There are quite a few plantations by the side of the Mississippi that you can still visit to this day.
History will show that the Great River Road consists of state and community thoroughfares that follow Mississippi River’s flow through 10 of the country’s 50 states. These include Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. The Road goes further north to Canada and traverses Manitoba (Lake Itasca) and Ontario (Bemidji). It is not merely a sequence of highways but utilized for historical and tourism purposes. Road development started in 1938 with an independent commission for each state. All the 10 agencies collaborated with the Mississippi River Parkway Commission.
Famous humorist-author Samuel Langhorne Clemens a.k.a. Mark Twain wrote that during the late 19th century, there were numerous plantations by the side of the mighty Mississippi. African-Americans lived and toiled in these farms by the side of the river. These plantations used to be vital economic hubs and crops grown by the slaves were sources of income for the owners. The River Road remained essentially in one piece up to the 1920s although some large dwelling places were abandoned during the previous century. Massive dredging of the Mississippi waterway and industrial development also altered the character of the River Road.
There are several plantations that became very prominent during this time and should prove to be interesting for many people.
Destrehan Plantation is considered one of the oldest domiciles in the State of Louisiana. Construction of the agricultural estate started way back 1787 and finished only after three years. An emancipated Afro-American carpenter (Charles Pacquet) with six other serfs built the elevated home patterned after the West Indies Creole design. The orders came from a landlord named Robert Antoine Robin De Logny. This plantation was named after De Logny’s celebrated son-in law. Jean Noel Destrehan was the scion of Jean Baptiste Destrehan de Tours who was Royal Treasurer of Louisiana during the French colonization. Jean was married to Robert’s daughter, Marie Claude.
The house, barn and tool shed were constructed as part of the indigo homestead. Pacquet was compensated with one cow, a calf, hundred bushels of rice and corn, and $100 cash. The work contract between the two remains filed at the parish courthouse of Hahnville, Louisiana. Destrehan Plantation extends more than 6,000 acres to the shoreline of Lake Pontchartrain. You can still visualize the scenario over two centuries ago. Family members hosted posh dinners in the main abode. Steam-powered vessels came from New Orleans carrying visitors and other merchandise while caretakers attended to beautiful landscapes. The slaves lived and labored at the back of the main residence.
A large oil firm used the house as a facility in the 20the century. This was the period when Louisiana transitioned from an agricultural estate to an industrial site. Destrehan Plantation is made up of a two-story building with open balconies on three flanks. The middle portion, which is the oldest, consists of brick pilasters on the ground and wooden posts at the upper level. A row of pillars surrounded the main unit in the past. You can find Destrehan Plantation at River Road, ½ mile east of the bridge. It holds a yearly Fall Celebration every November. There are also guided tours daily except during national holidays. Destrehan Plantation was registered in the National Register of Historic Places for architectural excellence and relationship with important events and personalities in the history of this State.
San Francisco Plantation
This cultivated area is the most unique and genuinely renovated in the River Road area. San Francisco Plantation earned renown for extravagant and elaborate paintings as well as some of the premium antique collections in the United States. The home was erected in 1865 and encouraged noted author Frances Parkinson Keyes to write the Steamboat Gothic. Paddle wheel steamboats ruled the Mississippi during the 19th century and until the early years of the 20th century. These quaint looking vessels controlled commerce and traversed the same route for more than 100 years.
The attraction has been described as “The Most Opulent Plantation House in North America.” It was refurbished in 1973 to bring back the stylishness of the 1860 epoch. In fact, archaeologists were commissioned to verify authenticity, specifically the hand painted ceilings along with artificial timber and marble finishes. San Francisco Plantation is visited by tourists from different parts of the globe. It was developed by the Marmillion Family in 1856 as a primary sugar plantation in Louisiana. The historic landmark went through a $1.3 million dollar restoration that began on May 4, 2014.
The famous agricultural estate was initially conserved through the initiatives of Mr. and Mrs. Clark Thompson. However, it is currently owned by the San Francisco Plantation Foundation which was primarily responsible for restoring the place to its old splendor.
San Francisco Plantation House has also been classified as a National Historic Landmark. It is situated along Highway 44 near the River Road. Providentially, the house did not sustain damages during the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina. The notable farm is open for sightseeing with minimal fees from 10:00am to 4:30pm (March through October) and (November through February) except on major holidays
One of the original German immigrants came to the West Bank of the Mississippi River in 1792. Pierre Clidamone Becnel, grandson of one of these settlers, put up a small log cabin in this neighborhood. A mansion was erected shortly after that. At Evergreen Plantation, there were two belfries used by the French as shelter for pigeons, kitchen, guesthouses and cabins for young boys. Evergreen also contained two rows of 22 cabins which were built for servants. The small buildings were not so sturdy so many of the structures did not last long.
These helpers supplied manual labor to maintain the plantations which flourished along the waterway. This was ahead of and after the period of deliverance. The conventional lifestyles of these people contributed immensely to the strong and diverse civilization of Louisiana. You can find 37 edifices in Evergreen Plantation. 22 of these are so-called slave huts. It joins historical sites like Gettysburg and Mount Vernon for attaining the greatest historic title in the country. Evergreen was accorded remarkable milestone eminence due to its status as agricultural property. The tour of this “Big House” includes the main building including the other add-ons and quarters for servants.
Evergreen Plantation has been known mainly because of its significance. Likewise, it is one of the 26 featured sites in the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail. The house is open for tours daily except on Sundays.
Oak Alley Plantation
Oak Alley used to be the habitat of a well-known gardener named Antoine way back in 1846. This worker grew a variety of pecans or edible nuts that people can crack with their bare hands. As a background, Oak Alley Plantation is situated in Vacherie, Louisiana by the side of the Mississippi River. The name supposedly comes from a pathway or sheltered trail of two rows of live oak trees. These were approximately 800 feet or 240 meters long and planted during the first part of the 18th century. Trees were planted before the house was constructed. The passageway stretches from the manor up to the Mississippi River.
During the period that Oak Alley was put together, the sugar industry in the River Road region was already thriving. There was already a string of pompous plantation homes that bordered the banks of the Mississippi River. Unfortunately, many of these have been demolished by the passage of time, natural elements, modernization, and technology. Nonetheless, Oak Alley Plantation survived as a testament to the golden age of the old South. Oak Alley Plantation is still full of greatness and history up to this very day.
Sugarcane is said to be the livelihood of plantations. Laura Plantation covered roughly 12,000 acres of land filled with these juicy canes. In 1850, the sugar farm had almost 200 workers who harvested the sugar cane manually. Laura Plantation is considered a restored Creole farmhouse which also had the name of Duparc Plantation in the past. It has earned prominence for the 19th-century Creole pattern of massive and elevated homes with outbuildings which included six slave quarters.
In fact, it is the only plantation in Louisiana with complete structures. This place at Saint James Parish is part of the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail as well. A professor of Romance Languages and Folklores in Tulane University in the name of Alcee Fortier collected Br’er Rabbit tales (Louisiana Creole versions) from this plantation during the 1870s. The folks and other relatives of American singer and songwriter Fats Domino also lived in this farmstead. Present-day visitors have found remains of the sugar cane industry at Laura Plantation. These included metal pots and other kitchen utensils where crops were grown along the river banks.
St. Joseph Plantation
St. Joseph Plantation comprises one of the few sugar cane plantations in the River Parishes that have remained in one piece. Aside from the Manor Home, there are plenty of edifices for visitors to discover. These comprise early slave cottages, separated kitchens, blacksmith shops, carpenter’s sheds, and schoolhouses. A few buildings have been moved to their current location from another part of the property. Yet, majority still remains in the original place where these were constructed. The plantation is nestled in a sprawling 2,500 acre lot which included another “sister” farm, Felicity.
Legacy of River Road Plantations
The publication, Examiner.com published an article entitled Exploring Louisiana’s Antebellum Legacy on the Mississippi River Road in July 26, 2010.
An excerpt of the article reads as follows:
“The battlefields, plantations, colleges and cemeteries that line the seventy mile stretch of Louisiana’s legendary Mississippi “River Road” provide a unique glimpse into both the pre-war and post-war life of nineteenth century slaves, students, soldiers and sugar planters. The architecture ranges from simple Cajun and Acadian cabins, to haunted Spanish Style plantation homes – The Myrtles – and Greek Revival Style Mansions with classic architectural columns and imposing balustrades. The common historical denominator has been – and remains – the mighty 2,350 mile long Mississippi River whose ebb and flow has mirrored the dramatic changes in the political, economic and social fortunes of the State of Louisiana since its acquisition from France in 1803.”
The iconic Mississippi River is 2,530 miles in length rising in Minnesota and pours out into the Gulf of Mexico. This tributary has played a decisive role in shaping the history not only of Louisiana but the entire United States as well. Meanwhile, 70 miles of the State’s River Road used to be home to thousands of black Americans and over 400 plantations.
What is the significance of the River Road Plantations?
According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the significance can best be described by the following:
“Along the banks of the Mississippi River, from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, a way of life is disappearing. On a 70-mile stretch of historic River Road, superb 18th- and 19th-century plantation houses, slave quarters, Creole cottages and archaeological sites, until now survivors of time, are inexorably deteriorating. But in the mid-90s, visitors to River Road, a popular biking, hiking and scenic driving trail and one of Louisiana’s most popular tourist destinations, found the historic environment endangered. Vacant historic properties are being vandalized or demolished because their owners lack resources and are, at times, indifferent. While industry has become increasingly sensitive to preservation issues, industrial development has already taken an environmental and visual toll. Levee construction has further altered the historic integrity of the region. Comprehensive planning and action are urgently needed to safeguard the future of this area.”
Indeed, if you look closely at the historic and cultural importance of these River Road Plantations, you will see that these epitomize the emergence of the wealthy American people on one side and the plight of the unfortunate Black Americans who were instrumental in building, developing and nurturing these agricultural farms. Time will pass but the memories left by the River Road Plantations will be etched forever in the minds of millions of people.