Burden Museum & Gardens Celebrates 50 Years Since Original Land Donation

Richard Bogren  |  10/12/2016 6:43:53 PM

Rick Bogren

Surrounded by Louisiana’s capital city and bounded on two sides by interstate highways, the Burden Museum & Gardens is an oasis of tranquility. Home to the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens, the LSU Rural Life Museum and Windrush Gardens, Burden is 440 acres that comprise forested green space, formal gardens and agricultural research plots.

Once called Windrush Plantation, the property was acquired in the mid 1800s by the Burden family, who began donating the property to LSU 50 years ago in 1966 until the final parcel was given in the early 1990s.

The recorded history of the Burden property goes back to 1812, when William and Francis Thomas acquired approximately 648 acres a U.S. government land grant. William S. Pike Sr. purchased a 600-acre tract in 1861.

This is where the Burden family story begins.

William Pike’s niece, Emma Barbee, married John Burden in 1856.

John built the Burden house and named the property Windrush because it reminded him of an area of England where he grew up. Although the Burdens used the property, ownership remained in the Pike family.

William Pike died in 1877, and his widow, Mary Ann Huguet Pike, died in 1904, when the Pike heirs inherited considerable land in the Baton Rouge area. The 600-acre Windrush property was sold in December 1905 to William Pike Burden. The third son of John and Emma purchased the land where his parents had resided but never owned.

William Burden married Ollie Brice Steele in 1895, and they had three children – Ione Easter born in 1896, William Pike Jr. (known as Pike) born in 1898 and Ollie Steele (known as Steele) born in 1900. The Burdens lived in Baton Rouge and used Windrush as their country home until 1921, when they renovated the house and moved there permanently.

William Sr. died four years later, leaving one-half of Windrush to his wife and one-sixth to each of the children. “Miss Ollie” and the children continued living in the Burden house.

Miss Ollie died in 1958.

Ione spent most of her career at LSU and was director of student activities from 1948 to 1961. She never married and lived at Windrush with Miss Ollie and her brother Steele. Ione died in 1983 and left her share of the family property as well as stocks and cash to the Burden Foundation.

Pike attended LSU but never graduated. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War I and later started a successful printing and publishing business. Pike married Jeanette Monroe in 1922, and they built a small home on the Windrush property. In 1940 they built the West Indies-style house that remains the Monroe home today.

Pike died in 1965, and when Jeannette died, she left a five-acre tract that includes the West Indies house to her nephew, John Monroe. It remains privately owned and not part of the Burden Museum and Gardens.

Steele was the master planner for Windrush. He was a painter and sculptor and was best known as a landscape designer. He laid out the Windrush Gardens as well as the design for the Windrush Plantation, including lakes, roadways and allees.

Steele worked for Baton Rouge City Park until 1940 and was on the LSU staff part time beginning in 1930 and later as a full-time employee, developing and maintaining the campus landscape until retiring in 1970.

In 1961 Ione, Pike and Steele established the Burden Foundation and placed the Windrush property in it. By 1965 they had donated 30 acres to the Franciscan Sisters, who established Ollie Steele Burden Manor, a nursing care facility for the elderly.

The LSU connection began in 1925 when LSU professor John Gray, an early authority on soybeans, established experimental plots on Windrush Plantation. Other College of Agriculture researchers soon followed.

LSU had been renting land on the Windrush Plantation for more than 20 years when the Burden Foundation donated the first 50 acres to LSU in 1966.

Succeeding donations to LSU were made in increments, with the property designated to be used for horticultural and agronomic research, for development of the Rural Life Museum and as a green area.

When LSU accepted the first donation, the Agricultural Center appointed Louis Anzalone as the first resident director. He was responsible for fencing the property and installing irrigation in the open fields.

Over the years, the focus of research at Burden Center has changed. In 1979, when Warren Meadows was appointed resident director of the Burden Research Plantation, as it was known then, research included soybeans and other agricultural crops.

Current research at the Botanic Gardens includes trials to evaluate the performance of landscape bedding plants and vegetables, with warm-season and cool-season plants rotated in approximately 5,000 square feet of raised beds.

In addition, the Botanic Gardens is home to trials to evaluate various varieties of tomatoes, sweet potatoes, strawberries and many other commercial and home garden vegetables and fruits.

The 3.5-acre Windrush Gardens was Steele Burden's personal laboratory for garden design where he worked on expanding and refining his masterpiece from his 20s until his death in 1995. Windrush Gardens is accessed through the Rural Life Museum.

Over the intervening years, the cultivated garden area has grown to about 15 acres but still is in keeping with Steele Burden’s original design.

In 1970 Steele began moving the first of many structures to the property to establish what is now the Rural Life Museum. The initial buildings came from Welham Plantation in St. James Parish. The museum now comprises a plantation area and an upland South area with plans underway to add an Acadian area.

Pat Hegwood was resident director at Burden in 2000 when the Baton Rouge Junior League and Baton Rouge Green joined with the Burden Center to develop a walking trail through the property. Although delayed by Hurricane Gustav, Trees and Trails was formally opened in 2009.

During Hegwood’s tenure, Burden accepted the donation of the Violet and Henry Stone Camellia collection, which included 500 named camellia varieties along with upwards of 300 unnamed varieties transplanted from the Stones’ residence in Baton Rouge.

Under the leadership of Jeff Kuehny, who was named resident director in 2010, the Botanic Gardens has developed close relationships with many local organizations, including the East Baton Rouge Master Gardeners, Baton Rouge Camellia Society, Baton Rouge Bonsai Society, Baton Rouge Hibiscus Society, Baton Rouge Herb Society and the Baton Rouge Rose Society.

Today, the Botanic Gardens includes the Barton Arboretum, a Memorial Live Oak Garden, the Steele Burden Memorial Orangerie and the Ione E. Burden Conference Center.

Rick Bogren is a science writer with LSU AgCenter Communications and associate editor of Louisiana Agriculture.

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Windrush House at the Burden Museum & Gardens. Photo courtesy of LSU Strategic Communications

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The date taken and the photographer for this photo of Windrush House are unknown. Photo courtesy of LSU Strategic Communications

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This is a photo of Steele and Ione Burden, brother and sister. The year it was shot and who shot it is unknown. Photo courtesy of LSU Strategic Communications

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