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  • Ellen Byron

Louisiana Plantations Day Trip #2 - East River Road

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

In my last blog post, I shared about the plantations along the west bank of the Mississippi River. Today I'm going to focus on those scattered along the river's East Bank. Again, depending on how many you choose to visit, it's an easy half-day or full-day tour from New Orleans.

Our first stop is Destrehan, which is a mere half-hour from the city.

Take 1-10 north to Route 310. Get off at exit 6. At the traffic light make a left onto River Road / Hwy 48. The plantation is just a few yards away on the left.

Destrehan, one of the oldest plantations in Louisiana, has a checkered history. in 1811, the east bank of the Mississippi was the site of the largest slave uprising in U.S. history. It was surpressed quickly and brutally, with trials held at several locations, including Destrehan. One thing I noticed on a recent visit to Louisiana was that tours of Creole plantations like Destrehan included harsh and valuable information about the dark stain of slavery. ("American" plantations are those established post-Louisiana Purchase by owners of English origin who came to Louisiana from states like North Carolina and Kentucky).

After Destrehan, travel north on the River Road and in a couple of miles, you'll see Ormond Plantation on your right.

Ormond is now a B&B, as well as a restaurant. Several plantations offer the option of an overnight stay either in the main house or on the grounds. Ormond is the closest of them to New Orleans. They don't offer tours per se, but might show you around if you called and asked them.

To continue on your day trip, there are two options.You can retrace your steps on Route 310 and exit onto 61 North. Turn left (south) at Central Avenue- Hwy 53. Take a left (south) at Central Avenue (Hwy 53). Continue down Central Avenue to the Mississippi River Levee. Turn right on River Road (Highway 44) and travel approximately 3 miles upriver to San Francisco Plantation. Or...

Stay on the River Road. It's a mixed journey. Chemical plants have replaced too many historic homes and sites. But what I love about exploring the road is how a fascinating location will suddenly spring into view, now turned into a private home or elegant business office. But if you choose this route, I once again highly recommend the book, Along the River Road. It's a fantastic guide that helps you identify every sight.

As you can tell from the photo, San Francisco is unique in its Gothic architecture. And sidebar: its name has nothing to do with the famed California city. According to author Mary Ann Sternberg of my beloved Along the River Road, "The plantation's original name was 'Sans Frusquins,' a French colloquialism meaning approximately 'down to last red cent.'" Eventually constant mispronunciation led to the name being Americanized.

Meander along the River Road until you come to Houmas House, one of the plantations that inspired my debut mystery, Plantation Shudders.

Houmas House, once known as The Sugar Palace, is a classic "American" plantation, although the current owner has chosen to paint it a pale yellow instead of white. Since I've blogged about Houmas House before, I'll include the link to that post here. I'll add that it has a fantastic gift shop and some great dining options. I've had dinner at The Carriage House, and it was outstanding. But for lunch, I recommend The Burnside Cafe, where I had one of the best oyster po'boys ever. And my husband fell in love with the sweet concoction that they served with their bread. It's made from butter, Steen Cane Syrup, and pecans, and if Jer could have packed it in his suitcase, he would have!

While Houmas House is the last tour I'll spotlight, I'd like you to continue driving up the River Road for a few miles. First you'll pass Bocage Plantation, which is a private home in pretty good shape. (See directly below.)

The next site is a heartbreaker. When I last wandered the Road almost twenty years ago, L'Hermitage Plantation, named after President Andrew Jackson's home, was an elegant private home. Today it's still a private home, but in sad disrepair.

Few of Louisiana's historic homes are owned and operated by the state. They are at the mercy of either private foundations or individual homeowners for their upkeep. And one generation may be better at it than another.

We have one more plantation to drive by. When I first saw and fell in love with Ashland-Belle Helene, it was a wreck. Descendants of the owners were squabbling about its fate. Most wanted to sell the land and estate to the Shell Oil Company, but one family member held out against the sale. He lost the battle, but while Shell did build a facility on part of the land, they chose not to destroy the manor house. They are slowly restoring it, and while it's not open to the public, at least it didn't fall to the wrecker's ball.

Ashland-Belle Helene is where I met my dear friend, Gaynell Bourgeois Moore, who I like to think I've immortalized in my Cajun Country Mystery Series! It also inspired Crozat Plantation B&B, the home of my protagonist, Magnolia "Maggie" Crozat.

This brings our East River Road day trip to an end. Turn around and head south until you reach Route 44, and take that east to south I-10, which will bring you back to New Orleans. I hope you return home with fresh insight into both the highs and terrible lows of plantation life in Louisiana.

Stay tuned for my next blog post, where you'll join me on a swamp tour. Until then... laissez les bon temps rouler!


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