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Southern Plantation Tours Take You Back to Another Era
If watching Gone with the Wind gets you dreaming about those long ago days when elegant Southern plantations were flourishing, you’re in luck. There are still many stately plantation homes throughout the south that have been meticulously preserved. They offer tours led by knowledgeable docents — many of them dressed in period costumes — who are happy to share stories about what life was like back in the plantation era. Here are a few great choices to consider:
Stately Oaks, Jonesboro
While Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler only existed in the imagination of author Margaret Mitchell, she was inspired by a large plantation in Clayton County that she visited as a child. Stately Oaks is a Greek Revival antebellum home built in this area in 1839 that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s located in Jonesboro, the city where Scarlett went to pay her taxes on the fictional Tara in the movie. Tours, which are led by costumed guides, include the main house, a one-room schoolhouse, a cook house and more, and visitors are invited to relax in a rocking chair on the front porch or to stop by Juddy’s Country Store for a bottled Coke and that famous southern treat — a moon pie!
LOUISIANA: Great River Road
Spanning approximately 70 miles on each side of the mighty Mississippi between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the Great River Road is home to many of the state’s most famous antebellum plantations, many of which were built by the wealthy sugar planters of the era.
Destrehan Plantation, Destrehan
This beautifully-restored mansion dates back to 1787 and is the oldest documented plantation home in the lower Mississippi Valley. It is owned by the nonprofit River Road Historical Society, and tours are led by costumed interpreters. Demonstrations of activities such as blacksmithing, open hearth cooking and bousillage (a clay and straw mixture used in construction) are also offered on a schedule that varies by the day of the week.
Laura Plantation, Vacherie
Laura Plantation take visitors back in time to learn about the area’s Creole heritage. Tours include the newly-restored Big House, the 200-year-old sugar plantation homestead, three separate gardens and a slave cabin built in 1840. This historic cabin is the site where the ancient West African tales of Compair Lapin, better known as Br’er Rabbit, were recorded.
Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie
Known as “The Grande Dame of the Great River Road,” Oak Alley Plantation takes its name from the spectacular alley of 300-year-old live oak trees on the property that lead to the Mississippi River. Guided tours of the Big House are offered, and there are opportunities to visit a Confederate commanding officer’s tent and reconstructed slave quarters and to watch a video in the Sugarcane Theater about how sugarcane is grown. Interpretive maps are also provided for visitors who want to explore the plantation’s 25 acres.
San Francisco Plantation, Garyville
Billed as “The Most Opulent Plantation in the South,” this galleried house, which was completed in 1855, is designed in the Creole open suite style and features five hand-painted ceilings. Tours, which are led by guides dressed in period attire, include all 14 rooms of the plantation home as well as the grounds, which are enhanced by centuries-old live oaks.
Belle Meade Plantation, Nashville
This stately Greek Revival mansion was commissioned by John Harding in the 1820s and was later expanded by his son, William Giles Harding, in the 1840s. Belle Meade, which means “beautiful meadow,” was once the site of a world-renowned thoroughbred horse farm. Tours include the home and gardens as well as other historic buildings on the property, including a dairy, stable, carriage house and log cabin. Tickets include a free wine tasting at the Belle Meade Winery and the Harding House restaurant is also located onsite.