Saturday, December 6, 2008

Cane River Creole National Historical Park: Oakland Plantation

It was a rather gray day when we visited the park last month, but here are a few photos from Cane River Creole National Historical Park, starting with a side view of the main house at Oakland Plantation, one of the two plantations that comprise the park. The modern structure to the side of the stairs is an elevator that allows the structure to be accessible to all park visitors. The house is a wonderful example of Creole architecture. There is a ground floor to the building, but it's the equivalent of a basement and was used for primarily for storage, with the exception of living quarters for the cook. There is an attic, but, although there are dormer windows, it also was primarily for storage.

The main house as viewed by visitors from the walkway from the plantation general store to the house. I thought the plastic walkway was a great idea for a wet climate. Water goes right through it, but no one ends up walking in mud. The garden in front of the house is known as The Bottle Garden -- the flowerbeds are outlined with wine bottles embedded neck down. It was kind of a neat effect, and I'm wishing now I'd gotten a better photo of it. The interpretive ranger wasn't able to provide much information (it was only his tenth day on the job so he was still learning the park; however, if we'd been at all curious about Natchez NHP he would have been a fount of information because that was his last duty station) but said he thought the Bottle Garden had been established in the late 19th century. Oakland was owned by the same family, the Prudhommes, for multiple generations, which is one reason it retained remarkable integrity and made it a good candidate for consideration as a historical park. They also drank a lot of wine so had lots of empties to work with.

View from the veranda looking down the live oak allee toward the main road and the historic approach to the house. I'm always fascinated by the resurrection ferns covering the oak limbs.

Outbuildings behind the main house include a laundry shed, chicken coops, and a carpenter's shop. The plantation also included a general store, slave quarters, mule barns, equipment sheds, a smaller house known as the Doctor's House which now houses administrative offices for the park and an overseer's house.

The overseer's house:

Having worked in NPS cultural resources, I still mentally do condition assessment for structures and landscapes when I visit parks. Cane River's had a fair amount of money and work poured into since its establishment in the 1990s. There are before and after photos on display in the store for a number of structures, and there are obvious stabilization and preservation efforts in place. There's plastic netting over the remnant wallpaper in the overseer's house to prevent what's left from being peeled off by vandals, and the exteriors of several buildings have rolled roofing sheathing the walls. According to our guide, the management plan calls for the house to reflect an early 1960s appearance, which struck me as a nicely pragmatic decision: the same family lived there for multiple generations; the 1960s is the last time any major changes were made to the interior (the kitchen was updated); it makes perfect sense to use that as a marker for telling the entire story of the property. In short, no major restoration headaches, just stabilization and routine maintenance.

Although the front of the overseer's house is wood siding, the side and rear elevations had apparently been sheathed with faux masonry asphalt siding in the past. That was apparently the last siding put on the house, so I'm kind of wondering if they plan to do a restoration on that.

Oakland's cash crop in the 19th century was cotton so the property at one time included numerous slave cabins. Following the Civil War the owners switched to a share cropping system that included (of course) debt peonage through the Prudhomme-owned general store. Only two cabins remain extant; both had been quite derelict when the park was created in 1994, but have since been stablized. This is one of them.
The exteriors are sheathed with rolled roofing; my assumption is that's a stabilization measure.

The park also includes Magnolia Plantation, but I think I'll do that as a separate post.


  1. its really beautiful. I loved driving thru the south and seeing the history in the houses..especially in todays disposable housing..take a great ole house rip it down and built a mcmansion..

  2. Takes me back to my childhood. My mother's sister lived on the Louisiana side of the big piney woods part of the Texas Louisiana border--can't remember tha name of the town, but her husband was a salesman who traveled that territory. I got to go with him sometimes and loved his stories of growing up there, the history, the houses, the cemeteries, all above ground. Lovely piece.


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