Old oaks and new azaleas – New Roads and St. Francisville, LA
Cyndi and I recently returned from our annual azalea-season swing through South Louisiana—that time each spring when for a colorful month or so, azalea blooms burst like multicolored confetti across yards, gardens, and parks from New Orleans to New Iberia and north from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nacogdoches, Texas.
After a brief stop at Jefferson Island and Avery Island, where we revisited the old oaks at both locations, we spent several days in the St. Francisville and New Roads areas. We revisited and measured the Randall Oak in New Roads (36’ 5” in circumference) and met its current owners, Madeline and David Breidenbach. I’ve written about the Randall Oak before (post from May 24, 2014), but wanted to revisit this magnificent tree, spend time walking its perimeter, standing under its enormous branches, and photographing it.
Because of its girth, The Randall Oak deserves to be one of the officers of the Live Oak Society (possibly next time they revisit that list). To my knowledge, there are less than a dozen live oaks with girths of more than 30 feet in Louisiana and the South. These are trees that were already mature when Europeans first began settling what became America, and as such, should be recognized as national heritage trees. (I’ll focus on these oaks specifically in a later post…)
In the historic heart of New Roads, we met Randy Harelson and Richard Gibbs, owners of the LeJeune House on Main Street. There we photographed the Francois Samson Oak that grows behind their home and spent a pleasant time discussing the local history and oak trees. With a girth of nearly 29 feet, the Francois Samson Oak is one of approximately 62 oaks registered with the Live Oak Society in Pointe Coupee Parish.
Harelson is the author of the book, New Roads and Old Rivers, Louisiana’s Historic Pointe Coupee Parish (LSU Press). It’s a wonderful review of Pointe Coupee’s rich history, beautifully illustrated with color photos by Richard Sexton. It’s a lovely book, created through the fund-raising efforts of the Pointe Coupee Historical Society (we purchased an autographed copy from Randy before we left).
New Roads is the parish seat of Pointe Coupee. The first settlement there can be traced back to 1822, a little later than the French and German settlements along the Mississippi River above New Orleans. Since its founding, New Roads has been the hub of an agricultural community that produced sugar cane, cotton, pecans, and other crops. Since the 1900s, New Roads has become a resort community where people from across Louisiana come to enjoy the tranquil waters of False River.
Actually, the river is an ox-bow lake formed when the Mississippi River changed its course sometime in the distant past, choosing another path for its main channel. As a result, there are numerous old live oaks growing in the rich alluvial soil that lines the river’s banks, like the Langlois Oak (located on the west bank of False River north of downtown; girth 27 feet, nine inches.
Taking the new John James Audubon Bridge, we crossed the Mississippi near New Roads to St. Francisville. There we explored the azalea-festooned oak alleys at Afton Villa Gardens and The Oaks Plantation, where we were fortunate enough to catch the azaleas near the peak of their spring bloom, bursting with brilliant pinks, rust-reds, magentas, and soft whites.
We spent a bright morning at the Oaks Plantation where with the permission of owners Betsy and Irv Daniel, we photographed their alley of oaks that leads from the front gate off Hwy 61 around a dogleg turn then to the porch of their historic Gothic Victorian home built around 1888.
(Next post – More about The Oaks and Afton Villa)