Considered to be one of the most famous paintings by the celebrated Cajun painter, George Rodgrigue, the Aioli Dinner features a group of men sitting around a large table set for a meal under the shade of a large live oak tree in the early 1900s. The men present belong to a gourmet society, a group of friends from the community that met monthly on a Saturday afternoon in order to pause for fellowship and camaraderie, and they are being served by some women and younger men surrounding them. In the background of the painting is a large home identified as Darby Plantation which is located just north of New Iberia, and although this particular gathering did not actually take place on its grounds, Rodgrigue chose to paint Darby Plantation into the picture because it was one of the only sites of the dinner that was still standing, although it was in poor condition. When he finished the painting in 1969, the home was unoccupied and in disrepair, and in ten short years, it would tragically be destroyed by fire. Yet, the home has a colorful history that is preserved and remembered, in part, by being immortalized in Rodrigue's painting.
Originally known as Coteau, Darby Plantation was one of four large homes near Spanish Lake in the early 1800s. It was built in 1813 by Louis St. Marc Darby and was at one time considered to be one of the oldest structures in New Iberia. Louis’ grandfather, a wealthy English immigrant, arrived in the US in 1719, and in 1737 he married a native of France and settled in New Iberia. The home was built on property inherited by Louis' father, Jean-Baptiste St. Marc Darby. The home was built for Louis’ wife, Felicite de St. Amant, and had remained in the family for over 150 years.
During the Civil War, Union troops rode horses inside the house, demolishing its contents, and this seemed to be the beginning of the decline of the homestead. The owners never seemed to be able to completely recover from ongoing financial problems, and the surrounding croplands were reluctantly sold off, parts at a time until finally, all that remained was the home itself. The property continued to be occupied until the late 1960s and was eventually donated to the Attakapas Historical Society in 1970. Plans were in the works to fully restore the home and use it as a museum, but since the fire in 1979, updated plans have had to settle on building a replica of the original home incorporating the bricks that still remained.
Darby Plantation was once considered to be an excellent example of the rural Louisiana colonial architecture that is found in large homes of the Teche region. While many such homes may lack the elaborate detailing of other formal plantation homes, they still remain a graceful, yet practical addition to the old, moss-covered live oaks surrounded by fields of crops.
The home had two stories with open galleries on the front, side, and part of the back. The front gallery at the time of its donation was dilapidated, the side gallery was in fair condition, and the back gallery had been removed. The lower level was of solid brick which was plastered on both sides. The flooring on the lower level was once marble tile but was packed ground when last examined. The upper level used a French style of construction known as “briquet entre poteaux,” and was made of heavy cypress with full and cut brick filling the spaces between the posts. This was covered in plaster for the inner walls, and with cypress siding on the exterior upper level. The home had a gabled roof that extended over the galleries. The roof of the upper and side galleries was supported by a colonnade of columns made of masonry on the lower floor and wood on the upper. There was a staircase going to the upper gallery on the front side. There are also three underground cisterns that project about three feet from ground level.
Darby Plantation was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1973. After the tragic fire in 1979, it was bought by Mr. Perry Sagura, a local architect who rebuilt it as close to the original plans and footprint as possible while, at the same time, still having the conveniences of a modern home. In addition, a beautiful golf course and luxury home development called Squirrel Run have been built on the property that once belonged to the plantation.