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The Great Dame of the River Road, visiting Oak Alley Plantation, is like stepping into another world. Filled with intrigue and mystery. From the road, it will take your breath away. Walking inside will have you in disbelief. It’s so beautiful, Oak Alley Plantation movies are littered throughout Hollywood. It is for this reason I had to visit, not once, not twice, but three times!
Like with most of my adventures, I find myself fleeing the downtowns of most major tourist destinations. My recent trip to New Orleans found me doing just the same and Oak Alley Plantation was first on my list.
This adventure was hosted by Oak Alley Foundation.
Oak Alley Plantation
This is one of the most photographed plantations in all of Louisiana and for good reason. From the exterior design to the stunning 300-year-old iconic oak trees lining the front door.
The house represented all that it meant to live on a wealthy sugar plantation in the south. Designed in a Greek revival style. You might recognize its exterior from movies like Primary Colors and Interview with the Vampire.
What is Oak Alley Plantation Famous for?
Oak Alley Plantation, also known as “The Great Oak,” is a historic plantation located in Vacherie, Louisiana. It is famous for its stunning tree-lined avenue of oak trees that were planted in the early 1820s and lead up to the main house. The plantation is a popular tourist destination for visitors and is often used as a film and television location.
It is also a National Historic Landmark and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The plantation is known for its beautiful gardens, antebellum architecture, and rich history, which includes its role in the cultivation and production of sugarcane.
Oak Alley History
Originally named Bon Sejour, Oak Alley was built in 1837-39. Joseph Pilié, father-in-law to the thought, is thought to be the architect.
The home was constructed by the enslaved with handmade bricks made from the Mississippi River Mud 16inches thick. There are 28 columns that surround the house, all made from specially designed bricks.
The plantation owner, Jacques and Celina Roman, wanted an antebellum mansion. Celina liked to entertain and wanted a home that would impress her guests. They once covered the bottom level of the floor in Italian Marble.
The historic plantation primarily grew sugar cane, one of Louisiana’s largest exports. Oak Alley was home to 220 slaves over its time with the Roman family, with a max of 188 at a time. Their son, Andre B. Roman, would become Governor of Louisiana twice.
The plantation changed hands over time.
Unfortunately, the family liked to live outside their means, and their debts caught up to them. By the end of the civil war, they lost everything. The property was sold at auction in 1866. The residence fell into disrepair.
That was until 1920, when Andrew and Josephine Steward, two wealthy cattle ranchers purchased the plantation.
They restored the property to its original state. In 1972, Josephine left the property into a foundation that continues to run the plantation. She wanted to ensure that the plantation would remain open to the public for years to come.
What is there to see at Oak Alley?
Oak Alley is so much more than their main entrance. There are beautiful gardens, home tours, slavery exhibits and a view of the sugar cane production.
Oak Alley Gardens
Oak Alley’s gardens were brought to life by Josephine Stewart during the restoration of the house. She loved horticulture and subscribed to every home and garden magazine to help get ideas for its design.
It paid off because they are amazing. Tickets to Oak Alley Planation include the house and grounds, so you’ll get a chance to see it.
Why is There No Spanish Moss at Oak Alley Plantation?
Driving up, the first thing you will notice is live oak trees that have stood for nearly 300 years that line the front entrance.
The trees have a lifespan of up to 600 years, so they will be around for many years to come. One thing you’ll notice about the trees is the lack of Spanish Moss. You’ll find the moss adorning all the other oaks in the area, but the trees at Oak Alley are noticeably bare.
They have found evidence that it used to grow here. It’s speculated that it could have been because Henry Ford went along the Mississippi gathering Spanish Moss for his Model-T car seats.
They think over picking of the moss has removed it from the property. During the filming of Interview with the Vampire, it had to be added on by the set designers.
For more great ideas on things to do in New Orleans with the family, click here!
Did Oak Alley have slaves? What was Slave Life Like?
Besides the landscaping, the grounds also hold a few different exhibits. First is a slavery exhibit. Leading back away from the home is a series of buildings that depicted their lives.
The buildings are not original to the plantation but do a good job showing what the living conditions were like.
After the civil war, the original slave quarters became housing for “workers” and the original structures were falling apart. They were lived in until 1900. I use the term workers loosely as they were now paid a low wage, but had to pay rent.
The slave cabins you see today are recreations, on the same spot they originally were, and each depicts a different part of life. One thing to note, the trees you see shading the area are newer additions, planted in the last 100 years.
You’ll also get the change to the see the blacksmith shop while you are there.
The Luara Plantation is just a few minutes away. It goes into more detail about the working conditions. I recommend doing both if you have the time!
What crop did they grow at Oak Alley?
The major crop at Oak Alley was none other than Sugarcane. Sugar cane cultivation was reintroduced in the 1960s by the Stewarts. You can still see sugar cane field on the historic grounds.
You can find out more about how the can becomes sugar at the Sugarcane Theater. The theatre talks more about Louisiana’s export and sugarcane cultivation. Inside you’ll see a movie walking you through the modern process for growing, harvesting, and creating sugar.
The Guided Tour of the ‘Big House’ Exhibit aka the Mansion
The house is adorned with Greek-style columns outside and a huge balcony circling the exterior of the house. The home and lifestyle is something straight out of Gone with Wind or North and South.
While there are many plantations on the river road, only a few are this grand design.
Inside, the tour guides are dressed in Annabella costumes. They will take you on an adventure through the house, explaining how each room was used.
You’ll notice the high ceilings in the central hall that helped cool the place down form the intense heat.
They focus more on the lifestyle of the residents that lived here, rather than the nature of their business. My favorite rooms are the dining room and the bedrooms.
For me, the most exciting part was getting to go outside on the balcony to look at ‘Oak Alley’ from above. Living there would have been something.
The guided tour takes about an hour and includes both floors of the mansion.
How long does it take to visit Oak Alley?
The standard guided tour of the plantation’s Big House takes about 35-45 minutes. It covers the history of the plantation and the family who lived there, as well as the architecture and furnishings of the house.
Tours start 30 minutes after the gates open and run every fifteen minutes. Group sizes are limited and on weekends or during peak time, expect to stand in line for a while.
My recommendation is to get there when they first open, or head to the tour line first. There is an actually roped offline on the side of the house.
In addition to the guided tour, plan another 30 minutes to an hour to walk the grounds and check out the other sites.
New Oak Alley Plantation Tour
If you’ve been to Oak Alley Plantation before, you’ll notice a few changes. First, no photography indoors. I took the interior photos you see pre-2019.
In 2019, they closed down the plantation for updates and redesigned the tour and rooms inside. They decided to only style the rooms and tell stories they can prove with historical documents. Today you can only photograph the exterior of the property.
Want to know about another Plantation that is less visited, but just as grand? Check out the Houmas House. With stunning grounds and an intimate home tour, you don’t want to miss this!
What movies have been filmed at oak alley?
After a short time there, you’ll understand why Oak Alley is such a sought-after filming location. The attention to detail and historical accuracy make it a movie producer’s dream.
There have been no recent movies filled at Oak Alley Plantation. When asked, the tour guide told us “It’s because they want their guest to have access to it instead”.
Tips for Visiting Oak Alley Plantation
- Arrive early. This is one of the most popular plantations on the river road. The tour buses drop off people in the masses, meaning you may have to wait a while to get into the home tour. Tickets do not need to be bought ahead of time.
- If you really want a more relaxing visit, think about spending the night at their bed-and-breakfast. This way, you’ll be on the grounds for sunrise and sunset!
- Spend some time enjoying the grounds. There is so much to see and do there.
- Re-entry is allowed as long as you have your receipt of purchase.
- Get one of their signature mint julep at their restaurant and a bite to eat. The adjoining plantations don’t have any food or snacks. If you are in a rush to get to the next one, get some grab-and-go food.
- Aside from arriving first thing in the morning, the quickest way to get on a tour is with a tour company.
- If you are driving yourself, check out the Laura Plantation located 7 minutes away.
Don’t want to drive? The First time we went we took a tour with Gray Line New Orleans. You can book a tour with pickup from the French Quarter by clicking here.
Going Back to Oak Alley
I had so much fun getting to visit this plantation on a girl’s getaway that I made a return trip out there with my husband the following year. And again with my kids a few years later.
There is just so much to see, do and photograph. You will have a great time! The tour is evolving more and more as they uncover more information about the home. You will love it!