up the Mississippi River from New Orleans on the Great River
Road, we encountered the epitome of the Old South. All along
the river north to Baton Rouge, Plantation Country lives
on in well preserved splendor. Cotton
was not king down here, unlike the plantations throughout the
rest of The South, these gave us some sugar.
took the informative and entertaining tour after a stroll
around the grounds. Our guide gave us the full scoop. The
plantation’s namesake trees were planted by an unknown early
settler a century before the mansion was ever conceived.
In 1839, Jacques Telesphore Roman picked the spot as the perfect
girl bride into wanting to live out in the boonies,
a whopping twenty-five miles from New Orleans. Of course back
then, that was a full day’s travel. Mrs. Roman must have been
unimpressed, because it didn’t work. By all accounts she seemed
to prefer her big city life.
Civil War took a terrible toll on the plantation and it
was auctioned off in 1866. In a sad state by the 1920s,
it was bought by Andrew and Josephine Stewart who restored to
its past and current grandeur. The Stewarts lived in and loved
Oak Alley until they drew their last breath.
had a familiar feeling about the place — especially the signature
oak-lined walkway — and learned why at the end of our tour.
Oak Alley is a bit of a movie star having made numerous screen
appearances. Yup, that was Oak Alley in Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte,
The Long Hot Summer, Primary Colors, Midnight Bayou and even
a guest spot on Days of Our Lives on the small screen.
history lesson and some interior gawking, we completed our Oak
Alley Oop with a bite to eat. Many restored plantations now
feature restaurants ranging from casual to anything but. Lucky
for us, Oak Alley is a nonchalant spot for a quick lunch. Unlike
our next stop.
up River Road lies the mother of all Louisiana plantations,
Nottoway. The largest in The South and perhaps the most
elegant too. We knew we were
out of our element here, so we decided that a quick sneak peek
around the grounds for some photos would do.
is truly a remarkable monument to a bygone era. As splendid
as Oak Alley is, this dwarfs it. Twice the size and twice the
opulence. Finished just before the Civil War broke out, Nottoway
was the pinnacle of plantation one-upmanship.
We didn’t stick around though, since we hadn’t bought a ticket
and were sure to be kicked out.
Grant tried to take the city by force, but as we could see
while we took the driving tour of the park, the Confederate
defenses were impenetrable. Dug in on the top of the bluffs,
the rebel fighters could
shoot down on the invaders and repel their advances. After losing
numerous troops in his initial attacks, the future president decided
circle the city and lay in for a long siege.
the loop through the park, we could really see the how the
siege took shape. Up the eastern road, we followed the Union
lines, then going down the west side we were tracing the
Confederate fortifications. Both sides had earthen
walls and trenches, often in plain sight of each other, only a
few dozen yards apart.
of Vicksburg National Military Park is the USS Cairo, an ironclad
gunboat from the Civil War era. Brought up from the bottom of
the Yazoo River about fifty years ago, the wooden hull and framework
is made all the more interesting because rather than replace
the original wood with a replica, it has been braced and supported
in its current condition. This allows visitors to complete the
restoration with their imaginations.
Cairo was not involved in the siege on Vicksburg, having sunk
several months prior, but it is a fascinating look into the
ultimate military technology of the day. The armoured warship,
one of the “Pook’s Turtles” named for their designer
Samuel M. Pook, was remarkably preserved for a century in the
silt at the bottom of the river before being raised and restored.
city of Vicksburg is typical of a smaller southern river
city. Beautiful neighborhoods with gorgeous old antebellum
homes, an ornate old courthouse, an aging waterfront and
wait, what’s this? One huge
exception! Giant, cheesy, fake riverboats.
decorated up to look like old-time riverboats. They are, of
course, actually casinos, on barges. Barges that will not ever,
under any circumstances, go anywhere. But to satisfy Mississippi’s
law specifying that casinos must be on water, these boats
are permanently tied to the shore here.
minded travelers, we figured we should contribute to the local
economy, and contribute we did. In very little time at all those
riverboat gamblers had removed much of our funds from our possession.
some things haven’t changed much at all along old man river.
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