On our last day in Louisiana, we left the congestion of New Orleans, and headed out over the swamps and then through fields of sugar cane to Vacherie. Here we followed the directional signs and turned onto River Road, which runs along the Mississippi River. The river itself is blocked from view by a levee, now centuries old, built by slaves and European indentured servants, and has protected the homes and fields from flooding by the river. There are still numerous plantations in this area, but we were headed to the most famous of them, Oak Alley.
The Main House is a huge, home, built in the popular Greek Revival style of Southern Louisiana. You pay an admission to enter the grounds, which includes a tour of the “Big House”.
Built in the early 19th century, the home has an incredible history.
Just as a walk through a garden is made more enjoyable by recognizing some of the plants you find there, I think the same holds true for some architectural styles, of which I have a very limited knowledge. I did point out to my kids the columns and galleries. Galleries are the big porches that surround the house, and in the case of Oak Alley, double galleries. Many Greek Revival homes in cooler climates did not have such pronounced galleries, but in hot Louisiana, the galleries are unique.
But in my opinion the real stars of Oak Alley are the trees! Estimated to be over 350 years old, they are amazing!
Their huge branches reach down to the ground, and a maze of roots extend from their trunks, creating a firm anchor to the earth!
The Southern or Virginia Live Oak, the tree thrives in humid, coastal areas, where they become massive! In coastal Texas, it’s the same variety of tree as the Big Tree in Rockport at Goose Island State Park and the Goliad Courthouse “Hanging Tree”.
The trees weren’t simply planted for their aesthetic appeal, but as a channel to direct the winds coming off the Mississippi River to help cool the house! The famed River Road runs in front of the property, and across it lies the river!
We crossed the fence and climbed to the top of the levee to get this picture!
Then simply turned around for this amazing view. Huge ships and barges were coming up and down the river, and we enjoyed just sitting and watching!
Okay, on our return back inside the gates, we did see this sign…. glad we held onto our tickets!
Just a few more of the incredible trees!
They are amazing.
We offered to take a quick picture for a family by this amazing oak tree, and they did the same for us.
Oak Alley does allow professional photographers for family, engagement and bridal pictures. Click HERE for fees and more information.
Like all of the plantations in Southern Louisiana, Oak Alley was a Sugar Cane Plantation, and they had over 12,000 acres of sugar cane fields. While the house and grounds emitted an undeniable wealth, it was created by the work of the slaves who tended the fields. The Slave Quarters at Oak Alley are recreations of a typical slave home. A small two room building usually shared by two families. Several of the buildings are furnished, showing a stark difference in the lives of a house slave and a field slave.
The 8 different slave quarters each offer different information on the lives of the slaves, before and after Emancipation. I thought it was an extremely valuable educational opportunity for myself and my children to see how they lived and contributed to life on the plantation.
The nearby Evergreen Plantation is still a working sugar cane plantation, and has over 37 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, including 22 slave cabins.
Restaurant and Gift Shop
Grab lunch at the restaurant or souvenirs of your visit at the gift shop. If you bring a picnic, there are also shaded picnic tables near the parking lot.
They also offer overnight accommodations.
On weekends the working blacksmith has demonstrations!
Learn more about “White Gold”, the incredible impact of sugar cane on Southern Louisiana during the short film in the Sugar Cane Theater.
During our tour of the Mississippi River in New Orleans on the Natchez Queen, we passed the Domino Sugar Refinery in Chalmette, the largest US refinery and over 100 years old! We watched from the ship as they unloaded the raw sugar off the barges! Apparently they use to give tours but do not any longer.
A small tent is set up with history about Confederate General Richard Taylor. Taylor was the son of U.S. President Zachary Taylor, and owned a plantation about 11 miles from Oak Alley, which was burned to the ground during the Civil War.
In addition to the incredible live oaks for which the property is named, there is also a Pecan Orchard. Anyone who visits New Orleans can tell you that pecans and pralines are a big deal in Louisiana. But it was at Oak Alley in 1846 where a gardener slave named Antoine first developed a pecan with a thin shell, known today as the papershell pecan.
Check out Aunt Sally’s Pralines in the French Quarter, where you can watch as they make their famous pralines! Click HERE for more information.
There is also an incredible row of crepe myrtles. In November, they weren’t blooming but I could just imagine how they looked during the summer.
And yes, those in the picture are bananas. They had a nice little bunch of banana trees, too!
During our tour, we were told of the Man with a Cane and the Woman in Black, said to be the ghost of Jacques and Celina Roman, who once owned the plantation and built the house. I’m not sure how much I believed the stories of the ghost, however I can’t believe that on a full moon under the huge oaks you wouldn’t see things wandering around the grounds, real or imagined.
Know Before You Go
There are tons of tour companies out of New Orleans, and some are a MUST, but for Oak Alley I’d really suggest driving out for the day. Experience ALL of the Plantation Country! There are many plantations, and each really offers something completely different, as well as several with overnight accommodations. We spent at least 3.5 hours at Oak Alley. I can’t imagine spending any less time, or trying to fit in numerous plantations in one day.
Oak Alley was the home of Louis in the motion picture, Interview With a Vampire, based on the Anne Rice novel. I love the entire vampire series, and my son and I watched the movie just prior to our visit to New Orleans, where several of the scenes were filmed.
The majority of plantations across the south were located near rivers. For a better understanding of just HOW many plantations existed in Louisiana along the Mississippi River, click HERE to see a map. You’ll need to scroll down for the map, but it’s a very interesting article, too.
Oak Alley Plantation
3645 Louisiana 18, Vacherie, LA
Click HERE to visit their website.
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