Following our visit to ‘Laura’, the Creole Plantation…and lunch at Oak Alley’s restaurant, it was time to tour a classic plantation that’s more along the lines of “Tara” from Gone with the Wind.
This is a view looking down the tree lined pathway from the restaurant to the back of Oak Alley Plantation. We just love these magnificent trees!
Oak Alley was once the property of Valcour Aime, a sugar planter, philanthropist, and pioneer in the large-scale refining of sugar. Known as the "Louis XIV of Louisiana," he was reputedly the wealthiest person in the South. He controlled over 10,000 acres of land. In 1836, Valcour exchanged this tract of land with his wife's brother, Jacques Télesphore Roman. Jacques Roman and his wife began construction on this house the following year and it was completed in 1839.
Before we move on to the main house, we had a look at the former slave quarters.
There were several plantations in the area that were owned by members of the Roman family. These 5 families lived along a 9 mile stretch of the Mississippi River and together they owned 892 slaves.
On the wall inside one of the slave cabins is this list of names of some of the slaves that lived and worked at Oak Alley. Slaves were seen everywhere performing all manner of labor…from repairing roads, working in the fields and unloading or loading riverboats to transporting messages and goods between plantations.
The most noted slave who lived on Oak Alley Plantation was named Antoine. He was listed as "Antoine, 38, Creole Negro gardener/expert grafter of pecan trees" and he was valued at $1,000 in the inventory of J.T. Roman’s estate when he died. Antoine was a master of the techniques of grafting and in 1846, after many tries, he succeeded in producing a variety of pecan that could be cracked with one's bare hands. The shell was so thin it was dubbed the "paper shell" pecan.
This is the interior of one of the slave’s cabins. These cabins are reconstructions of the original cabins at the plantation.
Jacques Roman’s mother, Louise Patin Roman, was the matriarch of the Roman family. Her death in 1830 sparked a debate over her property, especially her slaves. One brother argued that their mother didn’t want particular slave families separated but one of the sisters insisted that since it wasn’t specified in the will, the slave should be sold individually for the most profit. Jacques purchased all of the slaves at auction and moved them to Oak Alley, solving the family dispute and honoring his mother’s request. Thus…uncommonly in those days, the slave’s families were allowed to stay together.
This is a closer view of the back of the plantation house at Oak Alley. The entire property now only encompasses 25 acres.
Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Stewart were the last private owners of this property. It was Josephine Stewart who, shortly before her death in 1972, created a non-profit foundation, which would be known as the Oak Alley Foundation. This gift saved the plantation for enjoyment by the public.
These photos show the spectacular oak trees at the front of Oak Alley Plantation looking toward the Mississippi River. In the second photo you can see the levee in the distance.
Of course, these trees are the distinguishing feature that the plantation was named for…an alley or canopied path at the front of the house created by a double row of live oak trees about 800 feet long, planted in the early 18th century. The trees were planted for an earlier home long before the present mansion was built.
This was our guide for the tour of the home. He and other staff members were dressed in period costume. He was very knowledgeable in regards to both the Roman family and the furnishings of the home. Note that the Christmas decorations in these photos are not reflective of the past. Christmas was strictly a serious religious holiday in the early 1800s…
Oak Alley’s dining room was all set up for dinner…and decorated for our Christmas season. Note the large structure hanging down from the ceiling… It’s a big fan used to create a little breeze during hot southern Louisiana summers and to keep the mosquitoes and flies off the people and the food.
See the cord reaching from the fan to the far left corner of the room? During meals, a slave would sit in the corner and he would continuously pull the cord in order to keep the diners comfortable…
The Roman family achieved significant prominence as leaders of society. Their activities alternated between their sugar plantations in St. James Parish and elegant dwellings in New Orleans. Among the latter was the house now known as Madame John's Legacy on Rue Dumaine. (Madame John’s Legacy is another historical site) It was from that home in the French Quarter where Jacques Roman began his courtship of Celina Pilie, whose very prominent family lived around the corner on Royal Street. They were married on June 14, 1834.
In Creole society, family was everything! Jacques brother Andre was governor of Louisiana and as mentioned before, his sister was married to Francois Gabriel "Valcour" Aime, the "Sugar King Of Louisiana". Nothing lasts forever though… Jacques Roman died of tuberculosis in 1848. Without any experience in business or sugarcane farming, Jacques' wife Celina took over management of the plantation. Given her lack of experience and her penchant for opulent spending, Celina drove the plantation into near bankruptcy...and it never really recovered.
Most of the beds had mosquito netting over them. In keeping with the wealth of the Roman family, the furnishings and decorative items were indeed first class…
After Celine almost bankrupted Oak Alley, her Henri took control of the estate and tried to turn things around. The plantation wasn’t damaged during the American Civil War, but the economic dislocations of the war and the end of slavery made it no longer economically viable. Henri became even more severely in debt…mainly to his family. In 1866, his uncle, Valcour Aime and his sisters, Octavie and Louise, put the plantation up for auction. It was sold for $32,800 which is the equivalent to about $220,000 in 2013 dollars…quite a steal!
Another attractive well-furnished bedroom…this one without the netting!
For those fans of the spirit world, (my wife included), Oak Alley is a prime location. Although this home is recognized more for the beauty of her setting than for mysterious disturbances, tour guides, visitors and staff members have a number of shared “interesting” experiences over the years.
There was one “haunt” occurrence that would have garnered my attention if I’d witnessed it. Thirty-five visitors from a Gray Line Tour and their guide experienced a candlestick flying across a room… That would certainly be hard to explain in a rational way! To read about other experiences like this, go to http://www.oakalleyplantation.com/learn-explore/ghost-tales.
The first photo above shows the view from the 2nd floor veranda down the “Oak Alley” toward the levee and the Mississippi River. This second photo shows the view of the Mansion up the “Oak Alley”, definitely an impressive sight for visitors back in the early 1800s arriving by carriage or more likely, by a paddle
This is a closer view of the front of the home… It’s pretty impressive!
In fact this property is so impressive that it’s been used in many, many movies and videos… These include: Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964); The Night Rider (1978); Dixie: Changing Habits (1982); Days of our Lives (1984); The Long Hot Summer (1985); Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994); Primary Colors (1998); Beyoncé's "Déjà Vu" music video and "B'Day" CD insert photos filmed/shot (2006); Ghost Hunters on the Sci-Fi Channel (2008); Midnight Bayou (2009) and; Django Unchained in (2012).
I’ll bet you thought that I was finally done with this long tour! Not quite… We found this 1929 Ford Open-Cab Model ‘A’ Pick-Up Truck in a garage on the grounds. There was also a 1928 Ford Model ‘A’ Phaeton parked alongside the truck but I couldn’t capture a useable photo of it. These vehicles had belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Stewart when they lived at Oak Alley.
This is a view of the Mississippi River and a passing barge… The photo was taken from the levee right in front of Oak Alley. The levee is much higher today than it was back in the early to mid 1800’s. Back then, the river and passing steamboat traffic would have been visible from the second floor veranda. Back then, the river was lined with big plantations.
This is a well-run attraction with trained and knowledgeable tour guides, well-kept grounds, beautiful furnishings and a well maintained 176 year old home/mansion. We would recommend it to anyone who appreciates beauty and history. To learn more, go to http://www.oakalleyplantation.com/.
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for stopping by and sharing this historical plantation with us!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave