Rip Van Winkle Gardens = Best ever house tour!!!

We have spent the last few days staying at a private RV park near Lafayette, Louisiana (I’ll go back and share our Monroe, LA visit later, but I had to tell you about the wonderful place we went today!).  We have been exploring here too, and today we went to 3 different destinations to check them out.  I want to tell you about our first visit.  It was south of Lafayette, near the little town of New Iberia.  We went to the Rip Van Winkle Gardens…


We stopped at the visitor’s center…DSC_0107_107

Where we checked out the fun Louisiana-branded souvenirs,


including alligator heads, all dried and ready for you to take home. LOL!DSC_0009_009

They had a great cookbook selection, including the Cajun Cooking Bible (fun!) – I wonder if they have that for Kindle. 🙂DSC_0025_025

We then watched the short movie on the history of the grounds…


and we were off to check out the park.  There were several beautiful peacock roaming the property…DSC_0015_015

But I liked the huge oaks scattered over the gardens more.    These are called the Lafitte Oaks…

Legend has it that the pirate/privateer Jean Lafitte spent time in this area, hiding out from authorities on his relatives’ land. Legend also said that he hid treasure here on the island. Just maybe, he did…


The Lafitte Oaks
In 1923, 3 pots of buried treasure were discovered here

The 3 pots of gold and silver coins were discovered, buried under these trees, by a group of workers.  One of the garden laborers sent the others home while he gave the pots of gold to the owners.  yeah, right.  They never did find him, or the gold.  The park does have a few coins from the treasure, dating from 1740 to 1821, that the thief either missed or dropped, and they are on display for visitors to see.

There are multiple, interconnecting pathways through the extensive gardens between the visitor’s center and the house.  The gardens were created by master gardeners, and all sorts of exotic plants were brought in.  This tree’s trunk looks more like dinosaur skin than a tree trunk!DSC_0040_040It was a short walk from the visitor’s center to the main house.  The house was built in 1870 by a man named Joseph Jefferson.  Have you heard of Joe Jefferson?  We had not, but he made famous Rip Van Winkle as a play.  He held Washington Irving in high esteem, and decided to write Irving’s Rip Van Winkle as a dramatic play, with the lead role played by himself.  It was a huge hit.  So huge that he played the role of Rip over 4500 times, all over the world, during his lifetime.  It earned him his fortune, and while he did occassionally play other roles, Joe Jefferson played Rip, on the stage, until he was 71 years old.
While in his 30s, Joe Jefferson came to the area, and while he was here, he purchased the plantation’s 360 acres for $2800.   He designed the house, and had it built, in 1870, for his family; they lived here 3 months out of each year.
DSC_0043_043 The walk up to the house is lined by beautiful old oak and gum trees.  I love the ferns growing on limbs,


vines climbing trunks, and the spanish moss hanging from the boughs.DSC_0062_062

In front of the house is this beautiful tree…


It is special to the park because:

Cleveland Oak President Grover Cleveland took siestas under this 350 year old live oak while visiting Joseph Jefferson

Cleveland Oak
President Grover Cleveland took siestas under this 350 year old live oak while visiting Joseph Jefferson

I suppose I could live down south if I had a huge old oak tree out my front door to lie under so I could nap and read in the shade (except for the bugs. big bugs. and snakes. and then there are the chiggers… 😛  I think I’ll just stick to visiting! LOL!).

DSC_0058_058When we got to the house, we walked through the shade surrounding it…DSC_0066_066 Up to the porch.DSC_0067_067  Yesterday we learned why people so often paint their porch ceilings blue down here in the south.  Do you know why?  It’s pretty funny really.
It’s to confuse the mud dauber wasps!  Mud daubers will fly around looking for a protected place to build their nest, and love to build them under porch ceilings.  They will be flying along trying to find a suitable site for their nest; when they fly through the porch, the blue ceiling confuses them and they think they are still just flying along under the sky!  I know, but the people down here swear it works!?!DSC_0074_074

There are tours of the house every hour, on the hour, between 9am and 4pm.  We were the only ones there for a tour at noon.  Madeline was our tour guide, and while she has only been at the park since August, that girl knew her stuff!  She was super knowledgeable, and she was great with the kids!

There is no photography allowed in the home, so I don’t have any pictures to share, but I will say that it was incredible!  Our tour took 47 minutes, and was so informative and interesting!  We learned that besides acting, Joe also liked to paint; he did not sell his work, but it really is pretty good – and it was fun to look at his paintings, hanging in the house, and find the hidden animals he painted in them.   We loved the ‘steamboat gothic’ design of the dining room ceiling, and the beautiful hand painted walls that are in Joe’s wife’s bedroom.
The house is full of beautiful antiques, most brought in by the wealthy second owners of the home (Joe’s decendants sold it in 1917).  The second owner also put an incredible mural up that lines the 12 by 40 foyer in the home; the art scene is aptly named The Great Hunt, the mural looks like wallpaper, but is made of silk and linen, and brought from overseas.  To have a similar item (the manufacturers are still in business) made and installed today would be over $100k; it is exquisite.
There’s so much interesting background on the two families that lived here, including discovering how Joe’s dad (and Joe) knew Abraham Lincoln, and what Lincoln did for them.
Then, in the kitchen, the kids got to see and touch salt that had been mined from the salt mine under the property (the second owner’s family made quite a bit of money mining for salt) – it looks more like quartz than salt!

After our fabulous tour, we went back out and took a different path back to the visitor’s center.   We wound through beautiful gardens full of unique plants.  I cannot imagine how beautiful this place must be when it’s spring and summer. There were quite a few dormant plants during our (January) visit, but it was still a very nice walk.

DSC_0083_083 In 1980, a company drilling for oil punctured the salt mines that are under the island (Jefferson Island); the puncture created a huge whirlpool as the lake water rushed to fill the salt mines below.  What used to be a small 6 to 7 foot deep swampy lake, is now over 200 feet deep and much bigger.  (you should google it – super interesting!).   The park lost 65 acres to the lake, and the owner’s newly built home was left under water.  His chimney still stands above the water today…DSC_0086_086 Near the visitor’s center there is a walkway that reaches down to just above the water…DSC_0088_088

Despite the chilly weather (57 degrees today-brrr) that Louisiana has had the last few weeks, there were still a few flowers in bloom…DSC_0094_094

This place must smell heavenly when all the flowers are in bloom.  It is a popular place for weddings and wedding photos.


We enjoyed walking through the grounds and looking at all the beautiful flowers and plants, but, we Loved the fun, interesting, and informative tour of the main house; that alone is worth the admission fee to the park.  We are so glad that we drove down to visit the Rip Van Winkle Gardens!
*We had to download Rip Van Winkle on the way home to read aloud! LOL!:)

Lilla Rose

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