courtesy Oak Alley Plantation
Published May 07, 2018
People are nosy. They want to know why someone would build an octagonal structure with a Byzantine dome in Natchez, Mississippi. They visit Andrew Jackson’s mansion to uncover how he went from a penniless orphan to president of the United States.
Forward-thinking Southern cities that preserved their historic homes now draw in these curious tourists eager for secrets from the past. Tours of historic homes provide intimate glimpses into the characters who lived there and illustrate traditions from the broader period.
These Southern towns known for their historic home tours will delight visitors by immersing them in the intriguing day-to-day life of a bygone era.
New Orleans Plantation Country, Louisiana
Between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 10 plantations showcase the pinnacle of wealth and the bottom of poverty. Known as the New Orleans Plantation Country, the area offers 10 plantations that, though not far apart, differ greatly in experience.
Over the years, New Orleans Plantation Country drew a mix of immigrants from France, Germany, Spain, Africa, and other places. Groups touring the various plantations will learn how the crops shifted from indigo to corn to rice, only to land firmly on sugarcane when the plant proved dependably profitable.
By 1860, New Orleans stood as the fourth-largest city in the country and the largest in the South. The city emerged from the Civil War mostly unscathed, which left many plantations intact.
Of all the grand houses in the area, Oak Alley Plantation is perhaps the most recognizable. The quarter-mile avenue of 28 giant, live oaks leading up to the Greek Revival mansion is one of the most photographed plantations in the state. The plantation also shows up in various movies and television shows.
Groups will enjoy touring the 1839 home’s interior of shimmering chandeliers and hardwood floors, as well as its lush grounds, where they can watch the mighty Mississippi River flow past. The plantation’s restaurant sits in a 19th-century cottage on the grounds with a menu full of traditional Cajun and Creole dishes.
Other plantations include the historic St. Joseph Plantation, a working sugarcane farm. The San Francisco Plantation impresses groups with its over-the-top colorful opulence in a building that is compared to a giant layer cake.
To learn more about the slaves who made the lavish lifestyles of the Southern plantation owners possible, groups can visit Destrehan Plantation, Laura: A Creole Plantation and Whitney Plantation. Each of these sites weaves firsthand accounts of slavery into its tour for a more complete picture of life on a plantation.