The Nottoway Plantation is located on the west bank of the Mississippi River, in Iberville Parish1, near the town of White Castle, about 30 miles south of Baton Rouge. Its management claims it to be the largest plantation still offering tours in the United States. The largeness is presumably based on current acreage; Nottoway was 7000 acres at the height of its prosperity. The plantation got slightly smaller when the Mississippi River changed course and wiped out two thirds of the front lawn. There were many much larger plantations than Nottoway in the United States, but this changed when slavery went out of style.
The tours show the rooms of the house, with as much period furnishing as could be restored. The most fascinating thing about the house is not the appearance of the rooms2, it's the history of the house.
The plantation was completed in 1859, for Mr and Mrs John Hampden Randolph and their 11 children. It was named after Nottoway County, Virginia, from where its owner came. He and his wife (and all but one child) lived in a nearby forest house for several years, until they could purchase enough riverfront acreage for a plantation. Their crop of choice was cotton (the major cash crop throughout the American South at the time).
The master and mistress of the plantation lived in the main house, as did the daughters and younger sons. Whenever a son reached puberty, he was moved to a nearby outbuilding. The slaves lived in farther outbuildings.
During the United States Civil War, the house occasionally came under fire from Union riverboats, as Confederate troops marched by on the other side. Eventually, a Union commander who knew the Hampdens had Union troops occupy the front lawn of the house, just to resolve this problem. By this time, only the mistress of the house was in residence. The master had gone to Texas with most of the slaves, to continue farming cotton. He managed to maintain most of his fortune in this way.
After the war, the master and mistress resumed residence, without the slaves but with their surviving children3. They survived to a ripe old age, and their descendants carried on for decades after, without having to subdivide the holdings. They did, however, have to sell the plantation to others. A later governor of Louisiana, among others, lived there.
The nearby town of White Castle is named after the plantation. Cornelia, one of the daughters of the original master, wrote some fiction about the plantation, and called it 'White Castle', due to its white-painted exterior. The name stuck. Cornelia wrote under an assumed masculine name, Mr Ailenroc (Ailenroc = Cornelia backwards). It didn't stick.
Eventually, one old lady found herself in possession of a full plantation. Whether or not she had the financial means to maintain the place, she didn't have the energy. She therefore sold the place to a real estate developer in 1980 - on condition that she be allowed permanent tenancy. As of this writing, she lives there still, at the age of 92 and the volume of her TV is said to annoy the occasional guest.
The plantation adjoins Louisiana State Road 1 - the Great River Road - 20 miles south of Baton Rouge. It's open every day of the year except Christmas. It offers guided tours, lodging and meals. The lodging is extremely pricey (though full of character, especially for those who want to pretend to be slaveholders). But the meals are very reasonably priced, and the tours are cheap.
Lodging comes with complimentary continental and full breakfast (the continental breakfast is delivered to the room), private bath (with antique plumbing of sporadic efficiency), TV (with rabbit ears), phone (but no data ports), and full run of the house, for between US$100 (around £60) and US$225 (around £130) per night4. The minimum gets you a small room, where the daughters of the house once lived; unlucky guests get a room near the landlady's TV. The maximum gets you the master bedroom suite or a guest suite, plus a complimentary bottle of champagne. The only drawback of the larger suites is that they are only rented between 5pm and 9am; during the rest of the day, they are shown to tour groups. If you want a river view, ask for the guest suite; the master of the house was more interested in tracking his daughters' movements than in watching the river.
The plantation offers dinner: good Louisiana cuisine, with a main course costing between US$15 (around £9) and US$24 (around £15) with salad; appetizers and liquor extra5. It is served in a large dining hall, in a separate building, with a pianist playing occasionally. The hall has excellent acoustics. The only drawback of this is that voices carry from the other end of the hall. If there are small children (or other loud people) annoying you in the hall, ask to be seated in the lounge. The lounge is small (three barstools and two tables) and is used as a base for the waiting staff, but has fairly pleasant jazz music piped in.
The plantation has its own Official Website. It's also the single most profitable industry for the nearby town of White Castle, which admits to having 'come across challenging times with the further industrialisation of the agriculture industry and stiffer foreign competition in the sugar industry', according to its tourist brochures.
This being southern Louisiana, a visitor should be ready for mosquitos any time of year.