Have you ever wondered what it might have been like to live in another era? Wanted to step back in time and witness what life was like without all the modern conveniences we enjoy today? Maybe you’re happy right here in the present, but wouldn’t mind spending a few hours in the past… I definitely fall into that last category!
A history loving amateur photographer, whose favorite movies include Gone with the Wind, and Interview with the Vampire, it’s no wonder that a visit to the plantations of River Road were on my must see list during our recent visit to New Orleans.
River Road is a one hour drive outside of New Orleans, so you’ll want to rent a Time Machine, er, I mean car. The route is easy, and along the way you’ll drive through some pretty unique terrain.
It’s important not to time travel on an empty stomach, so we decided to make a quick detour to 1968 in order to eat at Spahr’s Seafood Restaurant, which came highly recommended by a local New Orleanian.
Spahr’s, located in Des Allemandes, Louisiana, the catfish capital of the universe, was a highlight of the day! Not only did we eat a mountain of delicious golden brown fried food, including catfish, alligator, shrimp, hush puppies, and onion sticks, but we dipped all of it in equally scrumptious sauces! All of this was washed down with sweet tea, and to top it all off we shared a slice of peanut butter pie.
While waiting for our food I noticed an outdoor area that looked pretty and decided to step out for a few photos. The manager, Carl, kindly opened the back door for me, which is when I noticed what looked like a statue in the shape of an alligator right next to the picnic area…
Then I noticed the sign…
Wait, that’s not a statue, that’s an Alligator!
At one time there were as many as 500 plantations along River Road, and while there aren’t nearly that many now, there are still quite a few available to visit. Most offer guided tours, have beautiful gardens, exhibitions, restaurants, and gift shops.
We had time to visit two, and I chose Oak Alley for it’s magical trees, and Laura, a Creole Plantation for it’s historical significance.
Laura A Creole Plantation
The Laura Plantation, originally known as the Duparc Plantation, was built in 1804 – 1805 by Guillaume Duparc a French naval veteran of the revolutionary war. Laura, the great granddaughter of Duparc, wrote about her life on the plantation and her memoirs were published in 2002. Laura’s big house is a traditional Creole style raised house and there are several surviving out buildings on the property including six slave cabins.
During the tour we were given access to not only the gardens, but the big house and the slave cabins as well. There are exhibits about life on the plantation, which can be viewed at your leisure before or after the tour.
Oak Alley Plantation
Oak Alley Plantation is most famous for its double row of Southern Live Oak trees which are around 300 years old! The trees run from the river to the house and were planted long before the present house was built.
There is a lot to see and do at Oak Alley and at least two hours are recommended if you plan to see everything. We arrived later in the day as I wanted to get the afternoon light, but still managed to see quite a lot. Tours of the big house run every 1/2 hour, while the rest of the plantation including the slave cabin exhibit and gardens are self guided.
Before our tour of the big house we stopped for a mint julep, which you are welcome to bring with you on the tour! Photos are encouraged and your guide will be dressed in period costume, which definitely adds to that feeling of stepping back in time.
Once we completed our tour it was time to see the oak trees up close!
I spent a good amount of time taking photos and just enjoying walking among the trees. They’re absolutely stunning and it’s no wonder that so many films, television shows and music videos have been filmed here, Interview with a Vampire and Beyonce’s Déjà Vu music video to name just a few.
A History Lesson
The plantation homes lining the great Mississippi River Road are a sight to behold, and to visit them is to take a step back in time and get a small glimpse of what life might have been like for these people 200+ years ago.
They provide an important look into slavery and a very dark part of United States history. While it’s not easy to see, and read about the deplorable way these people were forced to live, I’m not one to shy away from the truth. Although it was difficult for my children to see and hear about what took place in the not so distant past, it was also a very valuable and worthwhile history lesson.
Tips & Advice:
- River Road is a one hour drive from New Orleans in Vacherie, Louisiana
- Laura Plantation can only be seen via guided tour.
- Tickets can be purchased onsite.
- The tour is 40 minutes long, and children and strollers are welcome.
- Parking is complimentary, the gift shop sells snack and drinks, and there are multiple bathrooms.
- The Louisiana Creole versions of the famous Br’er Rabbit stories were recorded at Laura in the 1870s.
- Families still lived in the slave cabins at Laura Plantation until as recently as 1977.
- Tours at Oak Alley run every half hour.
- Children are welcome, and there is a gift shop, restaurant and restroom facilities.
- You can stay overnight on the Oak Alley plantation.
- The trees at Oak Alley have a potential life span of 600 years!
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