Sunday, July 26, 2009

Oak Alley Plantation

Yesterday we journeyed to Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana. In the early 1700's a settler claimed land from an original royal grant for his dwelling and defined its entrance with an alley of live oaks in two rows leading to the Mississippi River. In this photo my back is to the Mississippi. While today the levee is built up, back then it was only 5 feet high you could see the river from the house. There are 28 oak trees, 14 on each side, stretching out for a 1/4 mile. They are incredible.

The roots on those 28 trees are gigantic, poised above the ground like old arthritic fingers. We were told on our tour that the oak trees have a life expectancy of around 600 years, so these trees have around 300 years of life left in them!

Around the back of the house, more oak trees were planted by the most recent owners, Andrew & Josephine Stewart, who acquired it in 1925. Several of these trees have these sweeping limbs, just taunting all the young visitors who want to climb them...if it weren't for the signs forbidding you to! Mrs. Stewart died in 1972 and the management of the plantation was placed in the hands of a nonprofit organization, which opened the plantation to the public.

Aunt Penny was still visiting from West Monroe and she brought her great niece Karrah. Karrah was visiting for the summer from Perkiomenville, Pennsylvania. As we waited to enter the mansion for the tour, I couldn't help but envision Scarlett and the Tarleton Twins in the opening scene of Gone with the Wind.

In between the period of time when the setter planted the oaks and when the Stewart's purchased the plantation, several families claimed Oak Alley as their home. Most notably, as we learned from our adorable Cajun Plantation Guide Whitlee (seen below), was Jacques Telesphore Roman and his young bride Celina. Jacques and Celina had been married on June 14th, 1834 and in 1836 they purchased the plantation.

Jacques Telesphore and Celina plunged with enthusiasm into the project of building their plantation home. There would be no corners cut ... only the best would do. Their home took over two years to complete.

The most notable part of the house, aside from the majestic oaks towering outside, were the 28 classic columns surrounding the house. The columns measure 8 feet in circumference and are solid brick. All the materials used in the construction of the home were found or manufactured on the plantation with the exception of the marble for the floors and fireplaces and the slate for the roof, both of which were imported.

The house was designed for maximum protection from the fierce summers of this area. The veranda extends approximately 13 feet from the walls, keeping the home in shade most of the day. The tall windows and doors face each other for cross ventilation and the ceilings are 12 feet high. Most important are the 16 inch thick brick walls throughout the house.

Improvements and additions continued through the end of the decade and the kitchen facilities were finally completed in 1841. Furnishings and interior fittings had been arriving continuously by steamboat, and special care was given to the gardens. The final result was a plantation home to be envied by the most discerning of the well-to-do sugar planters of the day. Legend has it that Celina Roman proudly christened her new home "Bon Sejour" (pleasant sojourn), but travelers on the Mississippi, impressed by the avenue of mighty oaks, called it "Oak Alley", and so it remained!

We were not allowed to photograph anything in the home, so the following pictures are images that I've found on the Internet.

As we begun our tour we were ushered into the living room. I had a hard time understanding Whitlee and her Cajun accent, but I did learn about the gold convex mirror on the far wall and the courting candle.

The convex mirrow was used so that father's could see all corners of the room when a young suitor was courting his daughter.

The courting candle was used in the 1800s, if a young man would come to visit a young lady. The father of the young lady would set the candle at a height he felt appropriate for the young man to stay. When the candle burnt down to the top of the metal, it was time for the young man to leave. For example, if the Father liked the young man he would set the candle all the way to the top, but if he did not like the young man he would set it much like it is in the picture so he would have to leave soon.

This is Oak Alley's Dining room. Notice the large, harp-like object hanging in the middle of the table. This is the ceiling fan and it is attached to that string you see in the top right corner of the photo. A young slave boy would sit in the corner of the dining room and swing the fan during meals to keep the guest cool.

This room is called the sick room. After someone died they would place black netting over the mirrors so the spirits would not be trapped. See the rolling pin on the bed? Each day the servants would roll out all the mattresses in the house. This process would take hours and no one was allowed onto the beds again until it was time to sleep.

This is the Master Bedroom. The bed is a pineapple post bed. The Pineapple was a sign of welcome. Guest were often presented with a cut pineapple when they arrived. Yet, if you woke up one morning to find an uncut pineapple placed at the end of your bed, it was a polite way of saying you had over stayed your welcome. You should take your pineapple and go.

Also in the master bedroom was the only piece of furniture that had belonged to Jacques and Celina. It was a gorgeous bassinet and my favorite piece in the whole house.

The house tour was over before we knew it and then we were free to walk the grounds. We bought mint juleps and lemon juleps and lemonade and strolled a bit through the grounds before leaving for home.

I can't wait for Penny to come back for a visit. We'll be making plans to visit more of the plantations in the area!


  1. Rusty and I need to get some of those candles for when the girls start dating ;) Too bad life isn't like it was back then, much more respect was given in that time than it is these days. THose trees are gorgeous lovely place to take pictures :)

  2. Great blog about the plantation! I haven't been here since I was a kid and I always LOVED the trees! The candle is a funny part of the blog. I was given one when I was a teenager by my grandmother. She always told me stories of the candle, LOL! Thanks for sharing:)

  3. Kristen!! You'll have to come down with Penny next time she comes...bring the girls and take some pictures :) We'll make a day of it! Then find some yummy food to make! I know the girls would love to visit with Abbie and KK :) Me too!

    Gretchen... Thanks! Did your dad make you pull out the courting candle when Tedo came to visit?? hahhaa

  4. I had an uncle that lived in Lafayette, LA years ago. I loved it when we'd go visit because we would sometimes visit old plantations. They were lovely. Thanks for sharing this one.


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