Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sunday: Exploring the Mississippi

Here I am back already, with wifi and time on my hands at the airport. 

On Sunday we left the crowded French Quarter to the weekend tourists and drove out of town, following the Mississippi River southward.  We drove for about an hour, and turned around just south of Happy Jack, where we drove onto the levee for a look see. 
 We stopped at a grocery store in Happy Jack to pick up apples and granola bars for our road lunch.  There we talked to a local man who told us this area was under 27 feet of water during the Katrina floods. We saw homes now being raised on piers, but it would take a lot to be safe from 27 feet!  We were out far enough that there were double levees, one on the river side and one against the gulf swamp land. 
 Returning north, we drove west along the south bank of the river.  Here we saw overflow spillways for river flooding where the water would drain through swamp land into Lake Pontchartrain. 

The river road is lined with huge chemical plants and refineries and grain elevators and other industry that pipe products directly to or from ships docked on the other side of the levee.  It was surprising to see the stacks and masts of ships poking up over the top of the levee. 
We crossed this dramatic new bridge over the river to the north east bank, where we visited two plantations.
And this is as far as I got at the airport, with very slow photo downloading.  We are now back home and I am snatching time as I can to get this post finished. 

Destrehan Plantation was begun in 1790, first as a grower of indigo for the blue dye it produces, and then as a sugarcane plantation.

Our guide Emma was very knowledgeable.
 This is an indigo plant.
 The house interior is set up as it was in the 1800's. 
 The walls are lath and plaster insulated with a mixture of dried Spanish moss, bits of shell and stone, and mud. Holes were poked into this so the plaster would adhere.  
 Mattresses were stuffed with dried Spanish moss.  I learned that "horsehair" stuffing is actually dried Spanish moss, which when dried loses its gray coating and the result is black wiry "hair". These mattresses get very lumpy when slept on, and each day the servants had to pound them out to smooth them. Therefore they could not be used during the day for naps. So you see, at the foot of the bed, the day bed, where My Lady could get her afternoon nap.

 Sugar cane was cut and stripped, crushed to extract the juice, and then the juice was boiled down to make syrup with was further boiled into crystallized sugar. It was labor intensive, and the laborers were slaves. 
This plantation presented an authentic look at plantation life.

Not so  was the case at the San Francisco Plantation.
 While the exterior of this plantation house was beautiful, its colors were not authentic in the least, and were more to attract people to their venue than to present  true history. 

 We did tour the interior of the house, but it was disappointingly sparsely furnished and finished. 

The towers you see on each side of the house are cisterns, which stored rain water from the roof gutters.  These are authentic and were the way that these homes got their household water.  Wells were not dug at the time these houses were built.
 Perhaps the other thing that detracted from San Francisco Plantation was the fact that it was surrounded by oil tanks.  The property is all owned by an oil company and most of the land is covered by a refinery. 
We enjoyed all the plantation houses we visited, and learned quite a bit about life back in the 1800's.  They look glamorous, and certainly the townhouses were, and the life style in places like Stanton Hall or Melrose in  Natchez was gracious and gentrified.  Even the servants/slaves had it better there.  But on the working plantations life was not so easy or glamorous.  While the homes were lovely to look at, they would not have been surrounded by lush lawns back then.  There was no indoor plumbing.  Heating was by fireplace and air conditioning was by open window, with the bugs coming in. While the work was done by house servants and field slaves, I can tell you that just coping with the summer heat and humidity was a huge effort.  So, no thanks.  I would not have wanted to live in one of these stately homes.

I am very glad to be back in my own northwest house this evening, with the cool, dry evening air coming in through open, screened windows. Our kitty is happy to have us back home too. 


  1. Oh my gosh! This post brought back so many memories. We were at Destrehan plantation also and really enjoyed it. I'm glad you're back home safely and hopefully getting some rest.

  2. never seen plantations-how, I wouldn't have liked to live in those days either...

  3. It must have been rather uncomfortable in the summer, but I guess you get used to it to some degree. I am NOT looking forward to the next week or so, when the temperatures will be 10-15 degrees above normal for us. The lows this weekend will be in the mid-60s. :-(

  4. what a wonderful trip! you are a great tour guide. i really enjoyed it!

  5. thank you SO MUCH for sharing this! :)

  6. I'm always amazed at these huge homes for a number of reasons. Why would anybody want anything so huge? Where did the money come from to build and maintain them? They are beautiful .

  7. I hope those weren't the original colors. Down right gaudy on some. No matter how big the house, hot is hot.
    Still it had to be interesting to sample briefly an old way of life. Makes us appreciate today.

  8. I was just going to say that I would love living in that first plantation home but then read your last paragraph. To think of how hot and miserable it must have been during a summer like the one we are having now. How cold in the winter! I love seeing the pictures.

  9. I'm with you. I would not want to have lived in the plantations with the problems that slavery inevitably had to bring to all involved, nor would I have wanted the heat and humidity and the cold in the winter.

  10. I think they get used to the heat. You do get used to it after awhile. We moved to Florida in about culture shock coming from Colorado. People in the south move slower than northern folk. You got some great Plantation tours...most had summer kitchens...and yes the bugs had to be horrible:(


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