Rienzi Plantation Oaks

 

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Rienzi Plantation house flanked by two giant live oaks

Rienzi Plantation Oaks—Two of the oaks on the grounds at Rienzi are registered with the Live Oak Society and one, named “The Pilgrimage Oak,” is one of the Live Oak Society’s original 43 member trees. (Read about the Live Oak Society here.) Rienzi’s oaks were probably planted around 1800, making them at least 200 years old and possibly older.

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Pilgrimage Oak, study 1

About Rienzi Plantation—Around 1794, Henry Schuyler Thibodeaux received a Spanish land grant on Bayou Lafourche for property east of the Bayou where he built a home for his wife Félicité and developed a plantation he named Saint Bridget. In time, he accumulated more land including property on the west bank of the bayou.

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Rienzi Plantation House and oak, west corner

Three Governors who lived at Rienzi—Besides being an area planter, Henry S. Thibodaux became the namesake for the city of “Thibodeauxville” when he donated land for development of the village center, now downtown Thibodaux. Henry S. Thibodeaux (he later shortened the spelling to Thibodaux) became a local Justice of the Peace, served in the Louisiana territorial legislature, and as a state senator. In 1824 while serving as president of the state senate, Thibodaux stepped in as the acting fourth governor of Louisiana when the third governor, Thomas B. Robertson, resigned to accept an appointment as a federal judge.

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Jane Amundson Lafargue Oak, b&w study

Henry S. Thibodaux sold his plantation around 1814 to William Fields, a businessman, and architect who is attributed with building the current plantation home. In 1824, William Fields sold the house and property to Henry Johnson, an attorney, and politician who was elected the fifth governor of Louisiana that same year replacing acting Governor, Henry S. Thibodaux. Eleven years later in 1835, Johnson sold the property to Thomas Bibb, who had been the second governor of Alabama from 1820 to 1821. It’s under Bibb’s ownership that the plantation was first called “Rienzi.” The name supposedly came from a novel and Wagner opera popular during the 1840s about a 14th-century Italian patriot.

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Rienzi Plantation House and two oaks, east corner

The next owner, Juan Ignacio de Egana, was possibly the source of a romantic legend which grew over time about the Rienzi home and the origin of its unusual design. The legend states that the house was constructed by Spanish architects at the request of Spanish Queen Maria Louisa as a possible retreat for her in the event of a Spanish defeat in the Napoleonic Wars. The legend states that her agent, Juan Ygnacio de Egana, took possession of the home, after Louisiana was ceded to France and sold to the United States, and lived there for nearly fifty years. (source: Wikipedia)

Architecturally, Rienzi’s design is unusual for plantation homes of the period. It has cruciform (crossing) hallways on both the first and second floor and brick walls throughout (inner and outer walls). And the walls of the home are aligned to the four cardinal directions. Since being purchased by the current owner in 2012, the home has undergone significant restoration.

E.D. White Memorial Oaks

 

The E.D. White Historic Site is located close to the northern end of Lafourche Parish and is the furthest marker on the driving tour of historic Lafourche Parish live oaks. There are eight oaks on the grounds that are registered with the Live Oak Society. The oldest, the E.D. White Oak is more than 25 feet in girth. The tour materials claim that the old oak is more than 400 years of age.

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P.G.T. Beauregard Oak and home

The historic Creole-style raised cottage was built around 1790 by Edward Douglas White Sr., Judge of Lafourche Interior Territory and the seventh governor of Louisiana. The home is also where his son, Edward Douglass White, Jr. (who added another “s” to his middle name), Louisiana’s most famous jurist lived. E.D. White, Jr. served on the Louisiana Supreme Court, as a member of the U.S. Senate, and as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court for nearly three decades, 11 of those years as chief justice.

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Front view of E.D. White Home

For many years the home was owned by the Thibodaux chapter of the Knights of Columbus, but in 1923 it was donated to the Louisiana State Parks and Recreation Commission. Today, the historic home and grounds are part of the Louisiana State Museum system, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and has been designated a National Historic Landmark. The  house and grounds are open for free tours Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., and closed Sundays, Mondays and state holidays.

The Lafourche Live Oak Tour

Dear readers, it only looks like I’ve not been busy with new blog posts… in actuality, I’ve been hard at work on an entirely separate (but equal) blogsite that grew out of my work on the 100 Oaks Project. In August, I was awarded a grant through the Bayou Lafourche Convention and Visitors Bureau to create a self-guided driving tour of the historic oaks along Bayou Lafourche.

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General P.G.T Beauregard Oak, 20 ft. 2 in. in girth, located on LA Hwy. 1, at the E.D. White Memorial Home site.

For this grant project, I’m photographing historic live oaks around the parish and writing about the history of the people and events that have occurred around these old oaks for a website and brochure. I’m also creating and posting “waymarker signs” (like the image above) that will be located close to the oaks’ locations, near the two main highways that run on either side of Bayou Lafourche (LA Hwy. 1 and Hwy. 308).

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Boudreaux Oak, 29 ft. 2 in. in girth, located near the community of St. Charles, LA Hwy 1

These waymarker signs will have numbers that a visitor can follow using a brochure, or the Tour website. The brochures and website will contain photographs of the trees (like those above) and provide a brief explanation of the significance of their location to the history of the parish. Visitors can take a self-guided driving tour along Bayou Lafourche and learn about the history of the parish through the location of our historic live oaks.

I will begin mirror-posting the Live Oak Tour site pages here, on the 100 Oaks Project site, since they are all part of the same work.  Enjoy!  And if you’d like to see the other site in its entirety, just go to https://liveoaktour.com.