Sunday 30 December 2018

Oak Alley Plantation

We were up early on day three in New Orleans; the breakfast room was open at 7:30 and we were there to get something to eat before our walk over to Canal Street and the car rental place.  We arrived a few minutes early and waited outside, but in short order the paperwork was complete and we were on the road to our first stop, Oak Alley Plantation.  J was our driver for the day, K was the navigator, and I simply relaxed in the back seat and enjoyed the drive.  

The weather reports indicated there was dense fog, but there wasn't much in New Orleans.  As we drove further out of the city, it became much more noticeable.  At first it could be seen as we travelled on the interstate in the distance, but as we came off the interstate and onto the secondary highway it was quite dense, though we still had decent visibility.  

We arrived at Oak Alley shortly after it opened to the public. Since we were among the first visitors it was quiet and made photo taking that much better.  

"Oak Alley Plantation is a historic plantation located on the west bank of the Mississippi River, in the community of Vacherie, St. James Parish, Louisiana, U.S. Oak Alley is named for its distinguishing visual feature, an alley (French allée) or canopied path, created by a double row of southern live oak trees about 800 feet (240 meters) long, planted in the early 18th century — long before the present house was built. The allée or tree avenue runs between the home and the River. The property was designated a National Historic Landmark for its architecture and landscaping, and for the agricultural innovation of grafting pecan trees, performed there in 1846–47 by an enslaved gardener." - Wikipedia

The view from just inside the grounds - these are the slave cabins and the restaurant.  We had originally planned to stop there for lunch but none of us were particularly hungry so we moved on the second plantation.  (I'll save that post for tomorrow as these will be photo heavy posts).

With the exception of the house, most of the buildings are replicates of the original.  It makes sense as it is unlikely the buildings would have survived over 150 years or more.  

To the left, you'll catch a glimpse of the house, to the right is one of the slave cabins, and oh...the oak trees.  In the foreground on the right are crape myrtle trees.  As it is winter these are totally bare, and they almost appear to be stripped of their bark as well.  

 Despite winter, the flowers were still blooming.  I should know what these are but I'm not certain.

The flower bed also contained this lovely fern.  I believe it is an asparagus fern.  I must admit, when I see the flowers and greenery, I'm envious!

We did a self-guided tour of the outbuildings and gardens as there was signage throughout.  First up were the slave cabins.  As you can see the building looks practically brand new, and I suspect it wasn't this comfortable when the slaves lived there. 

I believe the signage indicate that up to five people would live in this small area.  Each room was outfitted with the one chair and a bed.

As small as the cabins may have bin, this is a laundry kettle!  Can you imagine how many loads of laundry that would have held?  No rinse and spin either.

The view of the slave cabins from the rear of the buildings.  As you can see, these are "duplexes", sharing a chimney for heating and cooking on both sides.

After a wander around this area, we headed up towards the house to take a tour of the property.

This view is looking towards the car park.  Check out how low the branches grow. These would be great fun for an adventurous child (or adult!)  The branches were wrapped by vines of some sort.

This is the side view of the house from the lawns.  We made our way around to the front of the house to meet one of the guides who would provide the tour through the house.  (Spoiler alert, we were not permitted to take photos inside)

Before the tour started we waited on the front portico enjoying the view of Oak Alley, the namesake of the plantation.

The fog rolled in from the levee and the oak trees captured it in their branches.  It was slightly eerie, but such a peaceful sight.  

The front door was beautifully for Christmas, as was the interior.

Building began on the original mansion in 1836 and it was completed in 1839 entirely through the use of enslaved labor.  I'd estimate the ceilings on the main floor were at least 11-12 feet.  

"In 1925 the property was acquired by Andrew Stewart as a gift to his wife, Josephine, who commissioned architect Richard Koch to supervise extensive restoration and modernize the house. Josephine Stewart left the historic house and grounds to the Oak Alley Foundation when she died in 1972, which opened them to the public." - Wikipedia.  Some of these renovations including the conversion of closets to indoor bathrooms.  We were able to view a few rooms on the main floor, the upper hallway and two of the bedrooms.  The second bedroom was Josephine Stewart's bedroom after the death of her husband.  I particularly liked it because she obviously liked the color purple!

We were also able to go out on the balcony at the back of the house looking towards the slave quarters.  I thought I had a photo but cannot locate it, thinking back there were several people in the group and I probably gave up trying to get the view.

From there we made our way to the Sugarmill Theater to watch a short video on sugar cane planting and harvesting.  I read this building was once a garage.  

Also on site was a replica of a Civil war commander's tent. 

Although the property was not damaged in the Civil War, it was impacted economically and it was no longer viable.  The plantation was then sold by original family (surname Roman) to the second owner John Armstrong for $32,800.  We were told that he never lived there and he sold a half-interest to a business partner the following year.  The property changed hands many times before the Stewarts purchased it in 1925.

We took some time to visit the family graveyard as well which was beyond the main house closer to the current entrance to the property.  Both Andrew and Josephine are buried there.

A view of the rear of the house after our tour of the property.  K is coming towards me...I don't think she knew I took the photo of her.  It had warmed up nicely by this point, and we didn't need our jackets that were necessary just a couple hours earlier.

One last look at Oak Alley, this time after our house tour, and after the fog had lifted.  This was taken mid-point of the path, again looking toward the road and the levee beyond.  By this time, the grounds were getting busy with other guests.

This is where I'll end the post, as I have as many (or possibly more) photos of the second plantation we visited that day.  The two were so different, Oak Alley's history was much about the families that lived there, while Laura Plantation focused not only the family but on the slaves that lived there.  No matter the perspective I enjoyed the visit to both.


  1. My favourite photo is the one of the oak-lined walkway, shrouded in that dense fog. I'd have loved to spend some time out there with those Elder Trees, their energy must be amazing. (Yeah, I'm a bit weird, I know, but trees really "speak" to me.)

    I'm wondering why you're not allowed to take pics inside the actual plantation house, though. What is there that could possibly be off-limits? Or is it that peoples' camera flashes might (over time) damage paintings, etc.?

    I can't even begin to imagine the hardships of the lives of the slaves, though. :-/

  2. Amazing how many of those plantations there were back then. Thankfully slavery was abolished but it is important to maintain this history "LEST WE FORGET"

  3. Being interested in country houses and estates in different countries, I would like to read up on why such estates were no longer economically viable after slavery ended. Of course they used unpaid labour, but one would think they would produce enough to make a profit even with wage-labour. Perhaps they simply weren't managed well enough to survive if they had so many new expenses.


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