These photos come from the Creole plantations located along the Cane River in northeastern Louisiana. Even reading that sentence back makes me smile as it sounds as remarkably Southern as it is. The word “Creole” is a complicated one, as it has evolved over time. Technically it means something which comes from the new world but with old world roots. People born in Louisiana of Spanish and French decent were referred to as “Creoles”. The word also encompassed architecture and food born in the region but using traditional knowledge. Today, it tends to mean people of mixed heritage including those of European, African and Native American descent. Regardless, these early settlers to the region began mostly as subsistence farmers and over time grew into large plantation owners. As cotton became king in the south, many of these plantations got on board, purchasing hundreds of enslaved people to do their manual labor. The plantations grew and thrived. After the Civil War and the the 13th Amendment to the Constitution freed the slaves, many stayed on as sharecroppers and tenant farmers, as the plantation and cotton were the only things they had ever known. Some of these plantations remained in business into my lifetime owned and worked by generation after generation of people from the same families.
The first photos in this collection come from the Magnolia Plantation, a part of Cane River Creole National Historical Park. Once owned by the LeComte Family, this large plantation was worked by 275 enslaved people in its heyday. While the Big House is still owned by the family and is closed to visitation, the overseer’s house, plantation store, blacksmith shop, cotton gin building and slave cabins are all open to the public as part of the park. I especially enjoyed learning about the “pigeonnier”, a pigeon coup in which their droppings were used as fertilizer and baby pigeons were sometimes eaten as a delicacy. Today only 8 of the original 71 slave cabins remain, but were occupied by plantation workers until 1970. This plantation is fascinating to wander around and learn about the people who lived there.
A few photos that follow come from the Melrose Plantation, which is privately owned and operated but open for tours. It was closed on Monday when I visited, so I only got to take a few photos from outside the property.
Following that are several photos from Oakland Plantation, also a part of the National Historical Site. This plantation was owned by the Prud’homme family from 1785 until it was sold to the National Park Service in the 1970’s. Because so many of the outbuildings remain intact, it is one of the best preserved cotton plantations in the South.
Finally there is one picture at the end down the main drive of the privately owned Oaklawn Plantation. While this plantation is closed to the public, it does have the third longest oak allée in the state. These were originally planted to tunnel cool air from the river down to the Big House during the painfully hot and humid Louisiana summers.
This area is beautiful and definitely worth a visit. I learned a lot about Creole culture and architecture and the plantation systems of Louisiana. If you visit, be sure you stop in nearby Natchitoches and try some wonderful Creole cuisine while you are there. I hope you enjoy these photos from the plantations along the Cane River in Louisiana.