Roads Traveled with Linda L. Osmundson
Of all the plantations viewed along the Mississippi River cruise aboard the American Queen, Oak Alley fulfilled every idea of southern antebellum homes (houses built and occupied before the Civil War). Visions of Tara in “Gone with the Wind” came to mind (columned portico, wide staircase, opulent furniture, servants). Today Oak Alley may not now compare to Tara, but it probably did in its heyday.
Located on a rural highway along the Mississippi River, the plantation lays approximately half way between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, a little less than a two hour drive
from either direction. The property caters to visitors searching for a plantation experience. Rental cottages provide overnight stays.
A wealthy sugar planter, Jacques Telespore Roman, gave the house to his bride, Celina, around 1836. They planned the main house which took three years to build to sit at the end of an alley of live oak trees planted by a settler in the early 1700s. The twenty-eight trees, divided into two equal rows and 80 feet apart, stretched a quarter of a mile from the house toward the river. These 300-year old trees each bare a name given them in 1995 by the Live Oak Society. The largest, named for previous owner Josephine Armstrong Stewart, has a trunk 30 feet in diameter and a limb spread of 127 feet. Imagine the squeals of delight as children on all fours climbed the lower limbs that swoop all the way to the ground.
After a recent rainfall, resurrection fern provided a bright green cushion on the limbs and trunks of the trees. During a drought the ferns look dead, but revive from a rainfall. Live oaks of this type have a lifespan of 600 years, so these are middle aged. The “baby oaks” leading away from the back of the house are only 100 years old.
Plantation docents in period costumes welcomed visitors and related interesting information about the house, its contents, and grounds. In the dining room, a punkah fan over the table would have been manipulated by a servant pulling a cord. With no air conditioning and open, unscreened windows, owners placed flycatchers filled with sugar water on the table. Rather than have diners see the struggle of dying insects, the crystal catcher was either heavily decorated or covered with a napkin
Bedroom doors sometimes included insets holding signatures of prior guests. Because tightly corseted women often fainted, most bedrooms included a fainting couch. One style of bed held a rolling pin headboard. Servants rolled the moss filled mattress each morning to smooth the lumps before making the bed. Insect infested Spanish moss was treated before use in the mattresses. Docents warned visitors not to collect moss as a souvenir.
Velvet fringed valances and/or curtains outlined windows in the main rooms while sheers covered the glass. Bedroom windows sported sheers fashionably draped and tied back. Mirrors and family portraits decorated walls. Silver candleholders lined tables and bureaus whose light reflected in the mirrors and provided more illumination.
Dormant gardens of crepe myrtle, trimmed hedges, and flowers surrounded the house. Cast iron sugar kettles interspersed throughout the property ranged in size from four feet diameter to 7.5 feet. These were used to clarify and reduce the sugarcane juice to syrup or brown sugar.
Although the original slave quarters were destroyed over time, the plantation foundation is building six of the previous twenty cabins. Large fireplaces wait to be surrounded by copies of the original “mortise and tenon” built cabins. A gift shop, restaurant, blacksmith shop, and plantation bell add to the ambiance of the property. Markers provide additional information like the costs of slaves during the period.
To truly experience a plantation on the order of Tara, visit Oak Alley Plantation.
Here is a list of productions filmed at Oak Alley.
Oak Alley has also been in commercials, fashion layouts, pictures for article illustrations.
HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE - movie with Bette Davis, 1965
NIGHTRIDER - TV movie, 1978
DIXIE: CHANGING HABITS - 1982 TV movie
THE LONG HOT SUMMER - TV movie of original - 1985
DAYS OF OUR LIVES - soap opera, 1985
INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE - movie, 1993
PRIMARY COLORS - movie 1997
BEYONCE’S “Deja Vu” music video 2006
GHOST HUNTERS TV sci fi, 2008
MIDNIGHT BAYOU - TV movie, 2008