If you live in South Louisiana, or have plans to go on a South Louisiana road trip, do not miss an opportunity to tour a plantation. The beauty of the homes, the grounds, the gardens, the family history, and the tragic and heart-felt stories about slavery are interesting and engaging.
The Plantation Tour Experience
Per our plantation research, it is obvious that tours have changed. In the past, the obvious wealth of the plantation owners was the focus. Although wealth is still described, there is now an increased focus on the history of plantation family life, slave family life and the interaction between each. For us, this is a more informative and engaging tour; rich with history; personal stories of owners, slaves and others that experienced plantation life.
The Tourist Routine
Just as most tourist do, we follow the typical routine, we plan to visit the more publicized plantations. First on our list include Oak Alley, Laura, St. Joseph and Whitley Plantations. Each of these are located within a few miles of each other on River Road, about sixty miles West of New Orleans.
Reading this? – What to expect?
As we plan our tours, and discuss the topics for the blog posts, I assume we would focus on the details and history of each historical location. But, as I type and re-edite this post, I realize that the historical information is readily available on many websites. Our focus should provide a different perspective and benefit to the reader. Therefore, the focus of this post and future plantation posts will be twofold:
- Provide a snap shot of our experience at each plantation.
- We will look for, and write about the “off-the beaten path” plantations. There are some less publicized “plantation gems” to be discovered and shared.
On our way!
As we travel to Oak Alley, we stop at the St.James Parish Welcome Center in Gramercy. The staff are very helpful and knowledgeable, and assist us in planning our day. As one of the staff followed us to the door, she provided us with bottled water, snacks and said, “It’s gonna be hot out there, here’s some water and chips to snack on. Wait, let me give you another bag.”
After leaving the visitors center loaded with water, chips, plantation brochures and city guidebooks, we decide to first visit Oak Alley Plantation. As we head North on River Road, there it is! It is easy to find, the oak alley and plantation are clearly visible from the road.
Upon purchasing tickets, you are allowed access to most of the property, Do not lose your tickets while exploring; the tickets are needed to access the plantation home for the tour.
Oak Alley Plantation- The Experience
Oak Alley is a popular, well publicized, easily recognizable plantation on River Road. It’s signature landmark is the grand double row of 300 year old live oaks. It is estimated that these oaks were already 150 years old when the plantation home was built. No one knows who planted the oaks, but that person had the grand vision to plant a double row of oaks for people to enjoy far into the future.
Prior to the start of our tour, we had time to view and walk through six slave cabins. The interior and exterior of each cabin was similar in appearance, and each contained separate and specific information about slave life, family life, working and living conditions. Oak Alley researchers continue to conduct research to provide a more complete history of slavery, slave life, working and living conditions at Oak Alley. This history proves to be very difficult to find, as most slave records do not exist except for the very basic information documented when slaves were purchased or sold.
The “Big House” Tour
With rain threatening, thunder and lightening in the area, we left the slave quarters area and walked to the “Big House” in time for the tour. We could not wait to get inside, and out of the 92 degree, 92% humidity. Remember the “don’t lose your ticket” comment from above. Well, we experienced a mild “can’t find our tickets” attack, while other tourist watched, sweated and impatiently waited for us to look for our tickets at the door. After searching through purse, camera bag, pockets, my hands, purse again; the tickets were found in my hands, folded up in the plantation brochures given to us at the ticket booth. Big sigh!
As we entered the house, we were greeted by a tour guide dressed in period clothing. Yes, she did speak of the wealth of the family. An example; she explains that the large size of the silver spoons, forks and knives in the home proves wealth to the plantation dinner guest. As she continues the tour, she also does a great job describing the home, the family history, slave interaction with the family, and historically based stories about living on a working plantation.
Unfortunately, as we completed the tour more than an hour later, we could see heavy, dark blue rain clouds in the distance. We rushed out the doors, thanked the guide, and were only able to spend about twenty minutes among the trees, the Oak Alley, in the front yard. Due to the thunderstorm approaching, we headed to the car, causing us to miss the opportunity to stay longer and explore the rest of the grounds, the working blacksmith shop, and other features.
Some aspects of the The Oak Alley Plantation experience reminded us of the traditional tour provided 15 years ago, but the difference are the efforts to tell a more complete story about all people that lived and worked on the plantation. Since the thunderstorms did cut our visit short, we will return. Initially, we thought we could visit 2 or 3 plantations a day, but we know that 2 is more realistic. Consider visiting one in the morning, one in the afternoon. We are headed to Laura Plantation next.
Thanks for reading!
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