During our May 2017 cruise roundtrip from New Orleans aboard the ‘America’, we visited 4 plantations. After we finished the four visits, we quickly agreed that Rosedown was our favorite, but that each was unique with something different to offer. Here’s our breakdown of the tours we took.
Plantation with the Best Tour: Rosedown Plantation
Despite it being a rainy day, we were in awe as we toured Rosedown. We left the ship docked across the river from St. Francisville, LA, and headed across one of the many impressive bridges over the Lower Mississippi River. As we approached Rosedown, we were struck with the simple beauty of the house and the giant oak trees. The history and stories told by the guides were interesting, and the rooms were arranged to show off life at Rosedown in a beautiful way.
Inside the house, our tour guides told us the story of the family, the Turnbulls. Their fortune was in cotton. The house was well-built. The tour guides boast that the staircase has never needed to be fixed, and still doesn’t squeak! The second generation of the family to live here had 10 children – which we could not even imagine! That house didn’t seem big enough to accommodate that many, but it was a different era. The third generation to live in the house was four unmarried girls of the 10 children, and they were the first to open their home to tourists in the 1920’s. After the Civil War, about 250 former slaves stayed on as sharecroppers to continue harvesting cotton until the infamous bowlweavel arrived! Then the family turned to sweet potatoes for income, which is not as prosperous a harvest as cotton. The house remained family owned until the 1950’s, when it was bought by the Catherine Underwood who restored the house and gardens.
We had a short time after the tour to explore the gardens. They were stunning! Throughout the grounds were these statues (above left and center) that the family had brought home with them on their 6 month education vacation in Italy. Also on the grounds were a gazebo, conservatory, and doctor’s house (above right).
Plantation with the Most Interesting History: Longwood Plantation
Longwood was the plantation never finished! The house was to be beautiful: octagonal shape, multiple stories with a rotunda. The plans were state-of-the-art, innovative, and magnificent. The Nutt would have been the envy of everyone in the South (possibly America)… had it ever been completed. When the Civil War began, all of the Nutt’s builders (being from the North) returned home with the promise of returning after the ‘squabble’ was over. The family all moved into the basement, which was completed, and were resolved to wait out the war there. As the war continued from months to years, Mr. Nutt suffered economic stress, which burdened his health. He did not survive the war. With his passing, his wife became resolved to provide the best life she could for her children. She sold off their land and anything else she could to pay for her kids’ education and care. The house has never been finished, and remains that way to show the history, antebellum life, and the effects of the war. When you head up to what would have been the first floor, you see the house in mid-construction. The shipping boxes for many of the items in the basement (including their piano) are still there. The tools left behind by the construction workers are still there. As much as I appreciate being able to see this slice of history preserved, there is also part of me that wishes I could see Longwood completed – the potential for that beautiful house will forever be stopped in a moment of time.
Plantation with the Best Gardens: Houmas House
We could have spent the whole day exploring the gardens of Houmas House! The house itself was interesting, covering decades of history and interestingly the only privately-owned of the plantation houses we toured. (The current owner lives in the house – his room is part of the tour!) But it was the gardens that seemed to go on forever, winding pathways that lead to surprises, beautiful scenery, statues and fountains. We found a peacock and dogs living on the grounds, plus statues of crocodiles, elephants, frogs and more.
Houmas House guides were the first to explain to us why all these plantations on the rivers planted lines of Oak trees – air circulation! They lined a straight path from the river to the house, funneling the cool air off the river to try to create a breeze to cool off the house. Unfortunately, when Louisiana created levees along the Mississippi River, Houmas House lost many of their oak trees. But there were still very many planted facing the river – one as old as 500 years!
Plantation with the Best Drinks: Oak Alley
Oak Alley is so named for the 300-year-old Oak trees lined up from the front of the house to the Mississippi River, as well as the other Oak trees around the house providing much needed shade and a windy breeze for us on the 90° day! The house was a nice introduction to plantation-style homes, since this was the first we toured. And the slave quarter exhibit was also interesting. However, the best part of Oak Alley was visiting the Spirits house.
Included in our ship tour was one drink at the Spirits house – either a Mint Julep, Lemon Julep, or Lemonade. Although 10am is not normally when I start drinking bourbon, I wanted to drink a Mint Julep at a plantation home… because isn’t that what one is supposed to do when one visits the South?
Plantation We Didn’t Get to See but Want to Go Back to Visit: Whitney Plantation
The Whitney Plantation was not included on our cruise, but the next time I visit Louisiana, it’s on the top of my to-do list! The Whitney Plantation is focused entirely on telling the stories of the slaves. If you’re heading to the area on a cruise, I would suggest making plans to see this plantation on your own. Either join a tour group or arrange your own transportation. I strongly feel that this plantation would be worth seeing, and hope to visit someday soon.