Nottoway Plantation- rural Louisiana

Nottoway plantation is the largest antebellum plantation left standing in Louisiana. It is very unique because it was not ransacked and burned during the Civil War. It was completed in 1859 for the Randolph family. Before building the mansion, they lived nearby and he owned a large sugar cane plantation. After having eight children, the family grew out of the house they were living in, and so the Nottoway mansion was commissioned. It is named after Nottoway county, Virginia where John Randolph was from. He advised the architect from New Orleans to make it the most grand mansion he could and to spare no expense. The process of designing and preparing for building the mansion took around 7 years, and whole cypress logs had to be soaked for 4 years to become pliable enough to bend to make the circular rotunda section of the building. The building is made out of solid cypress logs and bricks made by the slaves at the plantation- both materials made the building resistant to termites. 
Breathtaking Nottoway
We took a guided tour of the inside of the mansion and then a short self-guided tour of the grounds. To get there, we drove back to the west side of the Mississippi river, then turned south on Highway 1 past Plaquemine. There were signs along the way marking how many miles to the plantation, and the driveway was well-marked. The plantation is not visible from the road, because it faces the Mississippi. Once we arrived, we realized we were at least 20 years younger than any other of the tour participants. We were also the only ones that brought a pesky child along. When I first bought the tour tickets, I thought we would spend most of our time outside on the grounds talking about how a plantation worked, then go inside the mansion to see the main rooms. The tour was very informative and the inside of the mansion was beautiful, but it was not at all kid friendly. Austin spent most of the tour out in the foyers reading books to Landon so Landon wouldn’t touch/break things. An outside tour would have been preferable for us. 
Candlestick in the foyer
Chandelier with gas piped into it- front foyer
The tour guide was this delightful older lady dressed in period clothing. She explained that the staircases going up to the front of the mansion were designed so the men came up on the left and the ladies came up on the right. Right inside the door was a hutch with petticoat mirrors at the floor to ensure that petticoats were in the right place so men could not see the ladies’ ankles. Thus the separate staircases as well. 
Mud and moss molding in the foyer
The main foyer was meant to be super fancy and give a great first impression. This house was built with flush toilets on every floor, and piped in gas for gas lamp chandeliers. The fancy molded features around the chandeliers and the top of the roof were made using a combination of Spanish moss, mud, and some other ingredients. It has a fancy name that I can’t remember. Each level of molding was symbolic. There were oak leaves and acorns to symbolize Louisiana.  

The next room we saw was the men’s smoking room. It had a marble fireplace and ornate furnishings. The curtain fabric puddled to the floor as an implicit sign of wealth- if they could afford the extra fabric for the curtains to puddle on the floor, you were super rich. There was a really cool desk in the room with copies of actual receipts that were found in the attic during renovation. The mansion was restored back to its original splendor in order to be able to host weddings, events, and serve as a historic hotel. The man who restored it tried to keep it looking as it originally did as much as possible. One other thing I noticed in the smoking room was that the doors were very, very tall. I can’t imagine how heavy the doors were to move, and how grand it would have been to attend a party there (although I would not have wanted to wear one of the hoop dresses!)

Very tall door
Mrs. Randolph’s favorite flower was the trim of the dining room
Following the smoking/game room, we saw the dining room. Originally, this room was painted mauve with brighter pink accents to compliment pink ornate formal dinner plates. During the renovation, the renovator could not find the full set of pink plates, but he found similar ones in blue and yellow. Then he painted the room to match them. The plates are hand painted in France and run about $1500/plate these days. Landon did not set foot in this room. At each place setting, there is a special knife rest because you could not rest the knife on the hand painted very expensive plate, nor could you just put it on the table. 
Music room

The tour guide had some interesting insights about how southerners entertain guests. Back in the day, people came to stay for longer periods of time because it was harder and took longer to travel. Southerners were very hospitable to visitors, but if a guest out-stayed their welcome, their seat at the table would move further and further away from the host until they got the message and left.

Upstairs was the family space, and it was less ornate and fancy. Our tour was a little scattered because there was a bride taking bridal pictures in the mansion and on the grounds while we were there. The first room we came to was the music room. All of the ladies of the Randolph family were educated in how to play musical instruments. Music teachers would come up from New Orleans and stay at each plantation house until their work was done and the ladies could all play piano or harp, and then they would move on.

This large piano was in the foyer, and had places for candlesticks to help light the music

I’m thankful for my stroller

An original piece of furniture from the house- most are reproductions!
Door-windows, and our guide

In order to get out on the upstairs porch, the architect designed window doors. I guess windows were not taxed, but doors were, so he designed these to open up garage-style from the bottom to avoid being taxed. The porch was purposely slanted to allow rainwater to drain effectively off of the porch. Originally, there were acres of sugar cane and other crops all around the mansion and the river was farther away. Now, the river is very close to the mansion just over the levee.

The master bedroom was full of original furniture pieces including this gorgeous bed. They put mosquito nets around it during the summer and the posts at the foot of the bed raised so the net didn’t tangle in the feet of the 6’2” man of the house, John Randolph. Mrs. Randolph also hid her jewelry in the posts when the Yankees came to the mansion so they didn’t steal them. 
I guess this time is as good as any to talk about why the mansion was saved at the end of the war. As the Yankees took over the area, they started shelling the plantation house. One of the front soldiers recognized the house- he had played there as a child, and recognized Mrs. Randolph, who was standing at the front doors with a kitchen knife. The shelling stopped, and she was made to support the soldiers, feeding them and clothing them and allowing them to camp on her property, but the house was saved, with only one grapeshot ball stuck in one of the beams. 
Bright white ballroom
The last room in the house that we saw was the ballroom. It was decorated in all white so that Mr. Randolph’s daughters would be the color and decoration in the room. Even the floors were white! It was a beautiful room and I can imagine that getting married here would just be gorgeous. 
Cistern outside where water was collected
River boat!

After the tour, we walked up the levee to get some pictures of the mansion from the other side of the street. In the Mississippi river was a river boat that some of our tour mates came from. It was docked there until 4:30 and Landon wanted to stow aboard! As soon as we were on that side of the road, he took off running and Austin had to sprint to catch up with him and stop him before he actually made it on the boat!

See Austin and Landon?
Austin and Nottoway
Then I wanted a picture of us in front of Nottoway. Landon had other plans and started taking off for the road. We snapped the picture and then ran after him. Landon had fun running around outside after having to be still and quiet during the mansion tour. 

It’s just so stately!
See Austin and Landon?

For the weddings, there was a stand to stand on and take pictures. I took advantage.

One of the tour guides popped her head out of the building and asked if we wanted a family picture. So we sat on the porch and tried to get Landon to look at the camera. Here’s our best shot:

Happy family

After taking way too pictures of the mansion, we walked a little around the grounds. We looked at the Randolph family cemetery, enjoyed the live oaks, and appreciated the out buildings. At this point, Landon was getting cranky, so we headed back to the car. All of the outbuildings have been repurposed into restaurants and hotel rooms, so there was not much significant or historical there. We did learn that the garconier was where the boys slept once they reached the age of 15. All of the boys of the house slept out there, and the kitchen was also separate from the house. This was in case of fire, that the mansion would not be destroyed.

Oaks, and me with Landon’s drink cup in my shirt pocket…

Rotunda on the side of the house… this is what took 5 years of planning to bend the cypress beams for this feature

After leaving the mansion, we decided that perhaps we should just have purchased access to the grounds and skipped the tour. The tour was not child-friendly. It was still a great day and a very fascinating architectural piece to learn about. There were two ways to get back to our hotel. Both were not very appetizing. One was to wait in a very long line for a ferry across the river. That would mean less miles driven/gas wasted, and it would put us in a place closer to the hotel. The other option was to drive all the way back to the 10 and face the big bridge over the Mississippi that was always slow and backed up for miles. Austin was driving and decided to take the ferry. So did a lot of other people. We got on the ferry after about 30 minutes of waiting. We crossed the Mississippi in a ferry. That was pretty cool!

Mississippi River from the ferry dock
Then I had to try to navigate us back to the hotel using the shoddy internet connection we had out in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully, we only had to turn around once and made it back in plenty of time to go get ribs and yummy BBQ for dinner. Landon was great at dinner, we attribute that to the cool paper car that his food came out in! It was hard to get him to eat anything because he was so in love with the car!

Mighty Mississippi
Love the reeds, and the sky!
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