Creppel said it has taken years to build his business, which includes the 1834 Woodland Plantation home on roughly 50 acres, an old church he uses for special events and a restaurant that serves Louisiana cuisine.
Susanne Romig, marketing director for Nottoway Plantation, said a big obstacle to the plantation tour business has been Mother Nature. But high gas prices and the bad economy have hurt, too, she said.
Hurricane Gustav in 2008 ripped off a section of Nottoway's roof and collapsed several chimneys. While closed for repairs, the owners expanded the property by adding a carriage house, ballroom and nine Acadian-style cottages modeled after the property's original slave quarters.
"Hospitality anywhere in the world is tough, but here in Louisiana there are so many factors," Romig said. "Weather is one of the biggest things that can affect business."
For months after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, local tourism was all but dead.
Norman Marmillion, owner of Laura Plantation, which offers tours in French and English, said 95 percent of his business comes from New Orleans. After Katrina — with New Orleans abandoned for a time— he had no business and was forced to let most employees go.
Marmillion said business is back to about 85 percent of pre-Katrina levels. He's looking forward to the return of steamboat cruises along the Mississippi River in April after a four-year hiatus. "That's been the missing link in our business," Marmillion said. Two riverboats are expected to resume service in April, and two more in 2013, Marmillion said.
Mary Plantation may lend itself nicely to tours, Creppel said. The home, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, is one of the oldest surviving structures in Plaquemines Parish. It has a formal dining room and bath downstairs and three bedrooms with two bathrooms upstairs. Some of its hardware dates from the 18th century.
A stable has been converted into an air-conditioned guest house and captures the character of the main house with red brick floors, cypress wall paneling and a fan-shaped stained glass window above French doors.
Behind the house is a building likely used as a dairy and livestock shed. It resembles a raised log cabin and reflects early Louisiana construction methods.
The plantation's contents, including some of the earliest-known fine Louisiana furnishings, will be sold immediately after the March 10 property auction. Included is furniture from the collection of McBurney, who purchased the home in 2003. The McBurneys have holdings across the nation and are selling Mary Plantation to devote more attention to interests in Europe, Alford said.
The original home was expanded in 1827. But it fell into neglect over the years until the 1940s when biologist Elmer "Eric" Knobloch and his wife, Marguerite, bought it and added modern amenities and rare tropical greenery to the gardens.
For decades, the Knoblochs hosted tours, picnics and parties at Mary, and it became a magnet for preservationists and naturalists. The house suffered only minor damage during Katrina in 2005 and was quickly repaired.
Alford thinks the plantation's charm will draw interest, whether as a primary residence or tourism venue.
"An auction is the way to go with a property like this," Alford said. "It's unique. It's one moment, and you have to act in that moment or you lose it."
Neal Auction: http://www.nealauction.com/indexnet.html
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