STATUS: Open as museum
The plantation, which was originally named Bon Séjour Plantation (meaning “good living”), was built to grow sugar cane. The mansion that stands today was built by slaves under the command of George Swainy between 1837 and 1839 for Jacques Telesphore Roman.
Joseph Pilie, Roman’s father-in-law, was an architect who most likely designed the house, which was heavily influenced by Greek Revival, French Creole, and Caribbean plantation architecture. The square floor plan was organized around a central hall that runs from the front to the rear on both floors.
Oak Alley’s exterior features 28 free-standing Doric columns on all four sides. Inside the house, there are high ceilings and large windows, with a second-floor gallery for viewing surroundings. Originally, the floor was made from marble, but it has since been replaced with hardwood flooring. The roof was slate, and the exterior walls and columns were bricks painted white in order to resemble marble.
Oak Alley Plantation’s most notable slave was named Antoine, listed as “Antoine, 38, Creole Negro gardener/expert grafter of pecan trees” with a value of $1,000 in the inventory of the estate when J.T. Roman died in 1848. As the inventory mentioned, Antoine was, in fact, a master at grafting trees.
In the winter of 1846, he was successful in creating a variety of pecan that could be cracked with bare hands; it was dubbed the “paper shell” pecan due to the thinness of the shell, and was later named the Centennial Variety when it was entered into a competition at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia where it won a prize.
Many of the Centennial Variety pecan trees can be found throughout southern Louisiana, though all of Antoine’s original trees were cleared for more sugarcane fields after the Civil War. A commercial grove had been planted at the nearby Anita Plantation. However, the Anita Crevasse river break in 1990 washed away all of the plantation and its pecans.
While the plantation wasn’t physically damaged in the Civil War, the end of slavery made it impossible for profit, and Oak Alley Plantation was sold for auction in 1866 for $32,800. The successive owners could not afford the expensive cost of upkeep, and, by the 1920s, the buildings had fallen into disrepair.
The property was acquired by Andrew and Josephine Steward in 1925. They hired architect Richard Koch to work on the extensive restoration that the plantation needed. The Stewards were the last owners to live in the residence, and Josephine left the house and grounds to the Oak Alley Foundation.
Soon, Oak Alley Plantation was opened to the public, with the main house fully restored. Many of the original slave quarters, historic gardens, and other buildings have been reconstructed by the Foundation.
The plantation is believed to be haunted. The apparition of a woman donning an old-fashioned black dress has been spotted inside the house and on the upper porch. Sightings of a man in boots in the kitchen have been reported. In addition, there are mysterious voices and sounds after the plantation tours have finished.
In Popular Culture
The movies Midnight Bayou (2009), Primary Colors (1998), Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994), The Long, Hot Summer (1985), Dixie: Changing Habits, Stay Alive (2006), and The Night Rider (1978).
- The soap opera Days of Our Lives featured the plantation in a wedding scene.
- The Young and the Restless (another soap opera) used the location for two characters to rekindle their relationship.
- Ghost Hunters investigated Oak Alley in Season 4, Episode 19.
- Ace of Cakes featured a groom’s cake replica of the Oak Alley Plantation.
- Beyonce’s “Deja Vu” music video and “B’Day” CD inserts photos taken in June, 2006.
- The Sims features an image of the Oak Alley Plantation pathway on the “Travellin’ Joe’s Expresso Bar” prop, included in The Sims Unleashed.
- Grave Addiction. “Oak Alley,” www.GraveAddiction.com
- Wikipedia. “Oak Alley Plantation,” www.Wikipedia.org