Today I am off on a quick day-trip about an hour outside of New Orleans. Along River Road lie many 18th century plantations including one of the most photographed: Oak Alley Plantation.
Oak Alley Plantation History
Nobody knows who planted the double row of 28 oaks leading from the Mississippi River to the Greek Revival-style house. It is estimated that the oaks were planted over 100 years and had reached maturity before Jacques Télesphore Roman purchased the property in 1836 in order to build an estate to lure his new bride, Celine, away from city life in New Orleans. Roman was from a prominent Creole family and built Celine a gorgeous 28 column Antibellum home at the end of the 800 feet of canopied oaks. No expense was spared with quality marbles, wood carving, and grandeur of the home for that time. Celine called the sugar cane plantation Bon Séjour (pleasant sojourn), but the iconic tree-lined entry lead to it being renamed Oak Alley Plantation by passing Riverboat captains, and Oak Alley stuck.
The couple had 6 children with only three surviving past childhood. One of the daughters, Louise, had a horrible accident tripping on her whale boned hoop skirt, cutting her leg. The cut became infected and her leg had to be amputated. She never emotionally recovered from the amputation and was rejected by suitors and she became a Carmelite nun in New Orleans.
The rest of the Roman story is a bit sad as well as they did not have that many years together at Oak Alley. Celine soon moved back to New Orleans. She was the eldest of 11 children, her parents had passed and she took care of them in New Orleans. Why she did not move them to the plantation is a bit of a mystery to me. Jacques died in 1849, Celine ran the plantation into bad debt and the son Henri tried to save it. The plantation did not suffer directly from the Civil War during these years, but was in bad shape from mismanagement.
Oak Alley Plantation was also sold for auction after the war. However, successive owners could not maintain the site and it kept being sold and falling further into disrepair.
The property was purchased in 1925 by Andrew and Josephine Stewart, who then set about restoring the site, the first Antebellum restoration of a plantation done in the area. They spent $50,000 (~$650,000 in 2015) to purchase the property and another $60,000 (~$800,000 in 2015) restoring it. Andrew passed in 1946, but Josephine lived and loved Oak Alley plantation until her death in 1972 – the longest resident of the plantation and probably the happiest. Shortly before her death, she created the non-profit Oak Alley Foundation, to which she left the property so it could be opened to the public. Oak Alley Plantation now houses a bed and breakfast with little modern cottages for guests to stay in and experience plantation life along the Mississippi. There is also a restaurant featuring traditional Creole and Cajun dishes.
Touring Oak Alley Plantation
The $20 ticket will give you a day pass to the property. First stop is the gift shop to grab your Mint Julep before touring. The plantation has several exhibits to explore the lives of previous residents on the 25 acres property. The highlights for me:
“Slavery at Oak Alley” Exhibit
This features reconstructed slave quarters in order to learn about those who made plantation luxuries possible. This exhibit is still in development and a self-guided tour. The foundation is developing a guided tour to help explain this important chapter in history.
Newly planted pecan trees
One of the enslaved gardeners on this property, Antoine, grafted the first paper shell pecan.
The Big House Tour
My guide was absolutely charming and embraced her Southern Belle role to show us and share with us all the stories of the house and its residents. Fun fact: Creole’s were on average shorter than 5 foot and that is why all the furniture is low.
Finally, the star of this property. Stroll the magnificent alley of 300 year old live oak trees leading a quarter mile from the Big House to the Mississippi River.
The Levee & the Mississippi
One last sight is going across River Road and up onto the Levee. Yes – this is a Levee for us flat-landers. Take a seat and watch the barges go down the Mississippi and imagine live in the 1800’s on a sugar plantation or think of how Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer would have watched the action on the Mississippi.
- Go Early – This is a popular site. Early in the day, I had the entire row of oaks to myself.
- Take your time – Pick 2 or 3 plantations to your on your trip on River Road, but give a little extra time here and enjoy some “park time” under the oaks on a bench soaking up the Southern rays of sunshine through the mossy trees.
Take a video tour created by the official Oak Ally Plantation
The Oak Alley Plantation is featured in many films, tv shows and video including Interview with a Vampire, the Nora Roberts Midnight Bayou, and Beyonce’s Déjà Vu music video.
You can see it in the Official Interview with a Vampire Movie Trailer at about 26 seconds)
See more films featuring NOLA: Top 10 New Orleans Movies
Day 8: Soulfest[/vision_icon]