Beautiful Oak Alley Plantation is an antebellum sugar cane plantation located in Vacherie, Louisiana, at 3645 Highway 18 (Great River Road), along the Mississippi River. It is one of the most popular and most photographed of the Louisiana plantations, due to its alley of 300 year old live oak trees that line its front entrance. It is a mystery who first planted the oak trees, that long ago, but their canopy of branches have made this one of the most dramatic entrances to a home along the Old River Road. (All photos and photo collages in this post will enlarge for easier viewing if clicked on)
The back entrance to Oak Alley Plantation.
During my husband and my visit to New Orleans this past February (see post Part 1 and Part 2 to read about our experiences in New Orleans), we decided to take a side trip to visit a few plantations. We booked through The Old River Road Plantation Adventures company, and they picked us up at our hotel early one morning in their tour bus. The driver/guide was a very interesting man of Cajun descent who was a wealth of information on all topics related to New Orleans, and the plantations we were going to tour, telling us about Code Noir, daily plantation life, slave auctions, customs of the day, Creoles and life in antebellum New Orleans. He kept us entertained with many stories as he drove the approximate 40 minutes towards Vacherie.
The Oak Alley house was originally known as Bon Sejour and was built in 1839 by Jacques Roman, where he lived along with his wife Marie Therese and children. until his death in 1848 from tuberculosis. His wife and then oldest son managed the estate, but lost everything after the Civil War and they put the house up for auction in 1866. It had successive owners and by 1925 was purchased by Andrew and Josephine Stewart. who were able to produce sugar cane again on its grounds. When Mrs Stewart passed away in 1972 she left the house and grounds to the Oak Alley Foundation, which opened them to the public.
We went on a half hour tour inside the house. led by a guide in era costume.
Portraits of the first owners and period furniture and accessories on display inside.
More views inside the house and of the porches and grounds.
The main house was constructed in 1790 and renovated to its current Greek Revival style in 1832. It was a privately owned operating sugar cane plantation until the depression in 1930, when it became bank owned.
It also has several alley of stately live oak trees on its grounds, although they do not lead up to the front of the house as they did in Oak Alley.
The Evergreen trees were draped with live moss that gently swayed in the wind.
Among the outbuildings are a separate kitchen, two "garconniere" where young bachelors of the family or guests could stay, two"pigeonnier" for keeping pigeons, which were a sign of status among the plantation holders, an overseer's cottage and late 19th century barns. We toured the inside of the house, but photography was not allowed. You can see photos of the interior at this link.
Most haunting of all are the 22 original slave quarters arranged in a double row configuration.
Here African slaves were housed, two families to a cabin. They labored in the sugar cane fields and in the big house for the plantation owners until they were emancipated after the Civil War. After the Civil War freed African Americans continued to work on the plantation and lived in the quarters until 1947.
One of the homes was open to the public.
All that was left inside was the bare floor and walls and dividing fireplace in the middle.
Outside this cabin were informative placards that describe the roles the African slaves served on the plantation, the archaeology project held here, along with.....
..the history of the antebellum era and the role of the freed African Americans. Click on the photo collages to enlarge them to read this interesting information.
It was sobering to think how human life was bought and sold in those days, and of the lives of those who lived here.
After visiting the two plantations we had lunch with our group, and then our Louisiana Plantation Adventure guide dropped us at the optional Cajun Pride Swamp Tour. The boat tour guide was a native Cajun who told us many fascinating stories about growing up and living on a bayou. This swamp is privately owned and is now a wildlife refuge. The guide told us about a terrible hurricane in 1915 that swept through this area, where many unidentified bodies were buried right where they were found, along the shore of the swamp.
Unfortunately, the weather was too cool for the alligators in the swamp to be active, but we did see some interesting wildlife:
We witnessed a dramatic struggle between a fish and a Cormorant bird, that went on for quite a while. The bird was victorious and eventually swallowed the fish whole!
We were also amused by quite a few raccoons who followed along the shore as the boat passed by.
They were obviously hoping someone would toss them a treat!
Taking a peek into life, both past and present, along the mighty Mississippi River in Louisiana was very enjoyable, and a nice side trip to take when visiting New Orleans. As the song says: Old Man River certainly "keeps on rolling along."
Before we left New Orleans we visited the new National World War II Museum. I'll share highlights of that visit on my Memorial Day blog post, coming in a few weeks. In the meantime, I want to catch up on our life back in Colorado. We have snow for Mother's Day again this year, but thankfully the weather will return to the 70's and low 80's in a few days and I think that will be the end of frost until the fall.
Wishing everyone a very Happy Mother's Day!
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