Historical fiction author Jessica James visits Oak Alley
Oak Alley

One of the plantations I’ve long had on my bucket list is Oak Alley on the River Road south of Baton Rouge, La. — and it is every bit as spectacular as I expected it to be.

Live oaks are everywhere at Oak Alley.

Originally named Bon Sejour, Oak Alley was built in 1837-39 by George Swainey for Jacques Roman, brother of Andre Roman who was twice governor of Louisiana.

As you can see from the photo above, Oak Alley’s most distinguishing architectural feature is a full peripteral (free-standing) colonnade of 28 colossal Doric columns.
Such plantation houses were once scattered along the Mississippi valley, though Oak Alley is probably the finest of those remaining.

The line of live oaks looking out from the front balcony.

To me, the most impressive feature of the plantation is the line of 300-year-old trees which gave the plantation its name. The impressive double row of giant live oak trees form the oak alley, about 800 feet long.

Planted before the house was constructed in 1837, this formal planting is a historic landscape design long recognized for its beauty.

Master bedroom at Oak Alley. Crib is original to the house.

The plantation was not physically damaged in the Civil War, but the economic dislocations of the war and the end of slavery made it no longer economically viable. It sold at auction in 1866 for $32,800. Successive owners could not afford the cost of upkeep so that by the 1920s the buildings had fallen into disrepair.

An important event in American horticultural history occurred on the plantation in the winter of 1846-47 when Antoine, a slave gardener at Oak Alley, first successfully grafted pecan trees. His work resulted in the first named variety, Centennial, and the first commercial pecan orchard at nearby Anita Plantation.


Dining room. Notice the fan over the table.

In 1925 the property was acquired by Andrew and Josephine Stewart, who commissioned architect Richard Koch to supervise extensive restoration.

The Stewarts were the last owners to live in residence. Josephine Stewart left the historic house and grounds to the Oak Alley Foundation, which opened them to the public.

The main house is fully restored, and the Foundation is in process of restoring the slave quarters, the historic gardens, and other buildings.

Both the grounds and the house are beautiful! If you’re ever in this area of Louisiana, I highly recommend this historical site!

 

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