Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Evergreen Plantation & The Great River Road

Posted by Melissa
Welcome to Evergreen Plantation - that's me up on the front porch. Evergreen is located on the Great River Road on the Mississippi River outside of New Orleans. This area was initially settled by German settlers who responded to offers of cheap fertile land from the French who needed farmers to supply the new city of New Orleans. Houses were originally little Creole cottages and everyone in the family worked the land.

After the Louisiana purchase in 1803, many Americans came here and with the Americans came an increase in slavery. The crops changed from farm type crops which supplied New Orleans to the single cash crop of sugar. Sugar proved very profitable and with the profits the plantations expanded. Although this plantation was successful and the house appears quite large it actually is only 3 rooms on the upper floor, each opening with french doors to the large front deck/porch (called a gallery). It has no interior hallways. The downstairs was originally open storage only as the area was subject to flooding. It was enclosed after the levees were built in about the 1930's. The downstairs is now also 3 rooms. The gallery was used extensively almost like a living room or dining room.

Evergreen is the most intact plantation complex in the South with 37 buildings, the "Big House," two garconnaires (buildings where the older sons lived instead of living in the main house with the family), two pigeonaires (fancy pigeon coops to raise squab), stables, a Greek Revival outhouse, 22 intact slave cabins, and several misc. buildings. The slave cabins are two rooms buildings with each side housing an entire family or about 4-5 slaves per single room. Many slaves on this plantation stayed on after the Civil War and continued to live in these cabins. They were occupied up until the mid 1940's by farmers who worked parts of this 2200 acre plantation.

This beautiful Oak Alley does not lead to the main house, but instead to the sugar cane fields. Our guide, Miss Jane, told us that this is because the wealth of the plantation was it's sugar, not the house.
Speaking of wealth, Miss Jane showed us a financial statement that listed the plantation's assets. It started with regular material goods but then went on to list each individual slave, their name (first names only as slaves had no last names), age, origin (American, African, Mulatto, etc), occupation, and finally their value. It was sobering to read this.

This was one of the many huge live oaks on the property. I am standing at about the end of the drip line for this tree. See Thane standing there - it is about 75' from the trunk to the drip line.
We asked Miss Jane for recommendations for a good local diner and she suggested B & C Seafood, a little restaurant and seafood market. It is located along the Great River road where so many of the great sugar plantations are located. I think Thane made a new friend.
We ordered a Cajun Sampler appetizer plate with: catfish, crab fingers, boudin balls, alligator and hushpuppies. Boudin balls have rice and meat in them. Yes - alligator does taste like chicken - just a bit tougher. The hushpuppies where the BEST I have ever had in my life. Light and fluffy, slightly sweet (no onions), and surprisingly not greasy. Thane had never had them before but was quickly converted! We also ordered crawfish stew and shrimp creole. Far tooo much food.
We sure did a good job cleaning up those plates though!

Check out the Evergreen Plantation website if you have the time. There is lots of good stuff there! We absolutely loved our visit and learned so much about how plantations developed, settlement patterns, creole architecture and lifestyles (Did you know that in Louisiana women inherited the family wealth in equal portions as their brothers? This was the law starting way back and was automatic until about 10 years ago when the citizens voted to change it. Miss Jane told us that such laws led to women wielding considerable power and wealth making it quite different than the rest of the country where inheritance laws favored sons over daughters.)

Up Next: Natchez Trace, Vicksburg, and Oxford, Mississippi - that is so much fun to type Mississippi...

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