Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Great River Road

Most of the way from Memphis to New Orleans I have taken the "River Road" which isn't really a single road, but refers to pieced together roads that follow the Mississippi. This is one of the reasons I have so very many pictures of the river. I chose this road--even though it added about 3-4 hours of driving time--because I thought it would let me see the most. I did interstates the whole way down to Florida and there's nothing fun about them. I wanted to do little roads.

Well, the River Road gets very exciting between Baton Rouge and New Orleans because you get to drive right next to the river and you enter Plantation Country.

As someone who is deeply in love with the South, I was more than slightly excited to get to visit plantation homes. I took exactly 100 pictures today. Of three plantations. I'll try to limit the photos but I make no promises.

The first home was Nottoway Plantation, which claims to be the largest of the plantation homes still standing. The nearby town is called White Castle, and I believe it was named after this plantation.

 Grand, right? This is the side of the house.

 This is the front. And it's not even the whole front. It didn't fit into my camera from where I was. See how there are two staircases? That was so girls could go up one side and boys could go up the other and the girls wouldn't accidentally show the boys their ankles when they lifted their petticoats to go up the stairs.

 The front yard. They used to have 90 acres in front but the Mississippi river changed its course and took some of that away.

 This is the ballroom. The whole house used to be painted white, inside and out, just like this room. They've changed it during restorations. It's weird, but also breathtaking to be in an all white room.

Side yard, view from the veranda.

The couple that built and owned this home originally had 11 children, four boys. There were only pictures of three of the boys in the home. The fourth boy fell in love with one of their mulatto slaves and ran off with her and so was disowned by the family and no photos exist of him.

There is a rotunda, which is part of the all-white ballroom. It was built round by soaking the cypress boards in water for years and bending them to shape that room.

The home and family survived the Civil War and the home was sold by the woman of the house at the age of 71 when she decided she could no longer care for it.

The next home is Oak Alley.

Oh, Oak Alley.

 The walk to the front of the house.
 The view from the veranda.

 Crepe myrtle, which I think is very pretty.

The Mississippi with a storm cloud a-brewin' right over it.

I have loved Oak Alley for a very long time, from afar, before I even knew the pictures I was mooning over were of Oak Alley. It is just a perfect, perfect sight. There are 28 oaks on that path and they were there before the house. A small home had been built there and a man planted the oaks. 300 years ago those oaks were planted and they could be there 300 more. How wonderful.

Another man dreamed of having his own grand plantation. He married, but his wife was a city girl. They lived in New Orleans for a few years but he just couldn't do it. He had the money to build this beautiful home and the 28 oaks drew him to that site. The house has 28 columns, one for each oak. His wife never liked the house enough to stay in the country. She went back to New Orleans, and took the kids with her, and rarely returned to the plantation. The house was sold numerous times and left vacant for long periods of time. Animals lived in it and ruined the first floor and the original staircase, so now the floors are wood instead of marble because they couldn't afford to replace the marble.

Oh! Fun mansion fact! The thing to have in your mansion was carrera marble, imported from Italy. But this is quite expensive. In Nottoway, every fireplace was authentic. In Oak Alley the fireplaces were painted to look exactly like marble, but they were not marble. Another thing they did in these old homes was paint wood grain on doors to look like wood that was too expensive to get. In some cases, the faux finish was desirable because it proved you could afford to hire a skilled painter to do all that work.

Final home of the day. Laura Plantation. Which is different because it's a creole plantation. The creoles were in Louisiana before Louisiana was part of America. They were a mixed cultured people of French, West African and some Native American descent. They had slaves, but the slavery codes were different and slaves could buy their freedom more easily than they could once the U.S. took over. They spoke French exclusively. They were not Cajun, which is a different French. Their society was different, their houses were different.

 See the colors? This was distinctly creole. Europeans painted their homes white.

 This was the garden! Restored with money from France in celebration of the French people being in the area for 300 years.

 View from the back of the house. Those little buildings were the chicken coop and pig pen, the dirt patch in front was where the original kitchen was. The brick was a courtyard. The roped off area to the side was where 2 bedrooms used to be. The owners after the original owners lopped off 4 bedrooms for no real reason.

Slave quarters. I'm at the back of the room and this is all I could fit in the frame, that's how small the room was. This home was occupied--on this land--by descendants of slaves that worked the plantation up until 1977.

This house has stories. A man murders and man in France so his parents send him to the New World. He becomes governor of Central Louisiana and marries. When the U.S. buys Louisiana he petitions for land from the government and is granted the land this home is on. He marries and woman from Quebec and they build this house and have a sugar cane plantation. He dies pretty quick after that and his wife bucks up and runs the plantation. She has three children and when it comes time to pass on the plantation business, she picks her youngest daughter to become president. Because her youngest daughter is smarter than the two older boys. Four generations of women ran this plantation, from that first woman to Laura.

Laura was born on the plantation and raised there. When she was a little girl she noticed a scar on the face of a slave who is on their plantation. She asks him how he got it and he tells her that he tried to run off the plantation once and when he was caught and brought back Laura's grandmother, the woman in charge, had the man branded with her initials. On the face. Laura was horrified and asked her mother if this was true. Her mother confirmed it, and that her grandmother was a pretty cruel person.

Because of this, when it came time to pass the plantation business on to Laura, Laura refused. Blatantly refused and wanted to go to school in the city with her friends and learn English and become a modern woman. Her dad allowed it. Laura met and fell in love with an American and moved to St. Louis. She left the plantation when she was 14 and only came back once before she died at the age of 101.

I learned a lot from that last tour. It was so interesting and my tour guide was a good story teller. Oh! And the Brer Rabbit stories started on that plantation. They were originally written down in creole French and it was a man from Georgia that came over and heard them and wanted them in English. He twisted them up, of course, and so they aren't the same as the original stories, but their origins were at Laura.

I love stories. And storytelling. They connect things and make everything interesting.

So, anywho, now I'm in Metairie, which is a suburb of New Orleans and tomorrow is apartment hunt! I'm going to check out some listings, make some phone calls, hopefully find something pretty fast.

I can't believe I'm here. Cannot believe it.

There are people being loud outside my sketchy motel room. Really excited for that to be done with.

1 comment:

  1. You are awesome! This entry and the one before are superb!