Back to the Past – An Afternoon at Oak Alley Plantation

When you think of southern grandeur it is easy to picture the beautiful Oak Alley Plantation. With its canopy of 28 Oak trees that form a path to the front of the “Big House” it looks like a scene straight out of Gone with the Wind. It may seem a very romantic setting. But its beauty also has a very dark past. A past that should not be hidden behind the beautiful façade. But for now let’s explore and learn more about Oak Alley and the life of those who owned it.

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An afternoon at Oak Alley Plantation

Brief History – Oak Alley Plantation through the ages

The Bon Sejour plantation, as Oak Alley Plantation was originally named, was purchased by Valcour Aime in 1830. The purpose of the plantation was to grow sugarcane and Mr. Aime was known as the “King of Sugar”.

In 1836 Oak Alley Plantation changed hands to Jacques Roman who built the present mansion that stands on its grounds. However, his wife Marie Therese Josephine Celina Pile Roman managed the estate after Jacques death in 1848.  Marie did not have the proper skill to manage the plantation. Therefore, her son Henri takes control in 1859 before it is bankrupt.

After the Civil War and the end of slavery, Oak Alley Plantation was no longer economically viable. Therefore, the plantation is sold at auction to John Armstrong for $32,800.

By 1920 the building had fallen into disrepair since the owners could not afford its upkeep. And a few years later it is purchased by Andrew and Josephine Stewart.

The Stewarts were the last owners to live in the mansion. They restore it and modernize it and live there till Josephine dies in 1972. At this time the Oak Alley Foundation receives the property and later opens it to the public as a tourist attraction.

 

The Big House

The antebellum mansion, also known as “The Big House”, is built in a Greek revival style with 28 Doriac columns on all four sides. It features a gorgeous wraparound porch on the second floor with doors and windows that open so that the breeze funneled by the 300 year old canopy of oak trees would make its way through the house and cool it.

As described in the brief history above, The Big House was built under Jacques Roman direction. Bricks were made on site, but the slate for the roof, the glass for the windows, and the marble for the dining room floor were imported and arrived by steamboat. It took 3 years to build and it was all accomplished through slave labor.

Bourbon Mint Julep
Bourbon Mint Julep

Before you go in the house for your tour make sure to purchase a refreshing drink (like the bourbon mint julep pictured above) at the stand outside. They will even give you a lid so that you can take your drink with you on the tour. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions are available.

The dining room in the “Big House” at Oak Alley Plantation

The Dining Room

The dinning has two large doors you could open and the oak trees outside would funnel the air in. But flies would come in as well so they had a shufly fan over the table that was operated by one of the slaves.  The slave would have to pull the cord to move the fan to keep the air flowing and keep the flies away.

Additionally, on the table they would have a special jar that was a fly catcher.  It would be filled with something sweet like honey to attract the flies but the shape of it would keep the flies trapped inside.  It was covered with a handkerchief so the guest would not have to see the flies inside the jar.

Courters Candle

The Living Room

The Living room was used for other social gatherings including a place where men would come to court the daughters.  They used a special candle called a courters candle, and the men where only allowed to court for however long it took the candle to melt.  The father would adjust the hight of the candle depending on how much he liked the prospect.

What looks like a marble fireplace is actually wood painted to resemble marble. And all the marble floors have also been replaced with wood.

 

bedroom Oak Alley Plantation
Bedroom at Oak Alley Plantation

 

Door from outside porch into the bedroom area and our lovely guide

 

Second floor porch

The Bedrooms and Porch Area

All bedrooms were on the second level of the house.  Including a master bedroom, a multipurpose room which served as a guest room, an infirmary and even a mourning room. There is also a children’s room. All beds are surrounded by mosquito netting.  The childrens beds have it attached to the wall and the adult rooms it is part of the canopy on the bed. The guest bed has a pineapple which is a sign of hospitality to welcome the guests to the home. Upstairs there is also a wrap around porch.

 

Slave cabins Oak Alley Plantation
Slave Cabins at Oak Alley Plantation

Slave Cabins

The Big House is not the only structure on the 2 acres of property. It also features slave cabins that have been turned into an exhibit and museum. These exhibits cover health care, punishment, and life after emancipation.

Since there is no formal tour of this area I encourage you to spend some time exploring it on your own. The slave’s lives are just as important as the lives of those who lived in the Big House. And the exhibit will help you learn about the history of the slaves that lived there.

If you pay attention, on the area where the slave cabins are, there are placards that talk about their life. The dark past of Oak Alley is finally acknowledged and we are reminded that the Plantation was built on the backs of slaves. They express the following:

“We hope that by bringing the life, work and identity of those who were enslaved here into focus, we look to bring truthfulness and clarity to the story of Oak Alley Plantation”

 

Gardens at Oak Alley Plantation

Oak Alley in the Spotlight

You may be thinking that the plantation looks familiar. And you may very well be right. Oak Alley has been featured in many movies, shows and even song videos. Some of the most famous ones being Interview with a Vampire, Days of our Lives, Ghost hunters, Knight Rider and Beyonce’s “Déjà vu” music video.

 

Paranormal Activity at Oak Alley Plantation

Although this plantation exudes southern charm, it does have like I mentioned above, a dark past. Oak Alley’s website has an entire section which describes its paranormal activities. Chairs rock on their own and objects fly across the rooms. It is said Oak Alley Plantation has at least 2 resident ghosts. One is thought to be Mrs. Stewart which is the last owner and another is a man in grey boots.

If paranormal activity is something you are interested in, then New Orleans is a great place to be. And you can read the story of 5 famous New Orleans ghosts in this post about Haunted New Orleans.

 

Front of the Big House at Oak Alley Plantation

Essential Information

Location

Oak Alley plantation is located about an hour from New Orleans on the Mississippi River in a town called Vacherie, Louisiana.

Address: 3645 Highway 18 (Great River Road), Vacherie, Louisiana 70090
Phone: 225-265-2151

How to get there: Best way to get there is by car. The area has many plantations that you can visit in one trip. However, if you do not have a car, several tour companies can take you there.

Hours of Operation

November – February
Monday to Friday 9:00 am – 4:30 pm
Saturday and Sunday 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

March – October
9:00 am – 5:00 pm daily

Access to the Big house is by tour only. Guided tours begin at 9:30 and run approx. every 30 min with groups of about 35-45.

Plantation is closed on New Years Day, Mardi Gras Tuesday, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

 

Admission Cost

At the time this article was written the cost of admission was as follows:
Adults $22
Youth (13-18 yrs old) $8
Children (6-12 yrs old) $5
Children under 5 – FREE

I had a $3 off coupon that came in my Visit New Orleans book. You can request your own book or check on their website for printable coupons. The book has great information about New Orleans as well as many valuable coupons you can use during your stay.

Final thoughts: Spending an afternoon at Oak Alley plantation is an afternoon filled with history. Not only does Oak Alley have Southern Charm but it also has a dark history of slavery. Make sure to take some beautiful pictures under the oak trees, have a refreshing drink and immerse yourself in history. But most importantly open your eyes and see past its pretty facade. And imagine what life must have been like for the slaves. Oak Alley is a perfect day trip if you are visiting New Orleans.

 

Have you visited Oak Alley Plantation or any other Plantation? Would love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments below or lets get social on Instagram or Facebook.

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33 Comments

  1. What a fascinating place! I so regret not visiting any plantations when in Louisiana. That mint julep looks amazing! And how great that you can bring it on the tour with you.

    1. Next time you visit you should select a few. They all are great learning experiences and a good escape from the city.

  2. I’ve never been to a plantation house. It looks massive and I love that you can take your drink with you on the tour! I’m glad there’s some plaques near the slave quarters to talk a bit more about it. It’s a shame it isn’t part of the tour.

    1. I have been to several some in Charleston SC as well. It is always an educational experience. It is nice to get away from Bourbon street and New Orleans and see a different side and learn a bit of the history.

    1. I think everything in New Orleans and Louisiana is haunted. The history there would lend itself to it. Hope you enjoy the haunted New Orleans blog as well

  3. I love touring historic sites! I would take a tour here for sure. Slavery was horrific, but I think it’s important to learn about it. It’s too bad there is not a tour. We went to Jefferson’s Monticello this summer, and they did have a tour of the slave quarters. I also love a good ghost tour! I like that you can take your drink with you. I will keep this site on my radar for future trips!

    1. Yes I wish the slave quarters would have been part of the formal tour. The educational materials there were great but still having a formal tour would have been better. It is important to learn about the past and learn from the mistakes to ensure they do not happen again.

  4. We never got to go to the plantations outside Nola so I’m especially thankful, you did such a great job sharing your visit

    1. I will have another post coming soon on another one of the plantations I visited with I liked even more. Next time you go you really need to check them out it is worth it.

  5. I really wish you’d focused a little bit less on how glamorous & exciting it all was and how truly horrific it was that all of these glamorous, beautiful things were created by slaves who had been stolen from their homes and brought to die under whip and lash … When writing about plantations, I really think that takeaway should be less “how pretty!” and more “how absolutely disgusting.” But that’s just my 2 cents 😉

    1. I am sorry but did you even read my post? If you did then you would have seen that my focus is to remember the horrors that happened. I even complained that the slave exhibition had no guided tour and that this must be what we should focus on. I am well aware of the horrors and this history is a horrific past that must be taught and remembered so that it NEVER EVER happens again.

  6. What a very interesting place to visit! Your picture of the slaves cabin alone looked so sad. I could already imagine how even depressing knowing their stories are. But you are right, they also played an important role in the history of the Oak Plantation and also deserve attention.

    1. Many forget that these beautiful places would not exist if the slaves did not put their sweat, blood and tears into building and maintaining them. It is very educational to visit and to always remember this part of history so that it does not repeat itself.

  7. Great way to explore Louisiana – It’s always great to take in the history of a place. Thanks also for going over the brief history at the beginning, that’s really well done. Interesting to see how it’s been featured in movies and the Beyonce song – the oaks are so beautiful it’s not hard to see why!

    1. It is a gorgeous plantation with a very dark past as most plantations since it was built on slave labor. I always appreciate the history and learning from each place I visit. Hopefully everyone that visits this particular plantation will take the time to thoroughly go through the slave exhibits. It is a shameful part of our past but it must be remembered so that it does not repeat itself.

  8. As a Southerner myself I love learning most about Southern history so this place is right up my alley. Such a gorgeous property and the slave cabins are interesting–I’ve never seen those. Also, I love that they serve drinks before the tour! Fantastic!

    1. Each plantation has its own story but they do have the common theme of slavery. A past I am not proud of. But I am grateful for places that have now opened their doors to educate others on this in the hope of remembering and not having the past repeat itself.

  9. The plantation has alot of history. I would love to explore the slave quarters. Also, I love how you explain the beauty of the house.

    1. Thanks Naomi – it is a sad and dark past. But a part of history and as such it must be remembered in the hopes that slavery NEVER EVER happens again.

    1. It is preserved beautifully but most importantly it tells the story through the exhibits of how the slaves lived. Hopefully people learn from it.

  10. So interesting! I’m never surprised to hear that a plantation has a dark history or paranormal activity, just based on their origins (slavery). And it’s always a little weird and unsettling to walk through places like this, but I appreciate their vision for making it a tourist attraction. Uncovering and spreading the truth is always good! Also, the grounds are so beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Interesting story… I was glad to read that they acknowledge about importance of the slaves on the history of the house though, even saying their lives after emancipation. Perhaps, that’s the reason for the ghosts lol. I would be terrified to be alone 😉

    1. Yes I am sure the ghosts are related to the slaves and past owners. I do not think I would want to be alone there at night myself.

  12. I simply loved the picturesque location of Oak Alley Plantation and the Big House. This house looks picture perfect. I am not surprised about the paranormal activities there. Though I would love to have a tour someday.

    1. The tour is the only way to see the house. It also really helps to learn its history. Just don’t forget to take the time to visit the slave exhibits that part of the history is not covered much in the tour and it is an important part.

  13. What a beautiful place! I love that they also dress up to make you feel part of the scene, even if I’m still scared of “haunted” places after stepping into Kilkenny Castle in Ireland. That was spooky as hell, this looks much more beautiful!

    1. So many castles are haunted. I loved visiting the ones in Scotland. Been to a few in Ireland as well. Aside from the haunted part hope you enjoyed your castle visit.

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