A day trip to Oak Alley
I am a huge fan of day-trips! I believe they provide the opportunity to make great memories with friends and families; experience a bit of the escape that a longer vacation provides; and are budget-friendly. But when a day-trip also allows you to travel back in time, it’s truly remarkable. This is the case when you visit any one of the numerous plantation homes just a short drive west of New Orleans.
How to Get There
Located on both sides of the Mississippi River, plantation homes dating back to the early 1800s are between a half-hour to hour drive from New Orleans. The closest is the famous Destrehan Plantation, located on the east bank of the river and just on the eastward side of the Interstate 310. If you continue the journey west, you’ll come across more plantations, including San Francisco Plantation, Laura Plantation, Oak Alley Plantation and Houmas House. Obviously, the interstate provides the quickest route to each of these locations. If you choose to follow the windy River Road, you’ll get a better sense of the landscape and levees around the plantations, but the drive will take a bit longer.
A Glimpse Into a Life
While the various homes represent different styles of architecture and tell different stories of the families who lived there, most have something in common: They show glimpses into life when sugar cane was the currency of the land and the sugar barons were king.
This is true of my favorite plantation to take the kids to: Oak Alley. Any age child can appreciate the beauty of the famous Greek revival style mansion that is Oak Alley, but the older ones can also learn a great deal of history by touring the estate. The story of Oak Alley begins in the early 1800s when Celina and Jacques Roman bought the land and, in 1837, began the three-year process of building the beautiful home. The house was built with 28 columns to mirror the 28 oak trees in the iconic rows of oaks that frame the front on the house. A journey through the early years at Oak Alley touches on historical issues such as enslaved people and mortality rates due to diseases like Yellow Fever and the Civil War.
After the Civil War, the Roman family sold the mansion at auction. In the decades following, the ownership of Oak Alley changed hands several times and the house fell into disrepair. Our tour guide even described cows roaming through the parlors of the mansion since doors and windows had fallen off the house. Years later, in 1925, Andrew and Josephine Stewart purchased and restored the mansion. Mrs. Stewart outlived her husband by more than 25 years and established a trust to ensure the future of Oak Alley.
What to Do
Tours are available daily and include not only the Big House, but also the beautiful grounds, the slaves’ quarters including the “Slavery at Oak Alley” exhibit, the blacksmith shop, the Civil War encampment and a video in the “Sugarcane Theatre” about the important role sugar played in southern Louisiana. We enjoyed lunch at the on-site restaurant before heading back to New Orleans. I was struck by the number of international visitors touring Oak Alley. People literally travel across the globe to experience Oak Alley and yet, even though it was a mere hour’s drive for me, until recently, I had never seen Oak Alley for myself. I can’t think of a better way to experience true Louisiana history. So grab the kids and grandchildren, you are just an hour away from the 1800s.
For admission prices, tour times and driving directions to nearby plantations, visit the following websites:
Destrehan Plantation: DestrehanPlantation.org
Houmas House Plantation and Garden: HoumasHouse.com
Laura Plantation: LauraPlantation.com
Oak Alley: OakAlleyPlantation.com
San Francisco Plantation: SanFranciscoPlantation.org