Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana.
For our second look at Oak Alley we will take a walk down the back alley. That's right. There are, in fact, two magnificent approaches to the house. The trees are younger here, some of them having been planted over a hundred years later than the oaks in the front of the house by the Roman family, the rest of them added by the Stewarts another hundred years later in the 1930's. This approach is the path visitors first use to reach the main house.
The centerpiece at the end of the lane is an iron sugar kettle, once used to refine the sugar that was the main product of this plantation. Four kettles, the largest seven and a half feet in diameter, the smallest four feet in diameter, comprised what is known as a Jamaica Train, where cane juice was processed into crystallized sugar. Molasses, a by-product of the process, was also produced.
Walking past the sugar kettle, and out to the end of the back alley, visitors will find the Oak Alley Restaurant, housed in a turn of the (20th) century quarter house. It was here that tenanted farmers and their families lived, each square building consisting of four rooms centered on a single fireplace.
Breakfast is served here from 8:30 to 10:30. Beignets and coffee are a popular choice here, as well as their Pan Perdue, a French toast covered in confectionery sugar and cane syrup. Since it opens earlier than the house tours this is a great chance to relax and fuel up before walking the grounds.
Lunch is served from 11:00 to 3:00 p.m. with an emphasis on Cajun and Creole cuisine. You'll have your choice of red beans and rice, fried alligator nuggets, crawfish etouffée, gumbo and a daily special from chef Antonio Reymundo. (And don't forget to grab some bread pudding with whiskey sauce, unless you'd rather have some pecan pie.)
There is also a café open from 9 to 5 p.m. where you'll be able to grab a quick refreshment if you weren't planning on a full meal. It is located in the gift shop, which is connected to the restaurant.
Across from the restaurant and gift shop is Oak Alley Spirits. It was a little too early in the day for us to sample the Apple Pie Moonshine, though it did sound intriguing.
Between the restaurant and the main house is a reconstruction of the plantation's slave quarters. The Slavery at Oak Alley exhibit, which was added in July of 2013, is an educational memorial to the slaves that built and worked this plantation. Though slavery is forever tied to its history here, keep in mind it was only in use at Oak Alley for thirty years.
The exhibit does not shy away from the ugliness of slavery. On display are shackles as well as implements used for punishment, including neck shackles with bells, used as a way to make it harder for an escaped slave to hide. The children's transport shackles in the center of the picture are especially sobering.
I really liked this simple yet moving memorial inside one of the cabins. Alongside the wall of names is a plaque that reads:
Between 1836 and the Civil War, 198 men,
women and children were enslaved at Oak Alley.
Dehumanized and quantified like any other
commodity, they appear in sales and records and
inventories, yet as people they have been all but
forgotten by history.
This is a respectful recognition of the people on whose
backs this plantation was built. For most of them, a
name is all that remains of their story.
There is also an interactive Civil War Encampment on the grounds as well as an 1890's blacksmith shop. If you have the time you might also enjoy the antique car garage, featuring cars from the 1920's representing the Stewart era.
In part three of our tour we will step inside the main house and look at what life was like for the Romans and Stewarts.
If you missed part one of the tour, you can follow this link to it: Oak Alley (Part One)
For more information on Oak Alley see their website here.