attempts, years of vandalism and many storms the old home stands as proud as it did 200 years ago.”
Culpepper’s research into the property has uncovered little known facts about the homestead and he hopes to honor the history of the structure with his restoration.
The home is the oldest wooden structure in North Louisiana, with the original log cabin, incorporated into the current structure, having been built circa 1816.
After stumbling upon an abandoned plot of previously worked land, which Culpepper attributed to Native Americans, Robert and Winnie Byas built a hand hewn 18×20 log cabin on the site in 1816. The Byas family lived in the one room cabin with their three children until 1850.
The next owner of the estate, Calvin Leary, left his Georgia plantation in 1849 bringing his wife, six young children and 18 slaves and began to build a plantation in January of 1850.
Leary bought the house and several hundred acres from Byas and immediately began to build his new home. Leary numbered and dismantled the old log house, built by the Byas and re-built it on a new foundation along with a new matching log north wing to form an 1850 log dogtrot house. This new house had three rooms, two downstairs and one loft room upstairs.
“This log structure is at the core of the present house with the large dining room and living room retaining these log walls,” Culpepper sais. “A very formal parlor and dining room were added onto the house and they speak to the wealth of the Leary family.”
The two rooms in the south facing wing of the home are adorned with 13′ ceilings, large blown glass windows, elegant wood mouldings, faux wood graining, and had very expensive hand-painted wallpaper.
“These rooms are still virtually unchanged today and are a reflection of rare wealth, not commonly seen at that time in rural north Louisiana,” Culpepper said.
The estate was an active plantation for more than a decade, producing everything to sustain the people and property on the estate with slave labor.
From bricks to lumber made from materials on site to building the structures, kept slaves were overseen by a skilled carpenter. Their labor also produced tons of salt pork, chickens, cotton, wheat, peaches, pecans and many other items to provide for the estate and create wealth for Leary.
“From what I’ve read Leary valued and had cherished relationships with the slaves he owned,” Culpepper said. “One relationship included a mistress from which children were born. Those children were educated and given property.
“They then had children and helped develop areas of Minden,” he continued. “Descendants from that line still live in the area today.”
The plantation was called “Sunnyside” by Leary who kept a journal recording the happenings of everyday life. Although Culpepper said he has been unable to track the entire journal down at this time, excerpts of this journal still exist.
The Leary family inhabited the house until the late 1870s when Leary sold the property and moved to Minden, dying shortly after.
In 1906 the W.R. Shadow family acquired the property and established the largest nursery in Louisiana and one of the largest in the South. Shadow was renowned for his cultivation of pecan trees, camellias and roses, fruit trees, and various evergreens. The Shadow family made very few changes to the appearance of the house during their tenure of the next 110 years, aside from closing in the dogtrot with large french doors and adding a dormer to the front and back of the house creating two large rooms upstairs.
Culpepper plans to have the restoration complete in a year’s time.
“It will be on the Christmas tour of homes next year,” he said. “I’ve been told it can’t be done in that amount of time, but that only makes me more determined to accomplish the goal.”
Projects include a new tin roof, additions, plumbing and electrical, heating and cooling, painting, restoring log walls and heart-pine flooring, refurbishing windows, new clapboard, and period landscaping.
“This is going to be my home and I’m moving forward with this project as quickly as possible because I’m ready to live here and be happy,” he said.
An addition will offer modern conveniences for a master suite and kitchen, while the rest of the home will largely remain unchanged and pay tribute to the many lives this home has seen.
Culpepper said it’s often suggested that he turn the home into a venue for weddings and tours.
While that is not something he is interested in pursuing, he did not rule out the possibility of a bed and breakfast.
“The amount of support has been great,” he said. “This will be no easy task and continued prayers and encouragement are greatly needed and much appreciated.”
Noting that most everyone means well, he hopes the public will respect the property and his home.
He said trespassing and theft has been an issue, causing him to install several cameras and even press charges.
“I know people are curious and are very excited for me and for the property, but the best way to learn more about the home and the project’s progress is to follow it online,” Culpepper said.