Friday, March 16, 2012

The Oaks of Oak Alley

We did not expect early March to be a busy tourist time for a visit to the plantations along the Mississippi. But we were wrong.

Not only were the tour buses lining one side of the parking lot at Oak Alley Plantation, but numerous cars and trucks filled the parking spaces. But it had been an hour's drive from New Orleans, so we contented ourselves that this was a relatively light tourist crowd considering what the crowd must be like in the summer when visiting the "Grande Dame of the Great River Road."

A few yards from the entrance was this sugar kettle with a view of the plantation in the distance. Sugar cane was grown on the plantation and the extracted cane juice was heated, clarified, and evaporated in a series of four kettles from the largest (7.5 feet in diameter, shown here) to the smallest (4 feet in diameter).

Along the walkway, we passed the Overseer's House, home to the supervisor, who was responsible for the daily operations of the plantation.

We thought that this view of the property captured the serenity and beauty of the land.

The most stunning feature of this Antebellum home is the colonnade of twenty-eight 8-foot round Doric columns--one for each oak tree--that support the hip roof.

Because of the large crowds, we had time to wander the grounds and take photos of the trees, a garden, and the landscape in general.

After a couple of tour groups were escorted into the plantation home, we solo, couple, and family visitors lined up. Our group of 50 was split into two groups; since we were in the second group, we had time to walk down the "alley."

This scene appears in travel magazines and brochures and motion pictures such as "Interview with a Vampire,"
"Primary Colors," and the soap opera "Days of Our Lives."

We were surprised to learn that the quarter-mile double row of 28 live oaks, spaced 80 feet apart, had been planted in the early 1700's by an unknown French settler. It wasn't until 1839 that the present home was completed. The architecture combined Greek Revival, French Colonial, and other styles.

Originally called Bon Séjour (Good Stay), the house was designed to mirror the trees. But it was the trees that visitors emphasized when referring to "the home with the oak alley," since they would walk from the shore of the Mississippi River through the alley of oaks as they approached the home, so "Oak Alley" became its name.

In 1866, Oak Alley Plantation was sold at auction. It changed hands several times and gradually deteri-orated. Andrew and Josephine Stewart bought the plantation in 1925 and, with the help of architect Richard Koch, restored it completely. Shortly before her death in 1972, Josephine Stewart created the non-profit Oak Alley Foundation, which maintains the house and 25 acres surrounding it.

The oaks were inducted into the Live Oak Society (see our entry of March 11 of this year) in 1995 and each was given a name.

Tomorrow the home.

(Information from the Visitor Guide and

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