The two Plantations we visited both about an hours drive from New Orleans were very different, Oak Alley Plantation was initially a humble cottage bought by a wealthy Creole sugar cane planter who then built the Mansion to lure his young bride from New Orleans. It is a National Historic Landmark and is absolutely spectacular. The other, Laura Plantation, tells the story of the Creole Family Saga. The Creoles, who, at this historic site, lived apart from the American mainstream for over 200 years. It is also a National Historic Landmark as are 12 other buildings surrounded by fields of sugarcane, vegetable and fruit gardens and formal French landscapes.
After a wander around the beautiful grounds of the Plantation we were taken on a guided tour of the “Big House”. However the story begins with an unknown settler who planted twenty-eight evenly spaced oak trees in two rows leading to his humble cottage toward the mighty Mississippi River. Named the Alley of Oaks, it is a quarter mile alley of 300 year old Virginia Live Oaks. The largest oak tree on the Plantation has a girth of 30feet and a 127-foot spread of limbs. A plant called Resurrection fern grows on the limbs and trunks of the trees and can survive long periods of drought by shriveling up and appearing brown and dead. Once there is water the fern will uncurl and reopen to a vibrant green. Live oaks have a life span of about 600 years which makes these 300 year old trees middle aged!! In comparison to that I feel quite young!
Oak Valley Plantation is admired as one of the most spectacular antebellum (before the cival war) settings in the south of the US. After a wonderful lunch in the restaurant and a wander around the extensive gift shop we were taken on a guided tour of the “Grande Dame of the Great River Road”. Believed to have been constructed primarily by slave labour the mansion took three years to complete. The Plantation changed hands many times until 1972 when it was taken over by the Oak Alley Foundation. The Trustees are responsible for maintaining and preserving the Big House and surrounding twenty-five acre National Historic Landmark site. Today Oak Alley Plantation is still a working sugarcane plantation.The photos below give an insight into the opulance of the home which has been restored to its original grandeur.After our guided tour we wandered around the grounds which included a huge sugar kettle made of cast iron. These were used in the process of making molasses and crystallized sugar in the South during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Each cane plantation in Louisiana had its own sugarhouse and the cane was crushed using an animal-powered, three-roller mill. Very different to today! As we came out of the “Big House” we were given the opportunity to purchase a famous “Mint Julep”. We took the chance and it turned out to be really refreshing. I think one was enough!! Duncan had great fun, as usual, with his unique sense of humour asking questions of the guides. To their credit they were great and are probably used to it.
There is a Slave Marker which is located where the original 2 rows of 10 slave cabins began. It depicts records filed at St James Courthouse in New Orleans after Jacques Roman’s death (1848) which includes a listing of all the slaves on the plantation at that time, a total of 57.
Weddings and Speciall Events as well as overnight Cottages are available at this beautiful venue.
Laura Plantation is a historic Louisiana Creole Plantation on the western bank of the Mississippi River originally built in 1805. It has a fascinating collection of family artifacts original to a Louisiana sugar plantation including clothing, toiltetries, business and slave records, Mardi Gras and mourning heirlooms. Records show that, with help from President Thomas Jefferson, the land was granted in 1804 to a French naval veteran of the American Revolution. He died very soon after establishingh the Plantation.
In 1805 there were 7 slaves. As the plantation grew so did the number of enslaved workers. In 1830 Laura’s grandmother, owner of the Plantation, went to New Orleans and bought 30 teenage girls to have them impregnated. Ten years later she had what she called her “crop of children” and built for their families 65 cabins, 4 of which still stand today. By the onset of the Civil War 186 workers were enslaved on this farm. Following the emancipation of slaves in Louisiana (1866) the great majority of these former slaves continued to live in the Laura Plantation quarters.
Four generations of women in the family ran the growing sugarcane plantation until Laura Locoul, the great-granddaughter of Duparc, sold it in 1891 to a family of French-speaking Creoles of Alsation descent. In 1981 the plantation was bought by a consortium of investors who planned to destroy the historic buildings and build a bridge across the Mississippi River at this site. The still-active earthquake fault, below the historic site, ruined their plans and, in 1993 , the old homestead was acquuired by the Laura Plantation Company, a private enterprise, for the purpose of restoring the site and opening it to the Public. In August, 2004, an electrical fire destroyed 80% fo the Big House and after a 3 year restoration effort, the site was completely re-opened for tours.
As we wandered around the plantation, both inside and around the grounds, it was so easy to transport ourselves back in time and try to imagine what life must have been like for the Families who lived in the Big House and the slaves who worked on the sugar cane fields and as servants inside. I for one am so pleased I was not born in those days. We visited the 160-year old cabins where west-African folktales of Compair Lapin, known in English as the legendary “Br’er Rabbit” were recorded.
So much more history attached to both plantations. We had enjoyed the day so much and also the company of some Aussies who were on the tour with us.
They had the night before disembarked from the “Sea Princess” a huge passenger liner which had cruised from New York. And so the next day we returned to Panama City Beach to say goodbye to Steve and Lynn and Katie. Thanks again to them both for giving us this wonderful opportunity. We had a wonderful time, really enjoyed everything about our stay in Florida and would do it all again in the blink of an eye. I must mention the Church I attended while I was there and the wonderful people who became our friends. We are missing y’ll. So it is goodbye to my blog silvernomadsinflorida, I will create another one for our time in Australia for anyone who wants to follow our travels. Love to all and Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Holidays.
Rhonda & Duncan