The River Houses


The great Classic plantations were nearly all laid out on the same pattern. In front of the house, at eitherside, were the garçonnières, used as guest houses; at the rear were the plantation office on one side, and the kitchen on the other. Directly behind the house were the gardens, flanked by pigeonniers and the carriage houses. Usually at the rear of the gardens were the privy, often in itself a marvel of architecture, and the rows of slave cabins. Then came the fields of cane or cotton. Last was the cotton gin or the sugar mill. It was practically a self-sufficient community.

The main house, symbolically, faced the waterway, which often was the Mississippi itself. This was the primary route to the outside world and its markets, in that day a way around the impassable swamps and often useless roads. From the landing to the house there commonly led an allée —in one case, at Pine Oak Plantation near St. Martinville, three miles long—framed by magnificent old trees, usually oak, entwined overhead to form a veritable tunnel and interspersed with pieces of classical statuary.

Here the imagination and the poetry take over: a great puffing steamboat discharging its passengers at the landing, and the equally great house, softly lighted, its tall columns luminous in the moonlight, to be seen through the cathedral-like tunnel of trees—this is the stuff that legends are made of.