If you want to visit the grand plantations of bygone eras the best place to go is the area between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana. Numerous plantations owned and operated by Creole families were built there in the lower Mississippi Valley along the River Road in the nineteenth century. Some of these plantations have been restored and are now open to the public as museums or bed and breakfasts. They are easily accessible by car but can also be visited joining a group tour. Some of these tours even pick you up at your hotel.
Here are the best of the Lower Mississippi plantations open to the public.
13034 River Rd. Destrehan, LA
The oldest of the plantations and the one closest to New Orleans is Destrehan. It was built in 1787 by Charles Pacquet, a freeman of color, for Robert de Logny who was in the indigo trade. Later in 1803 the plantation became the leading sugar producer in the parish under the direction of Jean Noel Destrehan. Purchased by the Mexican Petroleum Company in 1914,the plantation declined badly until 1971 when the house and four acres were donated to the local historical society who took on the responsibility of restoring the house and grounds. Today tours are given that show the lifestyle and customs of former inhabitants including period craft demonstrations.
30970 Hwy 405, White Castle, LA
The largest of the plantations in the area, Nottoway was built by Henry Howard for John Randolph, his wife, and eleven children in the mid-nineteenth century. Howard was one of the most popular architects of New Orleans and was famous for his Greek Revival and Italianate style of buildings as seen at Nottoway. The mansion he designed and completed here in 1859 had 53,000 square feet and 64 rooms, the most famous of which is the Great White Ballroom where six of Randolph’s seven daughters were married. Randoph was a wealthy sugar planter originally from Virgina and he had Howard include many features new at the time like indoor plumbing. The mansion was saved from destruction during the Civil War because the Union officer in charge when it was attacked remembered visiting the Randolphs there in better times and ordered his men to leave it alone and move on. The mansion is now restored and operates as a bed and breakfast as well as a site for weddings and other events.
2247 Hyw 18, Vacherie, LA
Laid out in the Creole-style, Laura plantation includes the raised manor house and six slave quarters, giving it a place on the National Register of Historic Places and inclusion on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail. The house was originally built for Guillame Duparc in 1805 who raised sugarcane on the plantation but died 3 years after moving in. After Duparc’s death four generations of women ran the plantation until 1891 when the owner, Laura Locoul sold it and moved away. Folklorist Alcee Fortier collected and translated the Creole versions of the Senegalese stories about Brer Rabit told by the French speaking tenant farmers living on the plantation. Laura Plantation is furnished with antiques, much of them original to the house, and is open to the public for guided tours.
2646 River Road, Garyville, LA
San Fransciso plantation stands out for its ornate decoration. Built in 1856 for Edmond Bozonier Marmillion in the Steamboat Gothic Style, it was originally painted in purples, blues, and greens, and adorned with decorative grillwork and gingerbread trim. Inside, ceilings and door panels in the parlors are painted with cupids, trailing vines, birds, and faux surfaces. The name San Franciso is a corruption of the French term sans fruscins (without a penny) referring to the expense of building the house. Unfortuantely the family that built the house suffered one tragic death after another and little was done to maintain the house even after new owners took over. In 1932 the Army Corps of Engineers completed a levee system that devoured most of the front yard and gardens of the plantation and would have taken the house if local residents had not interfered. The house has more recently been restored to it pre-Civil War beauty and is open to the public.
3645 Hwy 18, Vacherie, LA
The twenty three live oaks that line the entrance to the mansion give the plantation its name. The live oaks were planted there over 300 years ago, long before the mansion was built. The first owner of the plantation was Jacques Telesphore Roman III who bought the sugar plantation in 1836 and built the large classical revival house. Jacques died in 1848 and by the 1929 the mansion had fallen on hard times. It was rescued by Josephine and Andrew Stewart, who had it repaired and then donated to a foundation that opened it to the public. The mansion is so striking that it has been used in several movies including Interview with the Vampire (1994).
4250 Hwy 308, Napoleonville, LA
The tall Ionic columns that grace the front of Madewood house distinguish it from many of the other plantation houses in the area that were influenced by raised Creole style. Built in 1845 for sugar planter Thomas Pugh in the Greek Revival style, it was constructed of materials from the plantation. The bricks of the interior were made on the site and stuccoed and scored to look like masonry. Inside the woodwork has been painted to resemble exotic woods. The house fell into disrepair but was restored and now operates as a bed and breakfast.
40136 Hwy 942, River Road, Darrow, LA
The grand Greek Revival mansion with its two-story verandas and magnificent columns was called ‘The Sugar Palace’ in its heyday and can be called that again now that it has been restored to its pre-Civil War glory. The original manor house was a two-story French Colonial-era structure with a pitched roof dating to the 1700. By 1828 the mansion was completed in front of the original manor house and became later center of the plantation under John Burnside who saved the mansion from destruction during the Civil War by claiming immunity as a subject of the British Crown. The ‘great flood” of 1927 followed by the economic problems of the Great Depression led to the decline of the plantation until recent times when it was restored and opened to the public. The house is filled with beautiful antiques, although most are not original to the house. The 38 acres around the house have been developed into spectacular gardens that are well worth visiting for their own sake.
The plantations of the lower Mississippi were the home of the some of the richest people in American in the mid-1800s. In fact, two-thirds of America’s millionaires lived along the Great River Road at that time. Their wealth came from sugar and the plantation owners went to great expense to surround themselves with the best that money could buy. Each of these plantations offer a unique glimpse into the past and are of special interest to people interested in history, architecture, or gardening.