The Oak Alleys of St. Francisville, LA

Rosedown Plantation oak alley

Rosedown is located on Highway 10, near the intersection with Hwy. 61, and about 1/4 mile east of St. Francisville, Louisiana. The avenue of oaks, the formal gardens, statuary, and landscaping at Rosedown are fine examples of the influence of classical European garden styles on Louisiana plantations. Rosedown was established in the 1830s by Daniel and Martha Barrow Turnbull, and it stayed in the hands of their descendants until the 1950s.

Rosedown oak alley, center view

Rosedown oak alley, center view

The plantation encompasses approximately 374 acres outside of St. Francisville and is one of the most intact examples of a working plantation complex from antebellum Louisiana. It represents the lifestyle of a wealthy planter more accurately than many other surviving plantations. The centerpiece of the grounds is the alley of live oaks leading to the front portico of the home. The alley is approximately 150 years old.

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Oak in gardens, Afton Villa

In 1828, Daniel Turnbull and his wife Martha visited Versailles and other post- Renaissance gardens in France, Italy and England on a tour of Europe. On returning home, they began to landscape the grounds at Rosedown to resemble the extravagant gardens they had seen throughout Europe. The gardens became Martha Turnbull’s passion.

Beginning in 1836, she kept a daily garden diary detailing the planting and management of the gardens—the most extensive first-hand account available of nineteenth-century plantation life and gardening in the Deep South. Her diary entries end in 1894, a year before her death at the age of 87. It was discovered in the mid-1990s in the attic of a Turnbull family descendant.

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Afton Villa garden study 1

The diary has been transcribed and annotated by preservationist and LSU professor emerita of landscape architecture Suzanne Turner (The Garden Diary of Martha Turnbull, Mistress of Rosedown Plantation – LSU Press). It contains not only insights into the role of kitchen and pleasure gardens in the lives of plantation families but also “reveals the portrait of a courageous and resilient woman who survived the death of two sons and husband prior to the Civil War and her perseverance during Reconstruction by growing and selling food as a truck farmer.”

Rosedown plantation and its gardens are now a Louisiana state park and are open to the public for a fee.

Afton Villa oak alley

There are more than 250 live oak trees planted in the loosely arranged alley lining the half-mile-long curved entrance road to Afton Villa Gardens. Since other alleys are generally planted in evenly spaced rows, this design style is the most unusual alley of oaks that I’ve photographed in Louisiana.

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Afton Villa oak alley, view toward front gate

The oaks are interspersed with tree-high azalea bushes along the length of the alley, and in March and April, their blooms flood the alley with color. The gardens are also noted for their daffodils, which cover an entire sloped hillside of the grounds.

Afton Villa oak alley toward end of alley

Afton Villa oak alley toward end of alley

The plantation home at Afton Villa burned in the 1960s, but the gardens are still maintained and open to the public in the spring (March to June) and fall (October to December). The plantation name was taken from the song title, “Flow Gently Sweet Afton,” a favorite tune of Mary Barrows, daughter of David Barrows, who owned the plantation in the 1800s.

The Oaks Plantation oak alley

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The Oaks Plantation oak alley, view from gate

Located on Hwy 61, less than one half mile north of St. Francisville. The alley of oaks is planted in an unusual L-shape from the entrance road off Hwy. 61 to the front porch of the house. The trees are approximately 120 years old and were likely planted around 1888 when the home was built by Judge Thomas Butler.

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The Oaks oak alley, view from dogleg turn

Recovering from Civil War and Reconstruction, Thomas Butler built a new house for his family in 1888. The house style he used is now termed “Carpenter Gothic” in tribute to the powered saws and turning lathes of the late 19th century. The style, popular at the time, contained gingerbread trim, dormer windows, and turrets.

The Oaks Plantation oak alley and home

The Oaks Plantation oak alley and home

The home stayed in the Butler family until the last member died in 1973. At that time, The Oaks Plantation and home were purchased by the current owners, Irwin and Betsy Daniel.

The Oaks is a private residence and not open to the public.

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