The National Park Service states its significance succinctly: "Established in the late 18th century by Marie Therese Coincoin, a former slave who became a wealthy businesswoman, the grounds of Yucca Plantation (now known as Melrose Plantation) contain what may well be the oldest buildings of African design built by Blacks, for the use of Blacks, in the country. The African House, a unique, nearly square structure with an umbrella-like roof which extends some 10' beyond the exterior walls on all four sides, may be of direct African derivation." Buildings include the main house, the Yucca House, the Ghana House, and the African House, plus some outbuildings. The plantation was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974. In 2008, it was included among the first 26 sites on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail.
As with many historic sites steeped in lore, evidence disproves the asserted identity of the founder and no evidence has been found or presented to support the claim that the property was originally named Yucca Plantation. The names attributed to the extant buildings date to early twentieth century promotion of the plantation as a cultural center by its then owners.
Historical investigations from the 1970s and archaeological investigation that began at Melrose Plantation in 2001 have uncovered evidence that both confirm and challenge local tradition about the complex. Research shows conclusively, through original contemporary records, that the several hundred acres of land were, in fact, granted in 1796 to Coincoin's second son, Louis Metoyer, who would not be freed by his white father until 1802. Under Louisiana's Code Noir, enslaved men were not supposed to be granted land.
Contrary to the 1970s-era assessment, which dated the construction of Louis Metoyer's first home (Yucca House) to the mid-1790s, a land survey of 1813 places Louis Metoyer's residence south of the Red River (and south of the center of the Melrose complex). It was at the eastern edge of the plantation settled by his elder brother Augustin Metoyer. The question of early occupancy must still be settled. These were the two brothers who built the St. Augustine Parish (Isle Brevelle) Church in Natchez, Louisiana, the first built by free people of color.
Nonetheless, the plantation is important for its association with the Metoyer family, which was prominent in Isle Brevelle and a strong center of the Creoles of color community. Construction began on the "Big House" at Melrose before the 11 March 1832 death of Louis Metoyer. His son Jean Baptiste Louis Metoyer completed the construction in 1833. At J. B. L.'s death in 1838, his $112,761 estate (roughly $2,600,000 in 2007 purchasing power ) was divided between a minor son and a young widow with no experience in financial matters. Amid the financial depression that followed the Panic of 1837, the mother and son fell heavily in debt. After the mother emancipated the teenaged Théophile Louis Metoyer from the disabilities of minority, creditors launched a series of lawsuits. The Louis Metoyer Plantation went on the auction block.
On 22 March 1847, it was struck off at $8,340 to the highest bidder, the French Créole brothers Henry and Hypolite Hertzog, on behalf of their sister Jeanne Fanny (Widow Dassize) Bossier. Hertzog and Bossier then operated a cotton plantation, in partnership, until 1880. Like most planters of the region in the wake of Civil War and Reconstruction, they struggled financially and did little to improve or maintain the property. (In a twist of irony, the debtors who sued them included J. B. L. Metoyer's widow.)
In December 1881, the Metoyer-Hertzog-Bossier Plantation (still unnamed at this point) was sold again at auction to satisfy an 1879 judgment rendered against them in Louisiana's Fifth District Circuit. The purchaser, F. R. Cauranneau of New Orleans, held the land and houses as an absentee owner until April 1884, when he found a buyer willing to pay $4,500 cash. The new owner, an Irish immigrant merchant named Joseph Henry who had married into a prominent local family, gave the property the name Melrose, by which it remains known today.
Analysis of glass at the site confirms three major periods of occupancy of Yucca House, c.1807-1821, c.1874-1888 (renovation likely after the 1884 purchase by Joseph Henry), and c.1916-1930, renovation by Henry's son John and his wife Carmelite "Miss Cammie" Henry. Remains of European ceramic ware also indicate post-1810 initial occupancy of Yucca House, contrary to the 1796 date that had been earlier proposed. Because of its strong association with the Coincoin-Metoyer family, Melrose Plantation is the major site where the history of Creoles in the region is physically interpreted for tourists.