Cane River Creole National Historical Park
Oakland Plantation was established by Jean Pierre Emmanuel Prud’homme on land granted to him by the Spanish crown in 1789. The plantation remained in the family until the buildings and forty-two acres were sold to the National Park Service in 1997. Oakland and the nearby Magnolia Plantation form the Cane River Creole National Historic Park; both have been designated National Historic Landmarks. Oakland’s twenty-four historic structures, almost all of them dating from the nineteenth century, constitute one of the most complete collections of rural French Creole structures in the nation. Eight of the buildings are of bousillage construction, and while individual structures of this type can be found elsewhere in Louisiana, it is rare to find a group of them, as at Oakland.
Oakland’s buildings are informally arranged parallel to the Cane River (formerly the Red River), as was typical along rivers other than the Mississippi, with the main house at the north end of the property. The two-story raised Creole house has a brick ground story, and upper floor of frame and bousillage construction, and a hipped roof. When the house was first built, in 1818, it was a four-room structure completely surrounded by a gallery. In the 1820s, three rooms were added on the north side, one of which was used as a plantation office; shortly afterward, the house was enlarged to the west. The surrounding gallery and hipped roof were extended to accommodate these additional rooms. After the Civil War, the southwest corner of the gallery was enclosed to form a room, as was a portion of the north gallery; the latter, with access only from the gallery, served as a “Stranger’s room,” where travelers could stay overnight. Additionally, a narrow hallway was cut through the house and a galleried two-room kitchen wing extended to the rear.
The interior of the house includes features from the early-nineteenth-century construction, such as the elliptical archway between the front salon and the rear dining room, two wraparound mantels, and door and window surrounds in the Federal style. Changes made in the 1880s included replacing the parlor’s French doors with triple-hung sash windows and installing a Gothic Revival wooden mantel. In front of the house is a short allée of live oaks and a bottle garden. Bottles are pushed upside down into the ground to outline parterres in a variety of shapes. Although such gardens were common on nineteenth-century French Creole plantations, Oakland’s is believed to be one of only two surviving in the Mississippi Valley. At Oakland, the bottles range in date from the late eighteenth to early twentieth centuries.
Among the several outbuildings are a two-room cook’s house of bousillage construction, with a gallery along three sides. Originally situated closer to the house, the structure was moved in the twentieth century. Two similar but not identical square pigeonniers (c. 1830-c. 1850) are located on the south side of the house, both of which have bousillage walls on the lower floors. A pair of two-room slave houses survives. The quarters also feature bousillage in their wall construction. With the introduction of the share-cropping system after the Civil War, a door was opened between the rooms so that each house would accommodate a single family. In 1860, just before the Civil War, when Jean Pierre Prud’homme’s son, Pierre Phanor Prud’homme, controlled the plantation, there were thirty slave dwellings housing 145 enslaved people. The one-story raised Creole house for the overseer (1861) is of bousillage construction and has a hipped roof. The doctor occupied a galleried cottage that probably was built in the mid-nineteenth century, then enlarged later in the century. Other structures at Oakland include a three-bay, gable-fronted carriage house, a barn that consists of a central log crib surrounded by a shed-roof gallery, storage sheds, chicken coops, a stable, a cottonseed house, and an in-ground brick cistern with a domed top protruding from the earth. The plantation store, built after the Civil War, was enlarged at the end of the nineteenth century.
Miller, Christina E., and Susan E. Wood. Oakland Plantation: A Comprehensive Subsurface Investigation, Southeast Regional Archeological Center, National Park Service, 2000.
Yocum, Barbara A. Oakland Plantation: Overseer’s House, Store and Post Office, and Main House, Materials Analysis and Physical Investigation. Building Conservation Branch, Northeast Cultural Resources Center, Northeast Field Office, National Park Service, June 1998.
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