In the years prior to the U.S. Civil War, the 70 mile stretch of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans was a corridor of sugar cane plantations, many showcasing monumental homes. Today the sugar cane and a few of the antebellum mansions remain, intermixed with petro chemical plants that sprang up in the 20th Century. We drove the length of the River Road, visiting the plantations and small, historic towns along the route.
Of the historic River Road plantations, the most recognized is probably Oak Alley. Its white pillared house, built in the Greek Revival style, has been featured in many movies and television shows.
The 300 year old Southern Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana) which line the path extending from the house to the river, pre-date the building.
Visitors to the plantation are taken on a guided tour of the house.
Oak Alley looks like the stately southern mansions of my imagination.
Many plantation homes were abandoned, ruined, or destroyed during the 20th century due to encroachments of the Mississippi, federal action, owner disinterest, fragmented ownership, demolition by industry, and a weak economy. The revival of the remaining River Road homes began with the restoration of Oak Alley in the 1920s.
The River Road plantations were narrow and long, allowing each to have access to the Mississippi river, which was bounded by a small levee to protect from spring flooding. In addition to the main house, each had a large number of buildings including a sugar mill and many slave cabins. The plantations produced a cash crop on a large scale for world export. They were self-contained communities run like a manufacturing business.
We also visited the Laura Plantation, one of the few Creole plantations that remain. Creoles were a multi-racial people descended from the French, African American, and Native Americans. Creole plantation houses were generally smaller and brightly coloured.
At its largest size, the Laura Plantation was approximately 12,000 acres (4850 hectares), which included properties amassed over time. The main house, in addition to being the living quarters of the plantation owners, was also their business office and the place where grand social occasions took place.
Laura Locoul, after whom the plantation was named, left a journal for her daughters, so a great deal is known about the family itself and the estate. The guided tour offered at this plantation is based on personal accounts about life on this historic farm found in Laura’s journals and the French National Archives.
in the center of the property, 3.5 miles behind the house were the slave quarters. There were 69 cabins, each holding 2 families, communal kitchens, an infirmary, and several water wells. By the 1850s, the Laura Plantation was the workplace for 100 mules and 195 humans, 175 of them slaves.