Treasure lost, or distant hope? The lonely, lovely house on the summit of island at Hodges Gardens

Split level house with wide open spaces and plenty of glass to see the beautiful landscape
Split level house with wide open spaces and plenty of glass to see the beautiful landscape

In West Central Louisiana, in the middle of a 225-acre man-made lake at a State Park named Hodges Gardens, there stands a remarkable, gigantic house… seeming deserted, empty and lonely.  Atop the peak of an island, the house seems to stand proudly as testament to its once glory, and yet simultaneously slouching, a bit ashamed of the shape it is now in.

This house affects me.  It has for bunches of years affected me.  I realize houses come and houses go… it’s just rather tough to see this particular house and all of its uniqueness and history being let go.  With each passing year, I imagine the cost to restore the home increases… to the point now that it would be difficult if even fiscally responsible to restore the old house.

But what a house it was!

Architectural model of Hodges house.  Note:  The pool was never built.  Photo from the Hodges Foundation.
Architectural model of Hodges house. Note: The pool was never built. Photo from the Hodges Foundation.

The house built for Hodges Gardens’ founders A. J. and Nona Trigg Hodges, was constructed in the 1950s.  It was built on an 8-acre island (called, appropriately, House Island), with its facing being in significant part rocks and sandstones from a rock quarry on top of which Hodges Gardens Lake itself was built.  Much of the remaining exterior facing of the house is glass… as there are windows and glass doors galore with brilliant views of the once remarkably landscaped island and the lake itself.

Construction on the house was completed in 1956.  Sadly, just three years later, Mr. Hodges’ beloved dear wife, Nona, passed away.  She was a woman who from what I hear, every one who had the pleasure of knowing her concluded without hesitation that it was a genuine pleasure to have known her.

After Mrs. Hodges’ death, A. J. Hodges continued to occupy the house until around 1966, after which he made temporary visits there and on occasions, family gatherings were hosted at the house.

The island is entirely bordered by a stone retaining wall.  Access to the island from the mainland was via a ferry that ran on an underwater cable and passengers then accessed the house through an underground tunnel which led from the water for a few hundred feet to the house.

The elevation of the top of House Island is close to 30 feet above the water’s edge.  The island itself was sparsely wooded, sloping, grassy land.

If this makes any sense, the house kind of blends in with the island.  It looks as if it was made for the island and the island for it.  Last time I saw the inside of the house, which was many years ago, it actually wasn’t in what I would call awful shape considering it had been abandoned and neglected for more than I’m guessing three decades.  There were some areas where water was getting in the house, but these were rather small areas which didn’t seem to leave a lot of damage.

From what I understand, after Hodges Gardens was donated to the State of Louisiana to be operated and maintained as a State Park, the state bore the expense of putting a new roof on the house to protect it from further damage.  There was talk that the State would refurbish the house and it would be turned into a visitor’s center for the park.

If only…

I suppose we can hope.  But there’s the matter of the State being broke, or at least our leaders saying we are broke.  So it isn’t looking so good for Hodges House to be restored.  At least not at this time.

The split level Hodges house is easily 10,000 square feet.  Probably a good bit more.  There is a downstairs and an upstairs.  There are a dozen or more bedrooms and bathrooms.  As I recall, these actually looked really nice considering the time they had been untended to.

The house features an enormous lobby, a central living area, a massive dining room and a porch and a porch kitchen (with many of the commercial sized stainless steel appliances still in place).  There is a projection room for movie entertainment and a media room.  Servants had their own dressing area, and storage and locker rooms.  There is a room dedicated to clothes’ storage.  There is a refrigerator room and a freezer room, with a separate closet room for controlling the appliances.  There is a gigantic game room, some 20 ft by 80 ft.  There is a mechanical room and a dry storage room, as well as a laundry far larger than any other residential laundry room I have ever seen.  There is a flower preparation section in the house.  There is an office.  An auxiliary kitchen is featured, as though the other two are not enough.  There is a breakfast room.  Some of the bathrooms featured his and hers and dressing closets… in the fifties!  There is a dumbwaiter elevator.  And a service elevator.  And the list goes on and on.  And on some more.

What a great something this house would make.

Maybe one day.

If only…

Today, Ferry Landing from the mainland to House Island (shown in the distant) is empty, but people sure love to hang out, fish and picnic in the cool shade of the cover built for the ferry and passengers.
Today, Ferry Landing from the mainland to House Island (shown in the distant) is empty, but people sure love to hang out, fish and picnic in the cool shade of the cover built for the ferry and passengers.
Hodges Residence, upstairs floor plan, Walker & Walker Architects. The central living area occupies the south wing, master suites occupy the west wing, and the dining room and porch/porch kitchen occupy the east wing. Restrooms are located near the intersection of the four wings while additional bedrooms/baths occupy the north wing. From Exploring Hodges Gardens website.  Photo credit- Hodges Foundation.
Hodges Residence, upstairs floor plan, Walker & Walker Architects. The central living area occupies the south wing, master suites occupy the west wing, and the dining room and porch/porch kitchen occupy the east wing. Restrooms are located near the intersection of the four wings while additional bedrooms/baths occupy the north wing. From Exploring Hodges Gardens website. Photo credit- Hodges Foundation.
Hodges Residence, downstairs floor plan, Walker & Walker Architects. Note four primary wings with a plan view of the tunnel bending out of the western wing. Photo Credit: Hodges Foundation.
Hodges Residence, downstairs floor plan, Walker & Walker Architects. Note four primary wings with a plan view of the tunnel bending out of the western wing. Photo Credit: Hodges Foundation.
Photo inside I took in the 90s
Photo inside I took in the 90s
Photo inside I took in the 90s
Photo inside I took in the 90s
Photo inside I took in the 90s
Photo inside I took in the 90s
Photo inside I took in the 90s
Photo inside I took in the 90s
Photo inside I took in the 90s
Photo inside I took in the 90s
Photo inside I took in the 90s
Photo inside I took in the 90s
Spriral staircase, a bit too Titanic-ish now.  Photo inside I took in the 90s
Spriral staircase, a bit too Titanic-ish now. Photo inside I took in the 90s
Tunnel from ferry to inside house.  Photo inside I took in the 90s
Tunnel from ferry to inside house. Photo inside I took in the 90s
Media room.  Photo inside I took in the 90s
Media room. Photo inside I took in the 90s

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One of the elevators.  Photo inside I took in the 90s
One of the elevators. Photo inside I took in the 90s
Tunnel from ferry.  Photo inside I took in the 90s
Tunnel from ferry. Photo inside I took in the 90s
Laundry.  Photo inside I took in the 90s
Laundry. Photo inside I took in the 90s
Photo inside I took in the 90s
Photo inside I took in the 90s
Photo inside I took in the 90s
Photo inside I took in the 90s
Hodges Gardens with House Island showing in the lake, before construction began on the house.  1950s.  Photo from Friends of Hodges Gardens website.
Hodges Gardens with House Island showing in the lake, before construction began on the house. 1950s. Photo from Friends of Hodges Gardens website.
Connecting Tunnel, House Island. Looking west, toward boat landing. This stonework-constructed gently sloping tunnel connecting the House Island boat landing with the bottom level of the Hodges residence. Photo from the Exploring Hodges Gardens website.
Connecting Tunnel, House Island. Looking west, toward boat landing. This stonework-constructed gently sloping tunnel connecting the House Island boat landing with the bottom level of the Hodges residence. Photo from the Exploring Hodges Gardens website.
Portion of exterior of Hodges house, prior to Hodges Gardens becoming a State Park
Portion of exterior of Hodges house, prior to Hodges Gardens becoming a State Park
Split level house with wide open spaces and plenty of glass to see the beautiful landscape
Split level house with wide open spaces and plenty of glass to see the beautiful landscape
The old ferry used to tote people back and forth from the "main land" to Hodges Island was still in Hodges Lake, though it had washed to a far shore, as of a few years ago.  Not sure if it is still there now.
The old ferry used to tote people back and forth from the “main land” to Hodges Island was still in Hodges Lake, though it had washed to a far shore, as of a few years ago. Not sure if it is still there now.
Ferry landing, with house in back ground
Ferry landing, with house in back ground
From the projection room, 1990s
From the projection room, 1990s
Fishing boat in front of Hodges House in 1990s.
Fishing boat in front of Hodges House in 1990s.
Tiled bathroom wall, Hodges Residence. The good overall condition and craftsmanship visible at the residence today is proof of the quality of construction of this building in the 1950s. From exploringhodgesgardens.com website
Tiled bathroom wall, Hodges Residence. The good overall condition and craftsmanship visible at the residence today is proof of the quality of construction of this building in the 1950s. From exploringhodgesgardens.com website
Central living area, Hodges residence. As noted in the floor plan above, the central living area occupies the majority of the south wing of the residence. Photo credit: Jennifer Mui.  From exploringhodgesgardens.com website
Central living area, Hodges residence. As noted in the floor plan above, the central living area occupies the majority of the south wing of the residence. Photo credit: Jennifer Mui. From exploringhodgesgardens.com website
Photo from Hodges Foundation.
Photo from Hodges Foundation.
The ferry, taken a few years ago
The ferry, taken a few years ago
Photo I took in 2010 I believe, of the ferry
Photo I took in 2010 I believe, of the ferry
2010 photo of the ferry
2010 photo of the ferry
Henry the ram, who lived on House Island for many years, until the State took over the park
Henry the ram, who lived on House Island for many years, until the State took over the park

 

 

 

 

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17 thoughts on “Treasure lost, or distant hope? The lonely, lovely house on the summit of island at Hodges Gardens”

  1. I always wanted to go inside the house. Its amazing architect ……so beautiful,its ashamed that it will probably be destroyed. Anything the state gets a hold of they ruin it

    1. the state didn’t destroy the house…time and a change in the way the world moves has done it…i worked in the gardens in the late 70″s and it was in fair shape then…empty houses don’t do well…the foundation set to oversee the gardens just wasn’t producing the money to take care of all the upkeep…also, that sandstone for the house came from Arkansas…my dad and a couple of others made many trips to pick it up for the house and several other buildings in the park…probably the kindest thing would be razing…

  2. Surely, surely the state will restore it for use of conferences or retreats, etc.! We already miss all the beautiful landscapes on the mainland, the greenhouses, the old lodge that our large family held our annual reunions for many years. Such priceless memories of days gone by.
    Thank you, writer, for sharing the pictures and the history of this very important park which has been a part of so many, many lives!
    Words fail me! What a shame!!!

  3. This would make a great bed and breakfast or lodge and would generate income. Plus it could be enjoyed by so many. They should restore the ferry or take people back and forth by pontoon boat with their luggage. Would be a unique experience for people. My family, myself, and friends used to go and horse camp and trail ride all over Hodges, beautiful place , we have so many awesome memories of those trips.

  4. The gardens and house were incredible. A couple of corrections. The house is 17,500 square feet, 5000 under ground and the rest upstairs for the family living area. The barge thought to be the ferry was actually anchored off the island. It had a refrigerator and diving board. The family would use it to swim and ski. It is now resting on shore.
    The old ferry used to transport people to and from was finally removed as people would just ride over to the island. It’s was pulled to the boat dock and its
    infrastructure sans wood is on shore there.

  5. I have been in the house several times as a boy (when it was abandoned). AJ Hodges was my great grandfather and our family had reunions on the property for years. It is said that neither the family or state had the money to restore it and put it to good use. Thanks for sharing a place that has so many good memories for me.

    1. Where was your great grandfather from originally? I always heard NYC. I was last in the house about 1969. It was well maintained. Sad to see it in such disrepair. The clock in the living room was magnificent.

  6. It should be turned into a lodge/hotel. It could have its own kitchen and restaurant to serve the guests and the visiting public. Reservations would be required. The media room could be used to show current movies for the guest who are interested. Instead of a money pit this house could become an investment!

  7. It was an awesome place. Thanks for the post. I am a former choir members and it makes me really sad to see what has happened to it!!! So many memories. The beautiful landscaping, the music, friendships, fun, good food, and Cheesy. I pray it will all be restored.

  8. This house is truly incredible! I hope someone can restore it one day! Unfortunately, given the state of the entire Hodges Gardens Park, I don’t think that the state will see this house as a priority. It’s so massive that it would be extremely expensive to restore. Honestly, I always loved Hodges Gardens, but I was never impressed with how much the gardens have clearly been allowed to deteriorate. The state treats it like its a state park, when it was designed to be a landscaped garden. Landscaped gardens require a lot of upkeep and attention. Hopefully the house is okay after all of the recent rains and flooding in the area. Maybe we’ll get lucky and the park will get a hefty donation or something like that soon, because it desperately needs some love and attention.

  9. I enjoyed this article. My family and I visited this weekend. It was very bitter sweet. The grounds are still very beautiful and parts are well kept. There are so many more parts that have been lost and forgotten, and it is so much less than I remembered as a child. I wondered about this house. If I win the lottery I would help restore the grounds and the house!

    1. I wish they would restore this house but the place in the park that needs the most love is Flag Island. They said it would take 1 million dollars to restore it. I really wish somebody would donate enough money to restore this park. 🙁

  10. It saddens me to see it going down and closing. I have visited several times and took senior, family and just pictures of the beauty this place has. I will miss it and really hope someone can help it. But I know for one that it takes lots of time, money and hard work to maintain a place this big. Working in the nursery business for over 30 years I can only image the cost of up keep. I pray that a blessing comes its way soon.

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