1838 home moved from across the Mississippi River featured in Audubon Pilgrimage

Sunnyside, the home of David and Marla Floyd, is a potpourri of stories from its acquisition by the couple to its move across the Mississippi River from Pointe Coupee to West Feliciana.

And, within the home, are collections and treasures, each with a story of its own.

Those attending the Audubon Pilgrimage March 21-23 will get to see restored Sunnyside and hear some of the stories that make it unique.

The home, built in 1838, is what David Floyd calls a traditional bluffland-style house found throughout the Florida Parishes.

“It was typically the home of the small planter or a member of the middle class like a merchant or doctor,” he said. “It traditionally had a center hall and two symmetrical rooms on each side.”

Floyd, who is director of the LSU Rural Life Museum, happened upon the house in 1997 on a trip through Lettsworth in Pointe Coupee Parish. It was sitting vacant in a forest of weeds.

The house was in bad condition, but it was almost completely intact. It had its original double doors, millwork, windows, columns, floors, stairway and even its original locks.

“To have these things in an old house was unbelievable,” David Floyd recalled.

The home was built by Charles Tessier Jr., son and namesake of Judge Charles Tessier, who is said to have entertained the Marquis de Lafayette in Baton Rouge in 1825. He built the house for his bride, Laura Thomas, who died in 1852.

Tessier, by then a prosperous planter, married Virginia Gaulden and built her a fine home on the Atchafalaya River, but also kept his Lettsworth house.

“Family members lived in it from time to time,” David Floyd said, “but when he made improvements, he made them on the newer house. That’s why this house was so well preserved. It was a time capsule.”

Lelia Branch Foster, whose father bought the property in 1936, agreed to sell the house to the Floyds, but not the property.

The Floyds then purchased a 27-acre tract on the Tunica Trace Road and set about moving the old house from Pointe Coupee to West Feliciana Parish.

With the help of three LSU students — Brian Bateman, Jeffrey Neck and Brent Bradley — David Floyd disassembled and numbered everything in the house. They worked on weekends and after work taking the house down to its original frame.

“It was like one giant jigsaw puzzle,” Floyd said.

Don Robert, of Gonzales, did the actual move by cutting the house in two parts and loading it onto trucks. He drove it across the old Mississippi River bridge on two consecutive days and deposited it on the property.

The house arrived in December 1997 just in time for the rainiest January on record. The rains continued until March 1, when the work finally began.

The late W.J. Brown, who oversaw many historic restorations in his long career, was in charge of the crew that reassembled and restored Sunnyside. They removed a 1920s addition and added a back porch, a modern kitchen and bathrooms.

The Floyds used paint scrapings from some of the original plaster to determine the original paint colors, which they matched for the downstairs rooms. They converted the large “dormitory” upstairs into rooms for their two children, Amanda and Hunter.

In recent years, David Floyd added a large vegetable garden backed by a pigeonnier and, in the front of the home, a typical French parterre garden. The gardens are new, but they reflect the tradition of the home’s plantation setting and serve as a backdrop for Floyd’s collection of antique garden implements.

Over the years, the Floyds have filled the home with Louisiana art, antiques and collections, including family pieces, gifts and interesting things they have purchased.

The Floyd children grew up in their museum of a home and have great appreciation for the things their parents have collected. “We use everything in the house,” David Floyd said, “That’s how we raised our children.”