Top 15 Books About Plantation Homes

All About Beautiful Southern Mansions and Antebellum Architecture

4 Tuscan Columns rise to pediment over two front porches on a brick, 2-story building with black shutters
Rosalie Mansion, Natchez, Mississippi. Tim Graham/Getty Images News Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

The history of the American South may be a dark past, yet its architecture was often magnificent. With Greek-like pillars, balconies, formal ballrooms, covered porches, and imposing staircases, America's plantation houses reflect the power of wealthy landowners prior to the Civil War. Here are a few of the most popular classics and favorite photo books of plantation hones, southern mansions, and the architecture and life within an antebellum home.

Rizzoli has done it again. With text by Laurie Ossman and photos by Steven Brooke, this book has received rave reviews since its publication. The authors cover homes you would expect, but they are presented with an emphasis on architectural styles. The reader receives a history lesson on some of the finest architecture open for viewing. Publisher: Rizzoli, 2010

In this 216-page informative paperback by Sylvia Higginbotham you'll find over one hundred historic homes, gardens, and living villages or historic districts located throughout Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Publisher: John F Blair, 2000

The architecture of Irish-born Henry Howard (1818–1884) continues to amaze travelers throughout the south, especially in the Garden District of New Orleans. Architectural photographer Robert S. Brantley has captured Howard's most famous architecture with commentary from Howard's great-great-great-grandson, Victor McGee. They remind us that buildings such as Nottoway Plantation were designed by local architects like Henry Howard, and that some of their works like Madewood Plantation are now the country inns of the hospitality industry. Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press, 2015

Author Michael W. Kitchens is a practicing attorney in Athens, Georgia according to his LinkedIn Profile. His avocation for two decades, however, was gathering material for this book, documenting over 90 mansions from Georgia's history. Wills and family documents sometimes fall into the right hands, apparently. Publisher: Donning Company, 2012

Photographers Steve Gross and Sue Daley help us understand the Afro-European-Caribbean architecture of the Creole culture. Museum director and Gulf Coast researcher John H. Lawrence provides intelligent commentary to the beautiful images of Creole architecture. Publisher: Abrams, 2007

Writers, photographers, and NOLA-natives, Jan Arrigo and Laura McElroy help us explore the "town" (including the French Quarter and Garden District) and the "country" (including Destrehan Plantation, Woodland Plantation, and the Creole plantation called Laura) of their hometown. Publisher: Voyageur Press, 2008

In this small-sized paperback, North Carolina journalist Robin Spencer Lattimore has written a 64-page introduction to an important era in American history. Publisher: Shire Publications, 2012

All the states of the Deep South are represented in this classic hardcover from Caroline Seebohm and Peter Woloszynski. Learn the stories of houses and their owners. Included: an Italianate villa in Columbus, Georgia; the charming Catalpa in St. Francisville, Louisiana; and the historic Sherwood Forest in Charles City, Virginia. Mixed reviews. Publisher: Clarkson Potter, 2002

For a crash course in plantation history, go to Louisiana and work through this short guide by local author Anne Butler. It's not a picture book and it's not an academic book, but it will get you to some of the most important places in American history. Publisher: Pelican Publishing, 2009

This classic is not a coffee-table book of beautiful photos. Instead, this softback by illustrator and author J. Frazer Smith (1887-1957) features over 100 detailed drawings and 36 floor plans of the architecture found in the Old South. Depicted are residences such as Andrew Jackson's Nashville homestead, the Greek Revival Rosedown estate in Louisiana, and the Forks of Cypress. Originally published in 1941 as White Pillars, the text and photos trace the evolution of southern housing from one-room cabins to large estates. Beware of the writing, however. Many readers have taken exception to the author's racist remarks. The publisher of this unabridged Dover edition reprint acknowledges this disapproval in a front note that says, "Although this book richly deserved to be reprinted for its architectural value, the present publisher deplores its occasional indulgence in racist reflections, whether these were conscious or otherwise." Publisher: Dover Architecture Series, 1993

Here's another historic look at antebellum architecture in the United States from the 17th century to the Civil War. Many styles are represented in this book from Mills Lane and Van Jones Martin. Hundreds of color photos and many old prints and drawings illustrate Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, and Romantic styles. Publisher: Abbeville Press, 1993

This popular book is an in-depth visual journey through the hidden mansions of New Orleans' River Road area. Once the center of grandiose living in the south, the region is now a ghost town of endangered structures. Author and photographer Richard Sexton features over 200 color photographs with extensive captions explaining the architectural significance and history of each mansion. Sexton's book Creole World: Photographs of New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean Sphere (The Historic New Orleans Collection, 2014)  would make a good companion to the Creole Houses book on this list. Publisher: Chronicle Books, 1999

Plantation slaves generally did not live in these plantation homes. Where and how slaves lived is researched by American Studies Professor John Michael Vlach in Back of the Big House (The University of North Carolina Press, 1993). Subtitled "The Architecture of Plantation Slavery," this book is not a celebration of antebellum architecture as most people know it, but of a vernacular architecture that existed "back of the big house." Professor Vlach recreates an environment neither well-understood nor historically well-preserved. Illustrated with archival photos and drawings, the book is part of the Fred W. Morrison Series in Southern Studies.

Also check out Cabin, Quarter, Plantation: Architecture and Landscapes of North American Slavery (Yale University Press, 2010). Clifton Ellis and Rebecca Ginsburg have edited a collection of essays that helps us understand the "built environment" of North American enslaved men, women, and children, including "The Home of the Slave" by  W.E.B. Dubois and "The Big House and the Slave Quarters: African Contributions to the New World" by Carl Anthony.

Author David King Gleason takes us on a grand tour of 80 distinctive plantation homes of Old Virginia, many of which were built before the antebellum period and reflect colonial, English Georgian, and Jeffersonian styles of architecture. The book (LSU Press, 1989) includes 146 color photos with captions that provide histories of each house, its builder, and subsequent owners.

Also check out Historic Houses of Virginia: Great Plantation Houses, Mansions, and Country Places by Kathryn Masson (Rizzoli, 2006).

Here is another great collection by Baton Rouge photographer David King Gleason. Here he focuses on the aura of Louisiana's plantation homes — some beautiful, some crumbling from neglect. Included are 120 full-color photographs with information about the construction, history, and condition of each house. Publisher: LSU, 1982

Capturing the essence of architecture in a two-dimensional photograph is a difficult — some would say impossible — task. David King Gleason died while doing what he loved — getting the best overhead angle as he photographed the built environment. The helicopter that carried him over Atlanta, Georgia crashed in 1992 during a photo shoot. His family donated his collection to LSU libraries, for others to use in beautiful books yet to come.