In the mid-1800s, the highest concentration of millionaires in America could be found in one winding corridor only about 120 miles long—a strip in south Louisiana along the Mississippi River, from New Orleans north to the region near Baton Rouge.
The region’s wealth came from massive sugar cane plantations. While the rest of the South cultivated cotton, Louisiana grew sugar and used the Mississippi River as a frontier freeway to get the crop to New Orleans and markets abroad.
Planters generated fortunes growing what they called “white gold.” Prior to the American Civil War, Louisiana was producing as much as half of all sugar consumed in America. In the 1850s alone, Louisiana sugar plantations are said to have produced an estimated 450 million pounds of sugar per year, worth more than $20 million annually.
That history is preserved today through approximately 30 plantation mansions from the era, homes where the wealthy planters lived, conducted business and entertained peers and distinguished guests. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the homes annually, each amazed by stunning architecture, elaborate furnishings and entertaining tales of life and livelihood in antebellum Louisiana.
Each plantation offers a something different than its corridor counterparts, making visits to more than one home that much more enriching.
- Nottoway Plantation is said to be the largest surviving antebellum home in the South. The 64-room, 53,000 square-foot structure has 365 doors and windows. During the antebellum period it had indoor carpeting, running water and its own bowling alley. The home is fittingly located in the town of White Castle.
- San Francisco Plantation in Reserve boasts architectural touches aptly described as “Steamboat Gothic”—he home’s exterior shares features seen on paddlewheel boats that traveled the Mississippi River in the 1800s.
- Destrehan Plantation in Destrehan was completed in 1790. It is said to be one of the oldest homes in the entire lower Mississippi River valley.
- The Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville has been the site of at least 10 murders or meeting of odd fates. The home is said to be one of the most haunted structures in America.
- Also in St. Francisville, Butler-Greenwood Plantation is in its eighth successive generation of ownership by the original owners’ family.
Families no longer live in the plantation homes—for the most part—and sugar is no longer cultivated on most of the plantation sites. The mansions now serve as living history museums, a setting in which the stories told come to life. Topics discussed on tours include daily life in the “big house” and in the adjacent cane fields, Louisiana’s Creole culture in the region, Louisiana’s colonial and early American statehood history, and the onset, impact and lasting effects of the Civil War on plantations. In addition to tours, many of the homes double as bed and breakfast inns and several have onsite upscale restaurants.
While most plantations are found on the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, others are found throughout Louisiana along other navigable waterways including bayous large, slow-moving streams, and small rivers. Examples include Madewood Plantation on Bayou Lafourche in Napoleonville; Shadows-On-The-Teche Plantation on Bayou Teche in New Iberia; Southdown Plantation on Bayou Terrebonne in Houma and Melrose Plantation on Cane River south of Natchitoches.
Other Louisiana plantation homes open to tourists include:
- Bocage Plantation in Burnsidewas a wedding gift to a 14-year old girl, who would go on to oversee management of both the home and the farming operation.
- Cottage Plantation in St. Francisville has outbuildings including a schoolhouse, milk house, kitchen, smokehouse and slave quarters.
- Evergreen Plantation in Edgard and its 37 outbuildings—including 22 slave cabins—is the most intact plantation complex in the South.
- Frogmore Plantation in Frogmore remains a working cotton plantation and tours span cotton cultivation from the antebellum era to today.
- Greenwood Plantation in St. Francisville was one of many West Feliciana Parish plantations owned by planter William Ruffin Barrow.
- Houmas House Plantation in Burnside, at 300,000 acres of farmland, was the largest individual sugar plantation in the antebellum South.
- Kent Plantation House in Alexandria offers a tour focusing on the history of central Louisiana from the late 1700s to the Civil War.
- Laura Plantation in Vacherie offers a tour based on 5,000 pages of French National Archives documents related to free and enslaved people who lived there.
- Loyd Hall Plantationin Cheneyville is said to be haunted by the home’s original owner, his niece, a slave nanny and a Civil War soldier who all met unfortunate demises at some point in the home’s history.
- Magnolia Plantation in Cloutierville has a wooden screw cotton press that is the last of its type on its original site in the U.S.
- Magnolia Mound Plantation in Baton Rouge offers turn of the 18th century architecture that is characteristic of colonial Louisiana’s first inhabitants from France and the West Indies.
- Mon Reve is a 1820s French Creole home in New Roads on False River, an oxbow lake that was once part of the Mississippi River.
- Ormond Plantation in Destrehan is the oldest French West Indies style-Creole plantation on the Mississippi River.
- Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie is connected to the Mississippi River by a 14-deep double-row of 300-year-old live oak trees.
- Oakland Plantation south of Natchitoches is a National Bicentennial Farm, one of only two west of the Mississippi River in America.
- Oaklawn Manorin Franklin is an 1837 Greek Revival mansion and the home of former Louisiana Governor Murphy “Mike” Foster.
- Oakley Plantation at Audubon State Historic Site in St. Francisville is where naturalist John James Audubon painted many prints in his acclaimed Birds of America series.
- Poche Plantationin Convent offers travelers with recreational vehicles a first-class RV park.
- St. Joseph Plantation in Vacherie is still a working sugar plantation and is operated by descendants of the plantation’s owner from the 1870s.
- Woodland Plantation in West Point à la Hache is the home that has been on the label of Southern Comfort whiskey for nearly 80 years.
Elegant homes with a great story extend beyond plantations. Many notable residences are located in major cities, small towns and in Louisiana’s rural areas. Most have period furnishings and exhibits depicting an aspect of local history or culture. Examples listed are all open to the public.
- The Arna Bon Temps African American Museum in Alexandria is the former home of Bon Temps, a famous author of the Harlem Renaissance literary era.
- The Beauregard-Keyes House in New Orleans is the former home of both a Confederate Army general, P.G.T. Beuregard and Frances Parkins Keyes, a noted religious author.
- The E.D. White State Historic Site in Thibodaux is the home of a former and Louisiana’s only ever Chief Justice of the United States.
- The Grevemberg House Museum in Franklin is an 1850 Greek Revival townhouse with exhibits on the history of St. Mary Parish.
- The Hermann-Grima and Gallier Historic Houses in New Orleans depict the life of a Creole family in the city from 1830 to 1860.
- The Hermione Museum in Tallulah is an 1855 farm home that houses the Madison Parish History Museum.
- The Joseph Jefferson House on Jefferson Island is the former home of an acclaimed actor who played the role of Rip Van Winkle more than 4,500 times.
- Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site in St. Martinville is an 1815 Creole farm home that is now a museum exploring different cultures found in Louisiana’s Cajun Country region.
- Madame John’s Legacy in New Orleans is an example of one of New Orleans finest building complexes in the late 1700s.
- The Old Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge was built by and pays tribute to noted former Governor Huey P. Long.
- The Otis House at Fairview-Riverside State Park in Madisonville is the former residence of William Theodore Jay, a noted 19th Century sawmill owner.
Louisiana’s subtropical location on the Gulf of Mexico gives the state extended periods of warm weather and mild winters, creating an ideal environment for gardens. The botanical parks listed below are open to the public and spread throughout the state.
- Afton Villa Gardens in St. Francisville has more than 250 live oak trees and a large variety of azaleas.
- The American Rose Center in Shreveport, the official home of the American Rose Society, has 20,000 rose varieties in 65 individual gardens.
- The Biedenharn Museum and Gardens in Monroe is at the home of the original bottler of Coca-Cola. It has gardens, a Coke museum and a Bible museum.
- Cohn Arboretum in Baton Rouge has more than 300 native and adaptable plant and tree species on 16 acres.
- Hilltop Arboretum in Baton Rouge is a Louisiana State University property dedicated to Louisiana tree and plant species.
- Hodges Gardens State Park near Florien is an abandoned rock quarry turned botanical park, inside a 225-acre multi-purpose recreational site.
- Botanic Gardens in Baton Rouge has a two-mile walking trail through Louisiana plant and tree varieties.
- Jungle Gardens on Avery Island is a 170-acre botanical park and bird sanctuary that has live alligators roaming the site.
- Kiroli Park in West Monroe offers 150 acres of multi-purpose recreation, including several gardens.
- Longue Vue House and Gardens in New Orleans offers 14 garden areas featuring native and adaptable plant and tree varieties.
- The Louisiana State Arboretum State Preservation Area near Ville Platte has 300 acres of trees, plants and occasional wildlife that are indigenous to the state.
- The New Orleans Botanical Garden at City Park features more than 2,000 plant varieties from around the world.
- R.W. Norton Art Gallery in Shreveport has a 15,000-plant garden, including 100 varieties of azaleas.
- Rip Van Winkle Gardens on Jefferson Island is a series of gardens within 25-acres linked by paths that ascend and descend from 50 to 100 feet above sea level.
- Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site, an antebellum plantation in St. Francisville, has a 28-acre maze-style garden that requires a map to navigate it successfully.
- Windrush Gardens at the Rural Life Museum in Baton Rouge offers 15 separate garden areas with a variety of native trees and plants.