In Louisiana, the Great River Road means plantations, and plantations are what we saw today. There are still lots of private and working plantations, as well as those that are open to public view. We saw three today, and while I will save the distinctions between Creole and American in general for another time, we did see one Creole and two American homes.
Our first plantation was Laura, named for one of the Creole women who ran this business for a while as “president.” The Creole had no prejudice against women in those positions, as long as they took good care of the family business.
These homes were colorfully painted and were more informal than those which were constructed right before the war. It was quite charming, though, and very focused on the crop, which was sugar cane. And it still is – as you will see in the view from the slave cabin. Sugar cane is still the main cash crop here, and the fields are covered with it. But who knew that bananas grow in Louisiana? Guess that comes with the subtropical climate.
Our lunch was appropriately local. Think crayfish gumbo with stuffed crayfish heads, and a smothered pork chop with field peas and rice. But so far we have managed to avoid alligator, though fried pickles were kind of fun.
Next, we went to Oak Alley, which is the place everyone must have seen in the movies or a magazine as the prototypical southern plantation.
First, a word about live oaks. They are an oak species which grows only in the southern coastal climates. They can live for as long as 600 years, and grow to an amazing size. They attract either Spanish moss, which give them a very ethereal quality, or what you will see here, resurrection ferns. These trees almost look like they have a coat of fur from the ferns covering their branches.
When you look at pictures of Oak Alley, do not pity the poor builder who never saw his landscaping dream come true. No, these trees were planted in the early 1700’s by some unknown colonist and were already mature when this home was built. And it was, of course, built to take full advantage of the entrance this alley creates.
It is spectacular in every way and you can actually sit on the veranda and sip a mint julep to get yourself in proper plantation mode.
Then off to Nottaway, the largest plantation home in the south. Does 53,000 square feet of elegance and luxury seem more than adequate, even if you do have 11 children? It was spectacular outside and in, but most notable was the white ballroom, which, as you can imagine, is now the scene of many weddings, as it was for the daughters it was built for.
In fact, the entire place is quite a business enterprise and you can stay in many of the rooms and eat in the five-star restaurant. A good life is still being lived at Nottaway, built by John Randolph. The Randolph line includes Thomas Jefferson, William Randolph Hearst, and Winston Churchill, so nothing shabby about this family.
In front of all these homes is a 50 foot levee that now blocks the view – and the fury – of the Mississippi River, but we could see it from the second floor of Nottaway. Definitely a force to be reckoned with.