Step into the lush, verdant world of Louisiana’s past. Here, whispers of history echo through ancient live oaks, and the scent of magnolia blossoms lingers. Picture yourself embarking on a journey through time. Explore the grandeur and luxury of the ten largest plantations that grace this enchanting Southern landscape.
Like pearls strung along the banks of the Mississippi River, these architectural masterpieces stand as testaments to the past era of antebellum splendor. Each plantation is a storybook, with tales of love, loss, and legacy woven between their weathered walls. As you meander along the winding paths, you become a part of this narrative, unraveling the secrets hidden within the shadows of these majestic mansions.
So, lace up your walking shoes, grab your sunhat, and prepare to be captivated by the awe-inspiring beauty and fascinating history of Louisiana’s most magnificent plantations.
Importance of Plantations in Shaping State Economy and Society
Plantations hold great significance in shaping Louisiana’s economy and society. They initially played a vital role in the state’s development. Moreover, plantations contributed immensely to agricultural production in these ways:
- They fostered economic growth. Plantations created job opportunities, boosting the local workforce. Plantation owners also invested in infrastructure, supporting community development.
- They impacted Louisiana’s culture significantly. Plantations introduced diverse populations, enriching the state’s heritage. Consequently, various traditions blended, forming a distinct cultural identity.
- They facilitated international trade. Louisiana exported valuable crops, such as cotton and sugar. In turn, this attracted foreign investment, bolstering the state’s economy.
On the other hand, the plantation system also had some negative aspects; one of them was that it relied heavily on slave labor, causing immense suffering. This dark chapter left a lasting impact on Louisiana’s society.
The 10 Largest Plantations in Louisiana
1. Houmas House Plantation
The 38-acre Houmas House Plantation, one of Louisiana’s largest plantations, has eight buildings and a main structure. It boasts a rich history and impacted the sugar industry tremendously. The Houmas House Plantation produced a staggering 20 million pounds of sugar annually in the late 1800s.
However, the Great Depression struck a sour note, forcing the owners to close. A new owner breathed life into the property in 1940 by opening it to the public after extensive renovations in the early 1960s.
In 2003, the new owner, Kevin Kelly, expanded the plantation’s offerings. He changed Houmas House by introducing a sprawling garden, restaurant, and inn. Visitors can now enjoy a 1-hour guided tour of the main house, which partly served as Kelly’s private residence.
Though Houmas House’s exterior resembles Oak Alley Plantation, its beautiful gardens and grounds set it apart. Stroll along scenic walkways, admire water features, and marvel at a Chihuly glass chandelier in the covered pavilion. The tour also highlights critical architectural features and antiques within the main house.
Venture into the garden and discover the original garçonnière – a unique, octagonal structure where young men could bond through masculine activities before marriage. Located just over an hour from the Crescent City, Houmas House Plantation is one of the finest plantations near New Orleans.
2. Laura Plantation
Located along Louisiana’s historic Great River Road, Laura Plantation is a testament to Louisiana’s rich past. A mere 50-minute drive from New Orleans, this 14-acre estate boasts 12 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.
At the heart of the plantation is the 1805 Maison Principale, a raised Creole-style Big House. Other notable structures include the 1829 Maison de Reprise and four original 1840s slave cabins. Additionally, visitors can explore formal and kitchen gardens that paint a picture of past days.
Creole heritage and influence are evident in the plantation’s architecture and culture. Stories and legends surrounding Laura Plantation add mystique to this iconic site. The plantation’s permanent exhibit, “From Big House to the Quarters: Slavery on Laura Plantation,” delves into enslaved African lives. It follows their development from bondage through the American Civil War and the 20th century.
The plantation is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., except for significant holidays. Tours are offered every 40 minutes beginning at 10:00 a.m. Round off your experience with authentic Cajun and Creole cuisine at B&C Seafood Market and Cajun Restaurant nearby. A trip to Laura Plantation whisks you back, revealing a fascinating chapter of Louisiana’s history.
3. Whitney Plantation
Spanning 200 acres, Whitney Plantation is one of the largest plantations in Louisiana. Established in 1752 by the Haydel family, it was home to generations of African slaves for over a century. As visitors explore the meticulously restored historic houses, they gain insight into the lives and experiences of these enslaved individuals.
Moreover, the plantation features poignant memorials dedicated to Louisiana’s 100,000 enslaved women, men, and children. Two permanent exhibits unravel the complex web of the slave trade, its economic impact, and slavery history in the state. In specific structures, life-size sculptures of children symbolize those born into bondage, giving a face to the harrowing statistics.
Although Cummings, the previous owner, donated Whitney Plantation and its contents to a non-profit in 2019, the legacy he and Seck built endures. Their commitment to educating the public about this challenging subject ensures America’s dark past is not forgotten. By doing so, they instill hope for better choices.
4. Oak Alley Plantation
Oak Alley Plantation proudly stands as one of the iconic plantations in the South. Constructed solely by slave labor, the mansion took two years to build, finishing in 1837. Spanning 11,500 square feet, Oak Alley is a testament to history.
Oak Alley’s most enchanting feature is the 300-year-old oak trees lining the path to the main house. Visitors can only imagine the stories they hold while strolling amongst these ancient giants. Oak Alley served as a sugar plantation on River Road alongside Laura Plantation and Houmas House.
However, the Civil War left Oak Alley in disrepair. The plantation changed ownership several times until Andrew and Josephine Stewart purchased it in 1926. Their diligent restoration efforts saved the plantation, preserving its beauty for future generations.
Upon Josephine’s passing, she ensured the plantation would remain open for visitors by placing it in a trust. Besides its historical significance, Oak Alley has also earned pop culture fame. It was featured in Interview with a Vampire, Beyonce’s “Deja Vu” music video, and her “B’day” album photoshoot.
5. Rosedown Plantation
Rosedown Plantation, at its peak, spanned a vast 3,455 acres, primarily cultivating cotton. This plantation house’s captivating architecture makes it one of Louisiana’s best. The white clapboard, hand-carved spindles, and expansive porches exude an inviting charm. Upon entering, visitors can admire the antique furnishings that once belonged to the Turnbulls, the original proprietors. Remarkably, these antiques remained at Rosedown despite post-Civil War economic turmoil in the South.
Distinct from other plantations, Rosedown’s primary crop was cotton. Over 450 enslaved individuals enabled massive production, reaching its zenith just before the Civil War. In the mid-1900s, the owners’ descendants sold the property to Catherine Fondren Underwood, an enthusiastic gardener.
Underwood meticulously restored the gardens using heirloom seeds and cuttings, reviving their former splendor. Presently, Rosedown Plantation is preserved as a state park. Interestingly, a noteworthy feature of guided tours is the plantation’s built-in closets, a rarity during the early 1900s.
6. Nottoway Plantation
Constructed in 1859, Nottoway Plantation boasts an impressive 53,000 square feet, making it the biggest standing antebellum plantation house in the South. John Randolph and architect Henry Howard constructed this Greek Italianate-styled mansion with a clear goal: no expense spared.
Featuring over 64 rooms, 165 doors, and 200 windows, navigating this grand estate can feel like a maze. During your guided tour, you’ll uncover the plantation’s rich history, construction, and resilience throughout the Civil War.
The luxury amenities, including the swimming pool, cabana, outdoor tennis courts, etc., make your stay there more enjoyable. Despite utilizing every inch, the plantation never feels crowded or forced; everything flows seamlessly. Nottoway Plantation offers dozens of rooms, cottages, and suites for rent, creating a cozy and charming atmosphere that will make you want to stay indefinitely.
Whether you have an entire weekend or just a few hours, Nottoway Plantation is the perfect getaway for anyone seeking a temporary escape.
7. St. Joseph Plantation
St. Joseph Plantation, established around 1830, was built by the Scioneaux family via slave labor. In 1840, Dr. Cazamine Mericq bought and sold the property to Alexis Ferry and his wife, Josephine. With Josephine’s dowry money from her father, Gabriel Valcour Aime, they remodeled the home, adding four rooms and enclosing the ground floor to create a basement.
Gabriel Valcour Aime, “Louis the XIV of Louisiana,” was considered the wealthiest man in the South. He owned a nearby plantation called La Petite Versailles, which tragically burned down around 1920. Aime’s extensive gardens featured flowers and plants, including coffee and bananas from various parts of the world, and required regular maintenance from 30 people.
After the Civil War, Joseph Waguespack purchased the plantation in a sheriff’s sale. According to Joan Boudreaux, the general manager and Waguespack’s great-great-great-granddaughter, the property has remained within the extended family ever since.
In 1850, the neighboring Felicity plantation was built using dowry money for Josephine’s sister, Felicity. Joseph Waguespack later bought the 1,200-acre Felicity plantation in 1899 and combined it with St. Joseph in 1901, creating St. Joseph Planting and Manufacturing Co. Ltd.
St. Joseph Plantation’s most famous resident was Henry Hobson Richardson, a renowned 19th-century architect born there in 1838. Richardson designed iconic buildings such as the original Marshall Field store in Chicago and the Trinity Church of Boston, featuring the “Richardsonian Romanesque” style.
The home at St. Joseph Plantation was occupied intermittently but closed in the 1970s. During renovations years later, family members had to remove shutters nailed onto the windows for Hurricane Betsy in 1965.
8. Evergreen Plantation
Between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Evergreen Plantation sits on 575 acres along the Mississippi River. Established by the Becnel family around 1812, it began as a sugar and rice plantation. The property boasts a compact and symmetrical layout centered around the big Greek Revival-style house designed by John Carver in 1832.
Bordering the main house are two dependencies facing the river and offering picturesque views of the sprawling lawn and wetlands along the bank. Whitewood fencing and stuccoed walls frame the plantation, converging at an elegant wrought iron gate. Behind the house lies a square, ornamental boxwood parterre, bordered by outbuildings and shaded live oaks at the farthest corners.
Deeper into the plantation, a 1300-foot live oak allée unfurls, with 22 slave cabins lining the drive. Evergreen operated as a plantation until the Great Depression when it fell into disuse. However, in 1944, Matilda Gray purchased and meticulously restored the property. Today, Evergreen Plantation is both a working farm and a public attraction.
With 37 antebellum buildings, Evergreen Plantation is a prime example of an early American agricultural enterprise in the Southern U.S. Recognizing its historical significance; it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992.
9. Destrehan Plantation
Established in 1787, Destrehan Plantation is the oldest documented plantation home in the lower Mississippi Valley. As you enter this historic site, you’ll journey from the French and Spanish Colonial periods to the antebellum era of sugar barons. Witness the impact of the Civil War and the rebirth of reconstruction while immersing yourself in Louisiana’s rich history.
At Destrehan Plantation, you’ll discover captivating family stories of both free and enslaved individuals. These personal accounts, set against history, will intrigue everyone. Among the plantation’s notable residents were Marie Celeste Robin de Logny and her husband, Jean Noel Destrehan, a highly successful sugar producer and an influential figure in Louisiana’s statehood.
The plantation proudly displays an original document signed by President Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison.
This significant piece of history appointed Jean Noel to the Orleans Territorial Council, which created Louisiana’s civil law of government. In 1811, Destrehan Plantation played a crucial role as one of the trial locations following the largest slave revolt in U.S. history, led by Charles Deslondes. Furthermore, during the Civil War, the Union Army seized the property and established the Rost Home Colony. Here, newly freed slaves learned valuable trades, enabling their transition to freedom.
Nestled along the historic River Road, this stunning antebellum home overlooks the Mississippi River, just minutes from New Orleans. With its lush green grounds and moss-draped live oaks, Destrehan Plantation received the prestigious Louey Award in 2010, naming it the Louisiana Attraction of the Year.
10. Myrtles Plantation
Myrtles Plantation, a prominent Oak Alley Plantation, boasts a rich history dating back to the late 18th century. As you enter the grounds, ancient oak trees form a stunning canopy overhead. These majestic giants have silently observed the plantation’s fascinating stories unfold for centuries.
Myrtles Plantation was a bustling sugarcane farm with a captivating beauty and an undeniable charm that quickly gained recognition. Nowadays, visitors worldwide journey to this unique destination for an up-close experience of Southern history.
Many consider Myrtles Plantation one of America’s most haunted homes. Reports of paranormal activity, ghostly apparitions, mysterious footsteps, and unexplained occurrences abound. These spine-tingling experiences only enhance the site’s allure. The plantation offers insightful guided tours. Knowledgeable guides lead guests through the elegant mansion, sharing captivating stories of its past inhabitants. Visitors also can wander the picturesque grounds, absorbing the surrounding enchanting beauty.
Relishing the Magnificence of Louisiana’s Sprawling Plantations
Exploring the ten largest plantations in Louisiana offers a fascinating journey into the region’s rich history and cultural tapestry. These historic estates, with their striking architecture and extensive grounds, serve as living museums that provide valuable insights into the lives of those who resided and labored within their walls.
Each plantation, from the grandeur of Oak Alley to the poignant history of Evergreen, holds a unique narrative that contributes to our understanding of Louisiana’s past and the legacy of the plantation system. A visit to these captivating sites is both an educational and moving experience. It leaves visitors with a deeper appreciation for the complex stories that helped shape this remarkable region.
Summary of the 10 Largest Plantations in Louisiana
|1||Houmas House Plantation||Darrow|
|4||Oak Alley Plantation||Vacherie|
|5||Rosedown Plantation||St Francisville|
|6||Nottoway Plantation||White Castle|
|7||St. Joseph Plantation||Vacherie|
|10||Myrtles Plantation||St Francisville|
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/MSMcCarthy_Photography
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