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Monday, September 15, 2014

Oak Alley Plantation: An Iconic View (Part One)

Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana

To walk the grounds of Oak Alley Plantation is to walk the history of Louisiana.  This grand antebellum Lady of the Deep South provides one of the most iconic views of a Creole sugar plantation.  One hundred and Seventy-Five years ago, in 1839, Jacques Télesphore Roman built a home on the banks of the Mississippi as a gift for his wife Celina.  Although it would eventually become known as Oak Alley, its signature rows of Virginia Live Oaks were not planted by the Romans.  The man responsible for the 28 oaks, planted in two rows spaced 80 feet apart, is unknown.  It is believed that they were planted about one hundred years before the Romans built the main house.  Today, a short trip south from Baton Rouge or a short trip north from New Orleans will bring you to this amazingly restored plantation.

The largest oak on the grounds has a girth of 30 feet with a 127-foot spread of limbs.  The oaks in the alley were inducted into the Live Oak Society in the mid-nineties, each oak being registered with a name.  Since live oak trees can live as long as 600 years, these 300 year old oaks are now in the prime of their life.  Having lived this long, one can only imagine how many hurricanes they have endured.

The house is surrounded by 28 columns, representing the 28 oaks.  The walls of the home are sixteen inches thick, constructed of bricks that were made with mud from the Mississippi river, and covered in stucco.  A porch runs around the entire home with a portico that does the same on the second floor.  Our visit was on a hot day in late summer, yet the air was pleasant with a slight breeze and we sat in the shade quite comfortably.  Sipping on a Mint Julep made the experience even more pleasant.

 The plantation is open every day of the year except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, and Mardi Gras.  From March through October the hours are 9 am to 5 pm.  From November through February it closes a little earlier at 4:30 pm on weekdays.  Tickets to enter the grounds are $20 for adults and $7.50 for young adults (13-18).  Tickets for children ages 6 to 12 are only $4.50.  The restaurant opens earlier, at 8:30 am.

The southern porch looks out over a second alley of oaks that were planted by the Romans in the 1830s.  (The Stewarts, who owned the property from 1925 to 1972, added a few more oaks to the back alley in the 1930s.)  It is here on the back porch where you'll get a chance to order a few drinks to quench your thirst.  Tea and lemonade are available for the kids (including a virgin Mint Julep) and of course genuine Mint Juleps for the adults.  

We'll revisit Oak Alley for a look at the back alley and the slave quarter memorial, as well as the restaurant in our next post.  We'll save the tour of the house for our third installment, which will include the tragic story of the Romans.

And let's finish with one last look at the front of the house, as seen from the oaks.

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