Notable Southern Plantation Tours in the United States

Oak Alley Plantation, Louisiana, USA
Oak Alley Plantation, Louisiana, USA | © Stephen Saks Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
Leena Kollar

History buffs with an interest in the southern part of the United States will enjoy these plantation tours. They offer insight into the history of slave labor, plantation living and how the south evolved into what it is today.

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Oak Alley Plantation

Located in Louisiana, Oak Alley Plantation was first a sugar cane plantation started by Valcour Aime, who purchased the property in 1830. He established an enslaved community who worked the plantation. Then in 1836, Jacques Roman acquired the Oak Alley property and began to build his own home on the plantation. Accomplished entirely by slave labor, his home was built in Greek Revival style using bricks made on site and marble shipped in by steamboat to construct the dining-room floor.
The self-guided exhibit at Oak Alley focuses on the lives and living conditions of those who were owned and kept on the plantation. Visitors learn about life after emancipation and can stop by the Blacksmith Shop, which acts as a tribute to Louisiana craftsmen and the history of forging metalwork.

Oak Alley Plantation has been the filming site of popular media works, including the 1993 film, Interview With a Vampire, and Beyoncé’s 2006 music video for the song Deja Vu.

Belle Meade Plantation

What started as a single log cabin is now a plantation located outside of Nashville, Tennessee that serves as an educational resource. Founded by John Harding in 1807, “Belle Meade” translates to mean beautiful meadow in old English and French. It began as a 250-acre property that eventually became a 5,400 thoroughbred horse farm. It had a Greek Revival Mansion, a train station and a rock quarry that supported five generations of owners and their enslaved workers. Today the site retains 34 acres of the original property, including the mansion and original homestead. It is dedicated to the preservation of Tennessee’s Victorian architecture and equestrian history.

Visitors to Belle Meade Plantation enjoy a tour of the property led by trained and costumed guides, who share the history of the mansion, as well as many other historic buildings like a horse stable, carriage house and log cabin. Free wine tasting is offered at the site’s winery after tours, and there is a gift shop and restaurant for visitors as well.

Nottoway Plantation

The south’s largest antebellum mansion is Nottoway Plantation. Located in Louisiana northwest of New Orleans and southwest of Baton Rouge, Nottoway is a Greek and Italianate style mansion full of extravagant features and details. It was completed in 1859 and the construction was commissioned by prestigious sugar planter John Hampton Randolph. The mansion became home to John, his wife Emily Jane, and their 11 children. As a wealthy businessman, John wanted no expense spared when it came to the home’s design. The 53,000 square foot mansion has 64 rooms with features like 22 massive exterior columns, 12 hand carved Italian marble fireplaces, 15 1/2 foot ceilings and a lavish pure white oval ballroom. Modern bathrooms with running water and a gas plant that provided gas lighting throughout the home were also installed per John’s vision.

John’s wish was for the mansion to be a place where he could entertain visitors in extravagant and elegant style. He wanted a home that would be admired by all, seen by river boaters on the Mississippi River or riders on a horse drawn carriage traveling on Great River Road.
When you visit Nottoway Plantation today, costumed tour guides take you through the mansion, sharing details of the property’s construction and history. Over the years, Nottoway Plantation went through several different owners and years of decline, but managed to survive the Civil War. This is a testament to the loving care that the mansion has received by those who are determined to keep its history alive.

Pebble Hill Plantation

The original owner of Pebble Hill Plantation in Georgia was Melville Hanna, who acquired the property in 1896. In 1901, he gave the property to his daughter, Kate. She immediately began construction on Pebble Hill, hiring architect Abram Garfield, and was actively involved in the design process. The first building was a log cabin that served as both a school and a playroom for her children. Several of the buildings were neo-classical brick structures that include the Plantation Store, the Pump House, the Waldorf and the Stables Complex.

Kate was a humanitarian who provided many benefits to the employees who worked on the plantation. Over 40 families of employees lived in furnished cottages, the Visiting Nurse Association provided medical services for employees and their families, and two schools were built and maintained for employees’ children in grades 1-7.

After Kate’s death in 1936, her daughter Elisabeth “Pansy” inherited the plantation. She wanted it to become a museum, and in 1956 formed the Pebble Hill Foundation to make the property open to the public. After her death in 1978, the plantation became property of the Pebble Hill Foundation, which maintains and manages the estate today.

Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage

Located about 10 miles east of downtown Nashville, Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage offers self-guided audio tours and interpreter led tours of the former president’s estate. General admission tours cover over 1,000 acres of farmland that used to be The Hermitage Plantation. The Hermitage was a self-sustaining property that relied on slave labor to produce cotton. President Andrew Jackson and his wife Rachel lived there for several years in the late 1700s. The Jackson family survived on profits made from the crops that the slaves worked every day. When he first bought The Hermitage in 1804, he owned nine African American slaves. At the time of his death in 1845, he owned about 150 slaves who lived and worked on the property.

Although slaves could not legally marry, Jackson encouraged his to form family units. This was a way to discourage slaves from trying to escape, since it would be more difficult for an entire family to safely flee.

Take a tour of the Hermitage to walk through the mansion, the exhibit gallery and the grounds, where both President Jackson and his wife are laid to rest. Costumed tour guides will share the detailed history of the Jackson family, the plantation and the buildings and original belongings that remain on the property.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

Back in 1676, Thomas Drayton and his wife Ann established the Magnolia Plantation along the Ashley River in South Carolina. The couple were the first in a line of Magnolia family ownership that has lasted for more than 300 years. During the Colonial era, the plantation saw immense growth due to the cultivation of rice. Once the American Revolution began, troops occupied the land and Drayton, along with his sons, became soldiers fighting the British.
In 1825, Thomas Drayton’s great grandson willed the estate to his daughter’s sons, since he had no male heirs to leave the property to. One of the sons died of a gunshot wound, leaving the second brother a wealthy plantation owner at the age of 22. The American Civil War threatened the welfare of the Drayton family, the house and the gardens on the plantation. But the plantation recovered and saw additional growth of the gardens, which became the focus. The property was saved from ruin when it opened to the public in 1870.
The plantation offers half-hour long guided tours taking visitors through the Drayton family home – the third in more than three centuries – and gives a glimpse of what plantation life was like in the 19th century onward. There are 10 rooms open to the public, furnished with antiques, quilts and Drayton family heirlooms. More than five years ago, Magnolia’s Cabin Project started as an effort to preserve five structures on the property that date back to 1850. The structures are former slave dwellings that are now the focal point for a 45-minute program in African American history.

Destrehan Plantation

The Destrehan Plantation in Louisiana was established in 1787. It is located 25 miles from downtown New Orleans. It was the home of successful sugar producers Marie Celeste Robin de Logny and her husband, Jean Noel Destrehan. By 1804, 59 enslaved workers inhabited the property, producing over 203,ooo pounds of sugar. The Destrehan Plantation was the site where one of the three trials following the 1811 Slave Revolt took place. It was led by Charles Deslondes, and was one of the largest slave revolts in U.S. history.

Visitors can tour the restored plantation, which is surrounded by lush greenery and looks over the Mississippi River. Stories of the Destrehan family and those who were enslaved are shared through guided tours, which also feature historic exhibits and the opportunity to participate in period demonstrations. Tours also include access to the Jefferson Room, which displays an authentic document signed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

San Francisco Plantation House

Considered the most opulent plantation house in North America, the San Francisco Plantation House is located on the east bank of the Mississippi River, about 40 minutes outside of New Orleans. In the early 1800s, Elisee Rillieux sold the land that later became the San Francisco Plantation House to Edmond Bozonier Marmillion and Eugene Lartigue, profiting $50,000. Edmond was in debt, despite being a successful crops planter. His financial problems stayed with him for the 26 years he owned the property. He continued to acquire slaves and purchase land, but didn’t make investments in sugar machinery.

The plantation was prosperous for a while in the mid-1800s, but in 1853, Edmond hired expert builders and skilled slaves to convert the plantation into a prestigious residence for his sons. Valsin and Charles were the only two of Edmond’s and his wife Antoinette’s eight children who didn’t die from tuberculosis, the same disease that killed Antoinette in 1834. The main construction on the house was completed two years later and Edmond then hired artists to create hand painted ceilings, painted door panels, faux marbling and faux wood graining throughout the home.

When Edmond passed away in 1856, his son Valsin took over the plantation. In 1859, he tried to sell the estate, but wasn’t able to due to a legal conflict involving his sister-in-law, Zoe Luminais. When the conflict was resolved in 1861, war and reconstruction prevented the possibility of sale for 15 years. Valsin died in 1871, and in 1879, Achille D. Bougere purchased the property for $50,000.

Guided tours are conducted by professional costumed guides who take visitors through the colorful plantation, exploring a slave cabin, a one room school house, and the property, which was restored in both 1970 and 2014. Blacksmithing and demonstrations also take place on the property, where you’ll find a gift store as well.

James Madison’s Montpelier

Ambrose Madison, a planter and slaveholder in Virginia, along with his wife Frances and their three children, arrived in 1732 to a plantation they called Mount Pleasant. One of Ambrose’s grandchildren, James, spent his early childhood at Mount Pleasant while construction began on a brick Georgian house that would later become the center of James Madison’s Montpelier.

It was on this very land that James Madison contemplated ideas and shaped the United States as the country’s fourth president. With 2,650 acres of horse pastures, rolling hills and scenic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, James Madison’s Montpelier offers insight into the Madison family history, and provides a deeper look into James Madison’s presidency. Just behind Mount Pleasant is the Madison Family Cemetery, where both James and Dolley Madison are buried.

Exhibits on the property include the 1910 Train Depot, which explores the African American struggle for civil rights. It opened in 2010 and is a permanent exhibit on the plantation. There’s also The Mere Distinction of Colour, which allows visitors to hear the stories of those who were enslaved at Montpelier, as told by their descendants. It recounts the events that took place at the Madison’s home, as well as the South Yard of the property, where the slaves lived and worked. The exhibition also explores how the legacy of slavery impacts race relations and human rights in modern America.

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