Thursday, May 1, 2014

Oak Alley, part 2

(This is a continuation of the previous post, Oak Alley, part 1  . In it I forgot to mention that an owner prior to the Stewarts, Jefferson Davis Hardin, had purchased the plantation in 1917 and had made an unsuccessful effort at restoration.  He is credited with saving the Big House through his replacement of the heavily deteriorated roof.)

I spent about two and a half hours at Oak Alley and never felt overwhelmed like I sometimes do in places with many things to see.  I did not try to see everything there (save something for the next trip, right?), but still felt very relaxed as I walked around the grounds using the excellent Visitor Guide & Map they supplied. 

The building that the Stewart's used as a garage now has two vehicles on display that are representative of the Stewart era.  On the right is a 1928 Ford Model "A" Phaeton sedan and on the right is a 1929 Ford Model "A" truck.

One of the exhibits I did not explore was the slave quarters.  Just glancing in as I walked by I could see many exhibits.  I don't remember where I picked this up, but normally the slave quarters were not located as close to the house as these are.  So I'm not sure if this was an unusual occurrence or if these buildings were moved from somewhere else.  (Just to note, I'm sure that actual slave quarters were not this neatly built and well roofed!)

These sugar kettles were scattered over the grounds.  They were part of the tedious process of extracting sugar and molasses that was done on every sugar cane plantation.  The kettles were graduated in four sizes ranging from 7.5 feet (the grande) to 4 feet (the batterie) in diameter.

The object visible at the top right of this photo of the dining room is the bottom of the punka.  This fan would swing back and forth above the table while the family enjoyed a meal; it would be "powered" from a corner of the room by a small slave boy pulling a rope to move the fan back and forth.  These are actually of Indian origin and I'm not sure how they were brought to the southern states (future research project) but they served their purpose.  I had to think that the little boy pulling the rope would have to be fairly strong to keep pulling the fan back and forth throughout a meal.

The bedrooms were beautiful, filled with many period pieces like this cradle and day bed next to it.  However, I just could not get excited about the thought of sleeping on a mattress stuffed with moss!
(Restaurant is on the left)
The restaurant is located in a building constructed around the turn of the 20th century and the gift shop is located in what was originally one of the shed's constructed while Mr. Hardin owned the plantation. The restaurant offered a nice menu and I bought a cookbook that had their recipes in it, many of which are Mrs. Stewart's.  The gift shop featured a nice selection of books; however, there wasn't one on the history of Oak Alley.

The love that the Stewart's put into the restoration and maintenance of Oak Alley is very evident everywhere. To ensure that the plantation was preserved for future generations Mrs. Stewart established the non-profit Oak Alley Foundation for the purpose of maintaining and preserving the Big House and 25 surrounding acres.  The property was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1974.

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