Like many southern states, Louisiana’s history is rich with plantations and estates. The lands are kept well-maintained and open for visitors to tour. One (very, very) hot summer day last August, my husband and I visited the historic grounds and Antebellum mansion at Oak Alley Plantation. Located on the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the plantation is famous for the double row of 28 live oaks planted about 300 years ago. There are 28 Doric columns around the house, one for each oak tree. Built between 1837-1839 by Architect George Swainey, it is in the French Creole style which shares many similarities with Caribbean plantation houses.
The tour guide, dressed in an 1800s style gown, told us the story of the plantation and how the oak trees came to be planted. The plantation mainly grew sugarcane, but pecans were also a major crop up until the civil war.Today, there are cottages on the grounds near the mansion where visitors can visit for a day, spend a weekend, or even host a wedding. After the being led through the beautiful interior, we toured the grounds and gardens, admired the classic 1920s Model A Fords, and sipped on delightfully refreshing mint juleps.
For all its manicured regality and beauty, the reality of the country’s history of slavery cannot be erased when visiting this or any other plantation. With the abolition of slavery after the Civil War, the house was sold for less than $33,000 at an auction. It subsequently changed hands many times due to the high costs of maintaining it. If not for Andrew and Josephine Stewart, who ultimately purchased and restored the house in 1925, this glimpse of southern history may have been lost forever.