Revisiting the Hudson Oak: How old is this (or any) old oak?

I first visited and photographed the John Hudson Oak in late 2015 while searching for live oaks in the 29′ to 30′-plus circumference size in the Ascension Parish area. The John Hudson Oak is located in Prairieville, LA at the Hudson House, a beautiful historic family home that’s been in the Hudson family for several generations.

John Hudson Oak, 29′ 10″, October 2020

The Hudson Oak is the largest and most impressive of numerous old live oaks on the grounds. It has long sweeping limbs that reach to the ground on three sides. Mrs. Ellen Hudson Waller says that this and several other oaks on her property are Live Oak Society members but has no idea exactly how old this oak might be.

I returned to rephotograph and remeasure the old oak in November 2020, five years from my first visit. The oak had grown 5 inches and now measures 29′ 10″ in circumference. But how old is an oak of this size? In all honesty, one can only make an educated guess.

I’ve heard from several arborists that live oaks grow fastest in their first 100 to 150 years then slow down during the next 100 to 150 years. Then, supposedly they grow even slower during the next 100 to 150 years.

Dr. Edwin Lewis Stephens, the founder of the Live Oak Society, often revisited many of the oldest oaks to which he was acquainted. He remeasured them over time and kept records of their growth rate. As a result, Dr. Stephens believed that if you could determine the average annual growth rate for a specific tree, you might get a closer estimate of its true age. Stephens estimated that if an oak had a girth of 17 feet or more, that it was at least 100 years of age.

However, Edwin A. “Ned” McIlhenny (originator of Tabasco pepper sauce), wrote in a letter to Dr. Stephens in the 1930s that he had seen oaks grown in the thick forest at Avery Island that were as little as four feet in girth but had anywhere from 300 to 500 annual growth rings. According to McIlhenny, “A tree grown alone, under ideal conditions, will develop ten times as fast as a tree crowded in the forest under unfavorable conditions.”

So, who knows how old any live oak may actually be. Who can tell today what conditions existed around an old oak 100, 200, or 300 years ago and whether it was growing alone or competing for resources with other trees? It’s likely that any live oak that was growing before Europeans arrived was in a forested setting. Though, some oaks growing along bayous, may have been growing alone. Who can tell today if land was cleared around an oak by settlers, or if they planted the oak after they arrived. One can only speculate. As I’ve noted in other blog posts, when the first Europeans began to arrive in Louisiana in the 1700s, they often chose homesites near old oaks for the protection that the trees offered from winds and weather.Yet, many others planted oak trees near their homes for the same reasons.

All I can say for sure is that the Hudson Oak has grown an inch a year in girth over the past five years. So, if its growth rate has been a consistent one inch per year during most of its lifetime, it would today be close to 350 years of age. This is, at best, only an educated guess. If you consider the observations of E.A. McIlhenny, the size of a live oak may only be known for certain by the Creator or someone with a time machine…

Louisiana’s Oldest Oaks – My top 23

Seven Sisters Oak, Mandeville, LA

A number of readers have been visiting my 2015 post about my search for the oldest live oaks in Louisiana; those that are near 30 feet in girth or larger. Since 2015, I’ve added a few more old oaks to this list and am still tracking down leads on others. Thankfully, I keep learning of new (new to me at least) old oaks that are potentially in this size and age range.

Randall Oak, New Roads, LA

These oaks are of a generation of trees that were likely already growing when the first Europeans settled along the rivers and bayous of south Louisiana. Tragically, we are losing these elder oaks, one by one each year, through storms, land development, and pollution.  My goal is to create a record of them being here and possibly capture some of the human stories connected with them.

La Belle Colline Oak, near Lafayette

My list of historic old oaks is certainly not all-inclusive. There are a couple of other people out there in the world documenting old trees in Louisiana. They may have documented other old oaks that I haven’t found yet and photographed.  I get comments regularly from people who claim to know of some old tree nearby that’s really old and big! These are on my shortlist of “yet-to-find” oaks that I’m slowly visiting and photographing. Here’s what I’ve documented currently:

  1. Seven Sisters Oak – 39′-10″;  Lewisburg / Mandeville (President of Live Oak Society and National Champion Tree for Quercus virginiana species with American Forests Big Tree Registry)
  2. Randall Oak – 35′-8″;  New Roads (it’s on the Pointe Coupee live oak tour)
  3. Edna Szymoniak Live Oak – 35′-6″; LSU Hammond Research Station, Hammond
  4. Lorenza Dow Oak – 35′ 5″;  (May have been the Dr. E.O. Powers Oak) – Grangeville Masonic Lodge; a 2nd unnamed oak on the lodge grounds is 27′-11″
  5. La Belle Colline Oak – 34′ plus; Between Sunset and Carencro on private property The
  6. Martin Tree 34′ – Gonzales; (named for Miss Delba Martin) on private property The
  7. Governor’s Oak – 33′-3″; Baton Rouge, on Highland Road
  8. Lastrapes Oak (Seven Brothers Oak)  32′-3″ (largest section); Washington, LA
  9. Blanchet Oak – 32′ 2″; Lafayette (featured in a recent US News story)
  10. Jefferson College Oak – 32′ 1″; On the upriver edge of the grounds at Manresa House of Retreats, Convent
  11. Boudreaux Friendship Oak – 31′-10″; Lafayette (in top 10 oaks of Acadiana)
  12. Lagarde Oak – 30′-11”; Luling, LA
  13. The Mays Oak – 30’-11″; at Live Oaks Plantation, north of Rosedale
  14. Grosse Tete Oak – 30′ 2″; Bayou Grosse Tete, right off of I-10
  15. Etienne de Bore’ Oak – 30′; Audubon Park, NOLA; also called the “Tree of Life” by New Orleans locals
  16. The Rebekah Oak – 30′; on Poydras Hwy. near Breaux Bridge
  17. Hudson Oak – 29′-9″; Hudson House (private home), Prairieville
  18. Grenier Oak or Donald Peltier Oak – 29′-9″;  above Thibodaux on Bayou Lafourche (located on very private land).
  19. Josephine Stewart Oak – 29′ 11″; Oak Alley Plantation; Vacherie
  20. Stonaker Oak – 29′ 6″; New Roads, LA
  21. St. John’s Cathedral Oak – 29′ 6″; Lafayette, LA (Top 10 oaks of Acadiana)
  22. Boudreaux Oak – 29′ 2″; On Hwy 1, near the St. Charles Bridge (on Bayou Lafourche Live Oak Tour)
  23. Mr. Mike Oak – 29′; near Franklin (on the grounds outside of Oaklawn Plantation) 

NOTE:  Thanks to this post, one reader sent directions to another 29-ft.-plus live oak north of Opelousas and Washington.  Thanks, Will Favre!  I appreciate all leads to new old oaks and will get to them all in time.

– BG

Edna Szymoniak Oak, 35′-6″; Hammond, LA

More River Road Oak Allées – Evergreen Plantation

Pretty much everyone knows of the oak allée at Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie – the Grand Dame of live oak allées on Louisiana’s historic River Road. It’s the classic, iconic, most visited, and most photographed allée of live oaks in the South. (Their new photo book documents this fact.)  But plantation country along historic River Road has several lesser-known oak allées that are, to this photographer, each as beautiful and memorable in their own way.

In this post, I’ll feature the first two of four other oak allées that a visitor can enjoy, all within approximately 15 miles (as the crow flies) of Oak Alley Plantation. One is accessible through a paid tour (at Whitney Plantation, Evergreen is now closed to visitors since 2020) and one can be viewed easily from the east bank side of River Road, on Hwy. 44 near Convent (the St. Joseph allée at Manresa House of Retreats).

The Two Oak Allées at Evergreen Plantation

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Quarters allée at Evergreen, view from mid-allée

The Quarters Allée is the older of the two oak allées at Evergreen Plantation. It’s the one that’s hidden from passersby on the west-bank side of River Road (LA Hwy. 18). To view and explore both of Evergreen’s oak allées, you must take a guided tour of the plantation, but the experience (and photo opportunities) are well worth it. (NOTE: Unfortunately, Evergreen Plantation is closed to tours for the foreseeable future, due to the Covid pandemic.  Researchers may visit their archives by appointment.)

In my opinion, the 90-minute guided tours at Evergreen are (were) the best that River Road has (had) to offer. One reason is the experience of walking through the historic slave community and stepping into some of the empty cabins.  Other River Road plantations may have one or two original slave cabins that date from the antebellum period.  Most have moved structures from elsewhere or built new structures to recreate the semblance of a slave community to help illustrate their tour narratives of the slave experience.

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Six cabins, east row of historic slave quarters

At Evergreen, the original intact quarters community of 22 cabins have been preserved and maintained from the 1830s to the present day. These cabins were lived in first by enslaved individuals and then plantation workers through the Civil War, through emancipation, reconstruction, and the Great Depression, until the early 1950s when its inhabitants were finally moved out.

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Older oaks with Spanish moss, at the front of the quarters allée, mid-day light

The quarters allée begins with a group of a dozen older oaks growing behind the overseer’s house, upriver from the main house.  These older oaks are roughly the same age as several large oaks growing along the front of the Evergreen property and flanking the parterre garden behind the manor house. These larger oaks were planted probably in the late 1700s or early 1800s when the first structures were built on this site.

Down the dirt road and past a cypress fence that separates the front and back of the plantation, the quarters oak allée proceeds into, and through, the center of the plantation’s slave quarters. In the heart of the quarters’ community, the presence of the past is almost tangible. Bordering the dirt road and inside the line of 22 slave cabins, approximately 72 oaks make up the quarters’ allee. The oak trees were planted circa 1860, according to Evergreen curator Jane Boddie. These trees were a functional part of the slave community and provided shade and protection from the elements for its residents.


Slave quarters and allée, mid-day sun

There is evidence that the majority of the quarters’ cabins were built during an 1830–1840 remodel and expansion of the plantation by Pierre Clidament Becnel. He purchased the property from his grandmother, Magdelaine Haydel, in 1830, and began an ambitious Classical Greek Revival renovation of his grandmother’s two-story Creole cottage home and outbuildings. Becnel added the signature front double-return staircase to the home and the Greek-Revival garconnieres, pigeonniers, kitchen, guesthouse, and privy around the main complex.

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Farm road allée at Evergreen Plantation, view from farm road gate.

The Farm Road Allée – The second allée of oaks at Evergreen is located just upriver from the main house and overseer’s cottage and can be glimpsed as one drives past, going up or downriver past Evergreen’s grounds. The farm road entrance off of River Road presents the viewer with a dramatic half-mile long arched tunnel of live oaks lining the dirt road that leads to the farming operations at the rear of the plantation. The trees were moved from another nearby plantation and planted in the 1950s, making them about 70-80 years old.

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Evergreen farm road allée, afternoon light

The farm road allée was planted under the direction of Ms. Matilda Gray, who purchased Evergreen in 1944 after it had been abandoned in the early years of the Depression. Under Ms. Gray’s supervision, Evergreen was renovated to restore the buildings and grounds to their former beauty. After her death in 1971, her niece, Mrs. Matilda Stream, inherited Evergreen and has continued to maintain the historic property and protect it from encroachment by local industries.

Both of Evergreen’s oak allées can be explored currently only by historic researchers. Contact the plantation online at or by calling 985-497-3837.


The Allée of St. Joseph, Manresa House of Retreats

This is an update of a previous post… about the Allée of St. Joseph at Manresa House of Retreats in Convent, LA.  This allée of 100-plus-year-old oaks is located on the levee side of the east bank Mississippi River Road (Hwy. 44).  It’s directly across the highway from the main building (St. Mary Hall) and expansive grounds of the Manresa House of Retreats.  You can read a detailed history of Manresa in my blog post on the Jefferson College Oak. Manresa is just upriver from the parish business offices in Convent, the Parish seat of St. James the Baptist Parish.

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Allée of St. Joseph, view from mid-allée toward levee, east row of oaks

Manresa was originally founded as the “College of Jefferson” in 1830 by a group of wealthy French Creoles, headed by Louisiana’s ninth governor, Andre B. Roman.  Prior to the Civil War, many wealthy Louisiana planters’ sons enrolled at Jefferson College to receive a classical education. The main building, with its Greek-revival design, survived the Civil War as a barracks for federal troops. The college was purchased in 1864 by Valcour Aime, estimated to be the wealthiest man in Louisiana at the time. He donated the property and buildings of Jefferson College to the Catholic Marist Fathers who again operated the facility as a college. In 1931, Jesuit priests took over the school and have maintained it since as a retreat facility for men.

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Allée of St. Joseph, view from mid-allée

The allée was planted around 1830 at about the time the main building was constructed around 1830; the largest tree in this alley is approximately 22’ in circumference. The allée is off the beaten routes of most tourists and is known mainly to locals, to retreat participants who come to Manresa devotedly once a year or more, and to occasional travelers passing along Highway 44 in search of restaurants or bridges to cross to the more trafficked west bank River Road.

Manresa is the site of ongoing non-denominational retreats for men hosted by Jesuit priests who own the once antebellum college.  The ambiance of the old trees and the contemplative silence of the retreat participants seems to create an atmosphere of introspection. I’ve made some of my favorite oak images under the limbs of this allée.

If you visit, you may see men walking the grounds on retreat, where they observe silence and reflect on their lives for several days at a time. The alley is named after St. Joseph (husband of Mary mother of Jesus). A second, younger allee, less than 50 years old, is just a few hundred feet upriver from the older alley. And there’s a shorter allée behind the main building with trees that appear to be as old as those in this allee.

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The southern end of the allée with a statue of St. Joseph and the Christ child with the Mississippi River levee in the background.

 The Jesuits (Society of Jesus) are a Catholic order of priests founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1540. He composed the Spiritual Exercises to help others follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.  The men who attend retreats at Manresa are asked to meditate or contemplate on aspects of the Christian faith and to use their time away from the “clamor and clutter of their daily lives” to listen more closely to God’s individual message to each of them.

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Three oaks near the front of the St. Joseph Allée with the St. Ignatius House residence.

Manresa is a private facility, but visitors can walk among the trees on the riverside of the grounds.

The Oldest Oak Allées in Louisiana

In France, an allée refers to a road, or path, flanked by parallel rows of trees, shrubs, statues, or stones. In European landscape design, it is an ancient concept. Visually and emotionally, the allée emphasizes a traveler’s arrival at a specific locale. It indicates a formal approach to a notable place or structure (I use the French term allée instead of alley throughout this blog post).

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Oak Alley Plantation Oaks, view from 2nd floor veranda, toward levee

The allée arrived in Louisiana by way of European immigrants who settled here in the late 1700s and 1800s. In time, German, Creole French, and American planters began to accumulate vast fortunes, dependent on slave labor to cultivate crops of indigo, sugarcane, cotton, and tobacco. Intent on publicizing their wealth to their neighbors, these planter-barons would often landscape the grounds around their opulent plantation homes, planting allées and gardens mimicking formal gardens and parks of Paris, Lyon, and Marseille.

In Louisiana, an allée of magnificent native live oaks (Quercus virginiana) was regarded as a grand display of affluence as well as a sign of older, more established wealth, since the oaks could take decades to mature. On a practical level, an allée of oaks provided shelter and shade for a home. Along the Mississippi River, an allée of trees helped direct cooling breezes toward a plantation house, to reduce the intense heat of Louisiana’s summers.

In my 30+ years of travel across Louisiana in search of historic live oaks, I have photographed 16 mature allées that are still intact. Some are in obvious decline and others are even more magnificent now, in their full maturity.  The three oldest of these allées can be dated to the late 1700s and early 1800s. They include:

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De la Ronde (Packenham) Oak Allée, Chalmette

1) The De la Ronde Oaks (also known as the Versailles Allée of Oaks), were planted in 1783 on the 21st birthday of Pierre Denis De la Ronde in what is today the town of Chalmette. The allée of oaks (about 40 oaks remain) is often misidentified as the Packenham Oaks, after the ill-fated British General Packenham who led British forces and died at the Battle of New Orleans. The allée stretched between the De la Ronde plantation manor (called “Versaille” because of its extraordinary size and beauty for the time) and the Mississippi River. The plantation was one of several plantations that were the site of the Battle of New Orleans in Dec. 1814 and early January 1815.

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Audubon Oak Allée, Zoo side of Magazine Street, New Orleans

2) The Audubon Oak Allée (also called the Foucher Allée) was planted by Etienne de Boré, sometime between 1776 and 1800. Etienne and his wife, Marie Marguerite, settled on a plot of land about 5 miles upriver from New Orleans where they began planting indigo around 1776 or 1777 (he changed to growing sugarcane around 1795). The original de Boré allée of oaks, according to historic maps, was much longer than the 28 oaks remaining today. It may have stretched as far as Naiad Street (the current St. Charles Avenue), but part of the land was cleared of its stately live oaks to make way for the buildings housing the Cotton Centennial Exposition of 1884.

According to Diane Weber, grounds director for Audubon Zoo and Park, the de Boré plantation house would have been located where the sea lion pool is now in Audubon Zoo, and the oak allée would have led to it. The George Washington and Martha Washington oaks would have framed the view of the home. Although the George Washington Oak is deceased, the Martha Washington Oak still survives in the rhino habitat area at the zoo.

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Allée of oaks at Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie, LA

3) The allée of 28 live oaks at Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie was supposedly planted beginning in 1836 during the construction of the manor house (according to the most current research). Oak Alley Foundation researchers believe that the allée was created by moving mature live oaks beginning with the first three pairs of oaks in front of the plantation house. However, this explanation doesn’t account for some of the larger trees growing further from the house in each row of trees. At least three of the oaks are between 28 ft. and 30 ft. in girth, which would indicate a much older oak (my note).

The classic view of its Greek Revival mansion, framed by the quarter-mile-long tunnel of live oak limbs, is so well-known that it has become an “icon,” a symbol. No other allée that I’ve found in Louisiana is planted with such careful attention to the spacing and direction of its trees.  The north-south alignment of oaks seems planned to produce dramatic side-lighting both early and late in the day. This elaborate interplay between light and shadow is, in itself, a work of art.