Louisiana historic plantations
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- Nottoway was saved from destruction in the Civil War by a Union officer who had been a guest there.
- The same family has occupied the Butler Greenwood Plantation home since its construction in the 1790s.
- Senegalese slaves at Laura Plantation are believed to have first told a folklorist the tales of Br’er Rabbit.
- Houmas House Plantation, working 98,000 acres, was America’s largest sugar producer before the Civil War.
- Melrose Plantation in Melrose was built by and for free blacks (1833).
Forests of oaks and pillars
When “USA Today” selected the 10 best historic plantations for tourists, six were in Louisiana. Louisiana also is the place for plantation-themed trips because many choices are in a relatively small area. Plantation Country extends up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Baton Rouge and beyond to tiny St. Francisville, a distance of about 110 miles.
Plantation homes closer to New Orleans show French and West Indian influences in architecture and furnishings; those farther north originated with Anglo-Saxon owners.
Some are still owner-occupied, active plantations, which affects options for touring the big house and grounds. Others are managed by preservationists. Most offer guided tours, sometimes with costumed guides. Some show off lush gardens, and many boast huge old oaks. Filmmakers and TV crews love them as film locations.
Several offer accommodations, restaurants and/or sites for weddings and other events. On-site activities (ranging from period demonstrations to festivals and Christmas bonfire parties) and historical exhibits provide additional variety.
- Destrehan, a French Colonial structure and oldest documented plantation home in the lower Mississippi Valley (1787), offers period demonstrations on selected days.
- Evergreen, a uniquely large plantation complex with Greek Revival main house and privately held sugarcane business, boasts one of the nation’s most complete intact collections of slave cabins.
- Frogmore, where cotton is still raised, introduces visitors to plantation living of yesteryear and today.
- Houmas House, a private business offering accommodations and eateries, is known for its gardens and a Greek Revival house that bring moviemakers looking for great sets.
- Laura, featuring a raised Creole-style house, offers guided tours based on personal accounts of former owners, plus a clear-eyed view of slave life.
- The Myrtles, a B&B and self-described haunted house dating from circa 1796, builds tours and Halloween events around its ghosts.
- Nottoway, a pillared vision in white and big (64 rooms), is a luxury resort and ideal for visiting, for an overnight and dinner — or for a wedding.
- Oak Alley, providing overnight stays and a restaurant, houses the exhibit, “Slavery at Oak Alley,” spread across reconstructed slave quarters and centered on the individual slaves who lived there.
Things to do for Venturers
- Play golf at the Prison View Golf Course at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Book ahead and allow 48 hours for a background check. The prison grounds are former plantations.
- The plantations aren’t far from Louisiana swamps. Sign on for a swamp tour.
- Schedule your trip to accommodate the Mourning Tour, available for a month each fall, at St. Joseph Plantation, a working sugarcane business in Vacherie. This is a house tour, but the plantation is dressed according to Creole mourning traditions, which the guides — often family members of St. Joseph’s owners — will explain. The coffin sits in the main hall.
- Read “Weep for the Living” or another book written by Anne Butler with your book club, then arrange for your club to meet her at her Butler Greenwood Plantation at St. Francisville.
- At lunch, sample alligator or garfish po’boys. (Garfish is any of a number of slender fish with elongated jaws and sharply pointed teeth.)
- See how much cotton you can pick during your tour (between mid-July and April) of the Frogmore Plantation in Ferriday. Now a modern 1,800-acre plantation, it raises cotton for the garment industry. Tours focus on both the historic and the modern operations.
Things to do for Centrics
- Overnight on a former plantation, with simple or not-so-simple accommodations. Some choices are Butler Greenwood and the Myrtles at St. Francisville; Houmas House at Darrow, and Oak Alley at Vacherie.
- See Christmas bonfires at the Mississippi River levees, a tradition between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Nottoway and Oak Alley host Christmas bonfire parties in early December. The town of Lutcher stages its Festival of the Bonfires in mid-December, but other bonfires are on Christmas Eve in river towns or on river-facing plantations.
- At the Myrtles, join the Friday- or Saturday-night guided Mystery Tour, focusing on folklore, legends and ghost stories associated with the property. Destrehan in Destrehan and Oak Alley point to on-site ghosts, too.
- Pursue an interest in slave history. Evergreen at Egard has the most complete collection of slave cabins (22), still standing in the historic row arrangement. Meaningful exhibits can be seen at Whitney Plantation in Wallace and Oak Alley. Laura Plantation in Vacherie also offers insights, and Destrehan, site of slave revolt trials, hosts an “1811 Slave Revolt” exhibit.
- Participate in a special event at Oakley Plantation in St. Francisville. Examples have included lending a hand with 1821-era food preservation techniques or baking hoecakes, dipping candles and undertaking other tasks of former slaves.
- Join a bike tour as part of the springtime Crafters and Artists Garden Show at San Francisco Plantation in Garyville. Other plantations have autumn and spring arts and crafts fairs, too.
Things to do for Authentics
- Pause in St. Francisville to relish a walk in its historic district, particularly along Royal Street, whish is dotted with markers identifying the structures, most from the late 18th or early 19th century.
- Get as close as you can to the experience of plantation life at its most luxurious (for plantation owners anyway) by dining at and overnighting in the 64-room Nottoway, which gave its well-earned nickname to the town it is in, White Castle.
- If a photographer, choose and tour big houses — and slave cabins — with that in mind. The San Francisco Plantation house is the most colorful, literally, and is dubbed North America’s most opulent. Decide for yourself.
- Time your tour of Destrehan Plantation for a day (Saturday, Sunday, Monday or Tuesday) when you also can attend a demonstration of how work, such as blacksmithing, gardening and kitchen chores, was accomplished in other eras. San Francisco Plantation has blacksmithing and other period demonstrations, too.
- Stroll and relax in the extensive gardens at Houmas House, or at Rosedown Plantation at St. Francisville. At Houmas or other plantations with a cafe, pause over a mint julep.
- Frogmore occasionally schedules tours that include vocalists who relate the origins of gospels and secret slave songs. To join such a tour, call the property’s main number for dates.
For more information, consult Louisiana Travel at www.louisianatravel.com