|Francois Gabriel Valcour Aime|
"Le Petit Versailles was the home of one of Louisiana's most famous planters, Valcour Aime, whose legendary success and excesses are still widely recounted to this day. His unusual mansion at Le Petit Versailles Plantation was the crown of his plantation empire, which included many properties. And the flagship estate's gardens were among the most elaborate ever conceived in the South. The plantation mansion burned in the twentieth century, leaving but a memory of a man and a plantation that truly defined Louisiana's "Golden Age.""
In St. James Parish "Aime owned the plantation that would come to be known as Oak Alley, perhaps the most recognizable and photographed plantation in the South today. He transferred this estate to his brother-in-law, Jacques Telesphore Roman, and took possession of the old Roman family estate. This Roman plantation measured thirty arpents along the Mississippi River and extended eighty arpents back. Aime filled its fields with sugarcane and began turning an annual profit between twelve thousand and twenty-three thousand dollars."
[NOTE: When Louisiana was under Spanish rule a ruling of 1770 allowed land grants 6-8 arpents wide and 40 arpents deep. 1 arpent = 192 feet. The Roman plantation (soon to be Aime's) was 30 arpents wide by 80 wide. This means his land measured 5,760 feet wide by 15,360 feet deep.]
"By the 1830s, Aime's family had grown, consisting of five children: four daughters and one son named Gabriel. By this time, the family needed more space. The Romans' old French Colonial house where the Aime family lived was integrated into the new mansion. The new house was built in the shape of a U with a large central courtyard facing the rear. Massive columns surrounded the plantation house and also lined the courtyard, creating a very remarkable rear facade. Twin staircases on either side of the courtyard framed the rows of columns within.
In its finished version, the mansion boasted sixteen rooms, including a grand banquet hall and private children's dining room on the first floor, as well as private parlors, bedrooms, and a library on the second floor. The large central hall contained a solid marble staircase and marble floors. Also, marble of various colors was found throughout the house in mantels, wainscotting, and in the rear courtyard floor.
|Louisiana Historical Marker|
Hwy 18 - St. James Parish
N 30° 00.400 W 090° 45.333
|by Eliza Ripley|
When the gardens were finished, one of the landscapers, Joseph Muller, who studied at the famed Jardin des Plantes, remained on the plantation to oversee the landscaping. It is said that he had a crew of thirty slaves who worked exclusively in the park. Eliza Ripley visited Petit Versailles and was escorted on a tour by one of Aime's daughters. Ripley wrote of this experience in her book, Social Life in Old New Orleans:
' Felicie and I, with a whole escort of followers, explored the spacious grounds, considered the finest in Louisiana. There was a miniature river, meandering in and out and around the beautifully kept parterres, the tiny banks of which were an unbroken mass of blooming violets. A long-legged man might have been able to step across this tiny stream, but it was spanned at intervals by bridges of various designs, some rustic, some stone, but all furnished with parpets, so one would not tumble in and drown, as a little Roman remarked . . . . There were summer houses draped with strange, foreign-looking vines; a pagoda on a mound, the entrance of which was reached by a flight of steps. It was an octagonal building, with stained-glass windows, and it struck my inexperienced eye as a very wonderful and surprising bit of architecture. Further on was --a mountain! covered from base to top with beds of blooming violets. A narrow, winding path led to the summit, from which a comprehensive view was obtained of the extensive grounds, bounded by a series of conservatories. It was enchanting. There I saw for the first time the magnolia frascati, at that date a real rarity.'" (pages 180-182)
END OF PART 1 - Le Petit Versailles
[Read more about this unbelievable plantation next Saturday]