July 10, 2017

A visit back in time at Oak Alley Plantation near New Orleans, Louisiana

Huge oak trees lining the pathway to the aptly-named Oak Alley Plantation
Huge oak trees lining the pathway to the aptly-named Oak Alley Plantation

If you’re planning a trip to New Orleans, you may find yourself wondering whether it’s worth renting a car or not.

Of course you can find plenty enough to do (and eat!) within the city itself, but if cities aren’t really your thing, or you have some extra time, you’ll probably want to venture out of the city.

Driving towards Baton Rouge, you’ll find lots of signs to plantations along the Mississippi River. Old plantations with beautiful houses which of course were only made possible through slavery. That’s something that is hard to acknowledge, but it is very much a part of the history of the area, so it cannot be glossed over. All the plantations have their own way of remembering.

Huge oak trees at Oak Alley Plantation
Huge oak trees lining the pathway to the aptly-named Oak Alley Plantation

Oak Alley Plantation is a bit touristy, but with that comes tourist conveniences. It’s nice to be able to save time by eating lunch at the on-site restaurant. They also have a cafe, as well as a gift shop of course.

The plantation is named after a fantastic stretch of HUGE old oak trees lining the path to the “Big House”. Apparently these trees were over 100 years old when the current house was built here, presumably planted by an oldknown Frenchman who owned a house there previously.

I’ve visited a few of these plantations, and it’s interesting that slavery is approached differently at each one, kind of like catering to different politics and perspectives of history. Oak Alley Plantation has a higher percentage of white tourists (though I was did spot a few black tourists) and does seem to focus on a tour of the luxurious “Big House”. Though there is a small section in the reconstructed slave quarters remembering the names of the slaves that built the plantation. Other locations such as the Whitney Plantation seem to present the history more from the perspective of the slaves. I didn’t take the tour there (it was pricey!), but there was obviously a greater percentage of black tourists there, and an obviously different perspective.

The names of the slaves remembered at Oak Alley Plantation
The names of the slaves remembered at Oak Alley Plantation

It’s worth noting that these plantations along the river are a bit pricey, many with admission prices over $20, which is relatively pricey for the area. Instead of profiting off the backs of slaves, they now profit off the wallets of the tourists! If you’re looking for a cheaper and less touristy option, I highly recommend the LSU Rural Life Museum in Baton Rouge, which will give you a great overview of the history in a large indoor (air conditioned!) and outdoor museum. And at about half the price of the more touristy plantations!

Oak Alley is definitely worth a look though, if only for a walk through the giant oaks. Being so tall and huge, they definitely have a historical perspective of their own, presumably a high perspective!

© David Calhoun 2017