While visiting New Orleans, I visited three of the plantations near the city. Each had their own vibe and personality, much like the people who once lived there. Before I go further, you should know that the plantations in southern Louisiana were sugar cane plantations, never cotton. It is much too humid and wet in the southern part of the state for cotton (trust me, it’s like breathing in tomato soup) but sugar cane loves the moisture.
Oak Alley Plantation
Oak Alley was my least favorite of the three. While the row of fourteen 225-year-old oak trees was truly a beautiful sight, I felt like Oak Alley has a level of fakeness associated with too much tourism. They don’t allow photographs taken inside the house and they serve alcohol in several locations. Not that I don’t mind a good drink on vacation, but this plantation seems more interested in giving the tourists more hangover than letting them see into the real history of the place. Even the slave quarters were built new and made to look old. Still, it is a cool place to see if you are in the neighborhood, but other plantations do a better job of handing you more history.
What drew me to Oak Alley was that ‘Interview With a Vampire’ was filmed there as well as ‘Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte’ starring Bette Davis.
This location was more my speed. They tell the history of the original family to own the plantation, the Duparc-Locoul’s, as well as some of the slaves who lived there as well. Four generations of women kept this plantation moving along, although they didn’t always get along with their male family members while doing so. The name of the plantation comes from the last woman to run the plantation, Laura Locoul Gore.
Laura lived a long life. When she was born, Abraham Lincoln was president. When she died, John F. Kennedy was president, just to give you some perspective. The photograph below shows her at the beginning and end of her life (left and right). The center painting is her in a mardi gras devil costume when she was in her twenties.
Fun fact about Laura Plantation: It is where the Brer Rabbit stories originated. You can read more about this and other Laura Plantation facts here .
The last of the plantations I tours was Whitney Plantation. The Whitney was turned into a museum dedicated to telling the story of the slaves that lived there. Stories told through memorial artwork and sculptures and first-person accounts from the slaves who once lived there keep the history alive.
Unlike Oak Alley and Laura, Whitney has not updated the main house to have electricity and air conditioning. It has been restored to look as it was meant to. Many plantation owners spent most of the money on the outside of their homes because, even then, appearance was everything in high society. The Whitney may look like it has marble on the outside of the house, but it is just a very good paint job done to make the house look more expensive.
The slave quarters, which usually would be kept miles from the main house, have been moved to be near the main house so tourists like me can view them. Unlike Oak Alley, the Whitney Plantation kept their slave quarters as is.
If you are ever in New Orleans, I highly recommend both Laura and Whitney plantations. Go early before the crowds and heat kick in. Along the way you can see other plantation houses along the road, many of which are filming locations to ’12 Years a Slave’, ‘Django Unchained’, and ‘The Skeleton Key’.