Louisiana’s Antebellum Homes
Authentically restored antebellum mansions await your discovery just a few minutes from New Orleans, each with their own unique story to tell. Learn what life was like for both the owners and the enslaved people who lived here before the Civil War–before our nation was truly the land of the free. While a day trip is easy, consider spending the night at the beautiful Inn at Houmas House. For more information on our grand estates and their history, see below.
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Louisiana Antebellum Culture
To look away from the Old South is not the answer. To truly understand American history is to know what life was like for both the owners of the “Big Houses” and the enslaved workforce who made them prosperous. Most of the most storied antebellum estates have adapted their tours to tell “the whole story.” The truth is just a short drive from New Orleans. Come discover it.
The Great River Road and beyond
Many of the estates closest to New Orleans are along the River Road corridor, a stretch of land that runs for nearly seventy miles along the Mississippi. Beginning with Oak Alley in 1925, the “Big Houses” on River Road began to be restored. In recent years, programs have been put in place to allow visitors to hear the whole story of life in the Old South–not just the glamorized Hollywood version.
St. Joseph Plantation
Circa, 1830, St. Joseph, has been family owned since 1877, and is one of the few fully intact sugar cane plantations in the River Parishes. Composed of 2,500 acres (including its "sister" property, Felicité), St. Joseph stretches back from the Mississippi River as far as the eye can see. Take a walk through time as you enjoy a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the many interesting people who have called St. Joseph home. Many tours are guided by family members themselves.
Destrehan, built by Jean Noel Destrehan in 1787, is the oldest documented plantation house left intact in the lower Mississippi Valley. It was here that the process of producing granulated sugar was perfected, helping to establish sugar cane as the major crop of the area, replacing indigo. Today, the house is open for guided tours that highlights the lives of the people who lived and worked here – both free and enslaved. In one of the rooms, the walls and ceiling are unfinished, giving a glimpse into building methods of days gone by.
Ormond, built in the late 1700s, claims to be the oldest French West Indies style plantation in the
lower Mississippi valley. It began as a farm for indigo, but later switched to the more profitable sugar cane crop. Originally acquired as a French land grant, Ormond stretched from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain. It provided makeshift housing for troops heading to the Battle of New Orleans and was a prize to be captured during the Civil War. Today the estate is but a mere 16 acres, but is restored, as closely as possible, to the way it was during its prime.
One of the most visited antebellum homes near New Orleans is Houmas House, ranked the No. 2 Historic Home Tour in the country by USA Today. Houmas House was built in 1840 by Col. John Smith Preston, on land originally owned by the Houmas Indians, hence the name. In 1858 the house and 12,000 acres was sold to Irishman John Burnside, one of the nation’s leading sugar producers. To this day, the home is sometimes referred to as the "Burnside House." It was used as the filming location for the film "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte," starring Bette Davis. The gardens are absolutely lovely here year round.
Laura was built in the French "Creole" style, rather than in the style of the English or American antebellum homes common throughout the area. While it has the wide veranda that most homes of its kind had, the ceilings were not quite as high, and the architectural style is noticeably different. Upon entering, you see a sign that proclaims Laura to be "The American Home of Br'er Rabbit.” In 1871, Alcee Fortier, wrote down the stories he heard the enslaved workers pass down to their children in Creole French.
This Greek Revival mansion on Bayou Lafourche was built by Irish-American Henry Howard, in 1846 for sugar baron Colonel Thomas Pugh and his wife Eliza. Nestled among moss-draped oaks, on acres of quiet land, few places are more peaceful than Madewood. As a bonus, there is a very old family graveyard on the grounds. Open up the creaking gate, and discover tombs and headstones of those who called Madewood home so many years ago.
The largest of the “Big Houses” remaining in Louisiana is Nottoway, built in 1857 by John Hampden Randolph who amassed a great fortune in sugar. The house has 50 rooms, which were certainly needed, as John Randolph had 11 children. Inside, one cannot escape the beauty and elegance of its famous White Ballroom, once the site of balls that would go on late into the night. It is said that Nottoway was the first on River Road to have a bathroom on the second floor.
This Greek Revival home is supported by 28 columns, each 8 feet in circumference, with 15-foot high ceilings and 16-inch thick brick walls. The 13-foot wide veranda surrounds the house on all four sides, offering a splendid view, and ample shade and protection from the sun or rain. From the main entrance, two rows of 14 magnificent oak trees (now 250 years old) line the walk to the Mississippi River, a quarter mile away, hence the name "Oak Alley.”