Newcomb College Oaks

Newcomb College oaks – West side of Quadrangle – 2020

Around 1992-1994, I wrote an article and created a series of infrared black-and-white images for the Newcomb College alumni publication, “Under the Oaks.” It was a fun piece to work on and a study in New Orleans history. The Tulane Department of Communications, who designed and produced the publication, had to get special permission from Newcomb leadership to run the article because they hadn’t had male contributors to the all Women’s College publication previously.

Newcomb Oaks – east side of Quadrangle – 2020

In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, I visited several university campuses specifically to photograph or rephotograph old oaks while the grounds were empty of students and faculty. For this post, I’ve mixed a few of the images I made in 1993 with others I made during the summer of 2020, during the pandemic lockdown while the Newcomb campus was empty.

Newcomb oaks, east side of quadrangle (hand-colored infrared image) 1993

It’s a little known fact that the Newcomb oaks are closely tied to the history of this famous women’s college in New Orleans. They’ve played a unique role in creating the environment for campus life for almost a century. In 1918, Newcomb College moved from its original location on Washington Avenue to the current campus on Broadway Street, next to Tulane University. As part of the moving ceremonies, women students carried acorns gathered from the oak trees at the original Washington Avenue campus and transplanted them at the new campus site. Those acorns today have grown into the century-old oaks lining the campus quadrangle and sheltering walkways and buildings on campus.

Live Oak located at the original Newcomb campus site off of Washington Ave. – 1993
Newcomb College oak, 1993 (hand-colored infrared image)

Newcomb oaks, east side of Quadrangle – 2020

A Brief History of Newcomb College—In 1886, Josephine Louise Newcomb made an initial gift of $100,000 (worth roughly $2.7 million today) to the Tulane Board of  Administrators in memory of her daughter, Harriott Sophie Newcomb, who died at the age of fifteen.  Over the years, she made other monetary gifts to the school totaling almost 3-million dollars. Newcomb College opened its doors in 1887, offering young women a classical curriculum combined with an innovative art school, with a unique philosophy to train women to be self-supporting in the post-Civil War Southern economy.

Newcomb oaks, east side of quadrangle – 2020

Newcomb College is probably best known for its art school, where in its early years the women students created artworks that reflected an interest in craft and their parents’ desire for their daughters to learn practical, marketable skills. From this direction emerged a line or brand of pottery, recognized worldwide and highly collectable today. The Newcomb art curriculum and the utilitarian philosophy underlying it, was unique among art programs and women’s colleges of the time and it developed to be a leader in the American Arts and Crafts Movement. Fine art as well as a variety of crafts were taught, yet it was the pottery program that earned the college an international reputation by the early 1900sC

From the Newcomb art museum website: Newcomb Pottery is considered one of the most significant American art potteries of the first half of the twentieth century. Influenced by the English Arts and Crafts movement, Newcomb pottery was exhibited around the world, sold in shops on both coasts, and written about in art journals throughout the United States and Europe. Newcomb potters (always men) and designers (always women) were awarded eight medals at international exhibitions before 1916.) The Newcomb pottery program produced more than 70,000 pieces before it closed in 1939.

Newcomb Oaks, north side of Quadrangle

After Hurricane Katrina, Newcomb College and its curriculum were restructured, and the old Sophie Newcomb College closed. As part of Tulane University’s Renewal Plan following the major losses and damage of Hurricane Katrina, Newcomb became a co-educational, single undergraduate college called Newcomb-Tulane College. The new college is now more of an extension of the Tulane University System.

Heirs of Mrs. Newcomb sued against this change, challenging Tulane on the issue of donor intent and seeking to preserve Newcomb as a separate coordinate college within the university, but the lawsuit ended in 2011 after an appellate court declined to rule on the case.

In 2006, the Newcomb College Institute was formed as an umbrella organization that runs programs (for women) that were formerly operated by the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College. In its first year (2006–07), under the leadership of founding Interim Executive Director Rebecca Mark (Tulane Department of English), the non-academic Newcomb College Institute hosted 104 speakers and 110 different programs for women, men, and guests at Tulane. Today, under the directorship of Sally J. Kenny, the Newcomb Institute strives to continue the goals of the original H. Sophie Newcomb College—”to promote the development of students’ leadership skills, preparing them to advocate for gender equity and lead in a gendered world.”

Still more River Road Oak Allées – Houmas House


A portion of Houmas House oak allée with six oaks.

In three previous posts, I’ve spotlighted the historic oak allées at Evergreen, Whitney, and Oak Alley Plantations, as well as St. Joseph allée at Manresa Retreat (the old Jefferson College) in Convent, LA.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one more allee that still remains (in part) at Houmas House plantation, located on the east bank of the river in Darrow, LA, about a half-hour drive upriver from the Grammercy bridge.


Houmas House mansion, viewed from the John Burnside Oak.

According to “64 Parishes,” the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities’ publication and website, “Despite extensive investigation, the exact chronology and early building history of Houmas House remain unknown. What is documented is that it stands on land purchased in 1774 from the Houmas Indians. By 1809, a house existed on the site, perhaps built by William Donaldson and John W. Scott, who then owned the land.” General Wade Hampton (1752–1835), from South Carolina, acquired the plantation in 1811 and in 1840, Hampton’s daughter Caroline and her husband, John Smith Preston, built the current two-and-a-half-story Greek Revival manor.

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Houmas House oak allée, view from #2 set of oaks from the main house toward the levee

The surviving oak allée consists of eight oaks. They are all of what remains from a much longer allée that once existed but was destroyed to create a setback of the Mississippi River levee.

In 2003, New Orleans businessman and preservationist Kevin Kelly purchased the home and the entire contents of the mansion and began restoring the mansion and grounds. According to the Houmas House website, Kelly chose to select the best features from various periods of the property’s history to showcase a legacy of each family who lived in the mansion. Check the Houmas House Plantation website for information on tours.

More River Road Oak Allées – Whitney Plantation

Whitney_allee_5165-2Curtained behind a tall fence and a border of other trees and shrubs grows the short but dramatic allee of six oaks at Whitney Plantation in Wallace, LA, directly upriver from Evergreen Plantation.  The allee of oaks is not particularly old, possibly 60 to 70 years, but the trees are beautiful and create a rich green canopy between the manor house and River Road. The trees were reportedly planted in the 1950s, around the same time as Evergreen Plantation’s farm road allee.  

Whitney Plantation oak allee, view from house toward river

The entire Whitney Plantation complex is a museum – the only museum in Louisiana where the focus is entirely on the lives of enslaved people across Louisiana and the South and the conditions in which they lived and died.  During your visit to the inside displays and the self-guided tour (under the pandemic restrictions), you will learn about the history of slavery—from the “middle passage” (the forced voyage of enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to north and south America) to southern plantations. The museum is educational and informative, providing visitors with a raw, unfiltered picture of the horrific experience of slavery.  It is not a tour for the faint of heart or for those who do not wish to face the truth of horrors of the slave experience.  

The complex of buildings on the property includes at least a dozen historic structures dating back to the late 1700s as well as the historic Antioch Baptist Church (below).

Antioch Baptist Church

Moved from Paulina on the east bank of the Mississippi River after being replaced by a newer structure, the church building was erected in 1870 by the Anti-Yoke Society. It was the only African-American church in the immediate area, and was built by former slaves of several River Road plantations. 

Visitors will also interact with a variety of sculptural and memorial displays scattered around the plantation grounds, beginning with a group of contemporary clay sculptures by Woodrow Nash of slave children that visitors find inside the Antioch church where the tour begins.

Woodrow Nash sculptures of two salve boys

These haunting life-size children turn up in various settings around the site. Their effect is make the visitor view the entire setting from a different perspective, possibly through the eyes of slave children. Other displays and memorials include the “Midlow Wall,” a series of angled granite walls engraved with the names of enslaved individuals, much like the famous Vietnam wall in Washington DC.

Midlow Alley Memorial

Other than me, I’d guess that no one visits Whitney Plantation just to see its allée of live oaks. But, since the focus of my photography as primarily been to document the historic oaks of Louisiana and the human stories connected with them, this allee is worth seeing and appreciating. And the entire Whitney Tour will be an enlightening and contrasting experience to both tourists and locals.   

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.