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Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Chateau of the day: Oak Alley Plantation

Oak Alley Plantation
My Opinion

I love plantation houses, they're always so gracious and elegant, and usually so classical in their proportions. One of the most famous plantation houses is Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana. The house has very classical proportions, with 28 doric columns that are arranged symmetrically around the entire exterior of the mansion. This arrangements means that all the rooms in the house can access the veranda or balcony, allowing the house to remain cool on the hot Louisiana summers. 

When slavery was abolished the plantation was no longer economically viable and the house was sold, by the early 20th century the house had fallen into disrepair, but was luckily bought by the Stewart Family who had it extensively restored. Today, the house is a museum to plantation life and slavery, and can be visited. 

Welcome to Oak Alley Plantation

Oak Alley Plantation is a historic plantation located on the Mississippi River in the community of Vacherie, Louisiana. It is protected as a National Historic Landmark. It is named after its distinguishing feature, an alley or canopied path created by a double row of live oaks about 240 meters long that was planted in the early 18th century, long before the present house was built. The alley runs between the house and the Mississippi River.

The amazing alley of Oak trees leading to the house and giving the house its name as well

The Bon Séjour ("good living") plantation, as it was originally named, was established to grow sugar cane. The present mansion was built under the oversight of George Swainy, using mostly enslaved labor, between 1837 and 1839 for Jacques Telesphore Roman. Roman's father-in-law, Joseph Pilie, was an architect and probably designed the house. The design is Greek Revival architecture, with some facets of French Creole architecture, which was heavily influenced by Caribbean plantation architecture. The mansion has a square floor plan, organized around a central hall that runs from the front to the rear on both floors. The exterior features a free-standing colonnade of 28 Doric columns on all four sides, a common feature of antebellum mansions of the Mississippi Valley.

The house has high ceilings, large windows, a symmetrical facade and interior plan, and a second-floor gallery for viewing the surroundings. The original flooring was marble (since replaced by hardwood flooring), the roof was slate, the exterior walls and columns were of brick painted white to resemble marble.
Children's room
Main Bedroom
Dining Room
Guest Bedroom
Main Bedroom
Entrance Hall
The most noted slave who lived on Oak Alley Plantation was a field slave named Antoine. He was listed as "Antoine, 38, Creole Negro gardener/expert grafter of pecan trees", with a value of $1,000 in the inventory of the estate conducted on J.T. Roman's death in 1848. Antoine was a master of the techniques of grafting and, after trial with several trees, succeeded in the winter of 1846 in producing a variety of pecan that could be cracked with one's bare hands; the shell was so thin it was dubbed the "paper shell" pecan. It was later named the Centennial Variety when entered in competition at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, where it won a prize. The trees may be found throughout southern Louisiana, where the pecan was once a considerable cash crop. Although Antoine's original trees were cleared for more sugarcane fields after the Civil War, a commercial grove had been planted at nearby Anita Plantation. Unfortunately, the Anita Crevasse (river break) of 1990 washed away Anita Plantation and all remains of the original Centennial pecans.

The plantation was not physically damaged in the Civil War, but the economic dislocations of the war and the end of slavery made it no longer economically viable, and it was sold at auction in 1866 for $32,800. Successive owners could not afford the cost of upkeep; by the 1920s the buildings had fallen into disrepair. In 1925 the property was acquired by Andrew and Josephine Stewart, who commissioned architect Richard Koch to supervise extensive restoration. The Stewarts were the last owners to live in residence. Josephine Stewart left the historic house and grounds to the Oak Alley Foundation, which opened them to the public. The main house is fully restored, and the Foundation has reconstructed six of the original slave quarters, the historic gardens, and other buildings.

In July 2013, the Foundation opened a new permanent educational exhibit, "Slavery at Oak Alley." Housed in six reconstructed slave quarters, this exhibit covers the entire history of slavery at Oak Alley, from the 1800s through emancipation. This exhibit shares details from the personal lives of Antoine, Zephyr, and many of the nearly 200 enslaved people who lived and worked on this very plantation. Oak Alley Plantation is adjacent to St. Joseph Plantation on Louisiana Highway 18, the Great River Road. Both plantations are listed on the National Register of Historic Places of the United States.

Oak Alley Plantation in popular culture

Side Facade
Oak Alley Plantation was used as a location in the following feature films, television shows, and other media:

  • Midnight Bayou (2009)
  • Primary Colors (1998)
  • Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994)
  • The Long, Hot Summer (1985) re-make of 1958 movie
  • Dixie: Changing Habits
  • The Night Rider (1978)
  • Days of our Lives, soap opera, used the plantation as a location for a wedding scene.
  • Ghost Hunters investigated the plantation in Season 4, Episode 19.
  • Ace of Cakes showed a groom's cake replica of the house and the oak alley.
  • Beyoncé's "Déjà Vu" music video and "B'Day" CD insert photos filmed/shot in June 2006.
  • The Young and the Restless soap opera, used the location for the characters Sharon Newman and Adam Newman to rekindle their relationship.
  • The Sims video-game features an image of the Oak Alley Plantation pathway on the "Travellin' Joe's Expresso Bar" prop, which was included in The Sims Unleashed.
  • Stay Alive (2006)
Oak Alley Plantation
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