Oak Alley Plantation: A Journey Back in Time

plantation
Image via Shannon Watt

One crisp, cool morning we drove through the lush Louisiana countryside. Every mile we journeyed seemed like we were being slowly taken back in time to another era. By the time we arrived in Vacherie, La., we felt like we’d been transported to the early 1800’s. Plantations were sprinkled throughout the area, and I half wondered if Scarlett O’Hara was going to emerge from one of the porches.

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As we rounded a bend in the Great River Road, the Oak Alley plantation came into sight and took my breath away. The gorgeous tree-lined entrance was so beautiful and serene. It looked like it was out of a movie set, not a real home. However, it was in fact a home to a few families, and it’s one of the most preserved plantations remaining in the South today. Built in the 1830’s as a sugar plantation, it was a thriving business on the Mississippi river before the post-Civil War economy collapsed that business.

Walking up to the main house, I couldn’t help but stare up at the majestic Live Oak trees that graced the grounds. It’s been almost two centuries since they were planted, and they still stand tall and strong like soldiers guarding their queen.

Our tour began with the queen, the main house, which is equally grand and stately. We were led inside by a guide dressed in traditional mid- 19th century clothing. She gave us a tour of the main rooms on each floor. The painstaking effort to preserve the integrity of the home and its furnishings was obvious.

The presence of the last homeowner, Josephine Stewart, is very much present in Oak Alley. She did a great deal to improve the home, and then turn it into a non-profit in order to share the legacy with all who wish to visit here. She lived there for 50 years, longer than even the original home builder and sugar plantation owner did.

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Upstairs we got to enjoy the spectacular view of the Oak trees from the balcony. I wanted to pull up a rocking chair and sit there all weekend, soaking in the sweet air and gentle breeze while listening to the birds chirp in the oak branches. It was heavenly.

When the 30 minute home tour was over, there was still plenty to see. Oak Alley is one of the few plantations with reconstructed slave quarters in the back of the house. The stark difference between the main house we had just toured, and the small, primitive cabins that housed two slave families in each one, was an eye opener for my kids. Nothing brings history to life like an actual tour of the living quarters of the two separate lifestyles that existed on the same piece of land.

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The last exhibit on the grounds was related to the Civil War Confederate soldier. There’s a re-created military tent and campsite available to explore. The best part is that there’s also a docent, dressed up as a soldier, available to teach about the time period and answer questions from inquisitive guests. We sat and listened to this knowledgeable guide as he re-created in our minds what it was like to live during the Civil War. This was a fantastic history lesson for each of us.

As our day drew to an end, we visited the cemetery to see where many of the people we’d just learned about were buried. There’s a restaurant and gift shop on the premises, and refreshments include Mint Juleps and other refreshing beverages.

Reluctantly I had to say good-bye to my lovely Live Oak trees just as my son, Hayden, was being greatly tempted to climb up their massive, crooked branches.

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This was my first visit to a plantation, and it was a great introduction into the antebellum lifestyle and architecture. I can’t wait for our journeys to take us deeper into the South so we can visit more plantations and discover more of this fascinating time in American history.

For more articles on our time in Louisiana and other travels:

Rebuilding a Katrina House

Catching Alligators in the Swamps

 5 National Parks to Visit

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Oak Alley Plantation: A Journey Back in Time

Shannon is a mother of 3 teens, who hit 40 and decided that instead of a "mid-life crisis", she wanted an adventure of a lifetime. She convinced her wonderfully open-minded husband to pack up their house, sell most of their possessions, and travel the USA in an RV for a year or two. Besides homeschooling her kids, running their online program, Watts in the World, Shannon loves to explore new places. Nothing is more exciting than waking up in a new city everyday, and discovering what's great abou ... More

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