Imagine a majestic plantation home that sits about 200 feet behind a Mississippi River levee, and is surrounded by mature live oaks, magnolias and pecan trees.
Your imagination probably can’t compare to the impressive and spectacular Nottoway Plantation that is located just outside of Baton Rouge, La. This magnificent three-story house with sweeping, curved double stairs is sometimes referred to as an “American castle” and is known locally as the “White Castle.”
During my stay in one of their cabins, I explored every inch of this property, including at 1:30 in the morning (there was a full moon) and at sunrise. I didn’t want to sleep and miss a single minute! I even walked down to the levy early in the morning, and got to enjoy watching little tug boats push huge barges down the river.
The east side of Nottoway Plantation at sunrise.
John Randolph first purchased the land for his future castle in 1855 because he wanted a more “fitting home” to honor his position and stature. The beautiful property faces the Mississippi River, which was a major transportation waterway of the time. Passing steamboats and showboats made river watching an exciting pastime in those days. Today, the high levy and changes in the river’s course leaves the view from the first floor of the house obscured.
Nottoway was completed in 1859 by Randolph and his wife, Emily Jane Liddell Randolph, who raised their eleven children there. The mansion boasts 64 rooms spread throughout 53,000 square feet, and originally sat on 400 acres of highland and 620 acres of swamp.
Thankfully, Nottoway survived the Civil War—although it did sustain damage that is still visible today. A Union gunboat on the Mississippi fired on the house until the gunboat officer reached he had been a guest there and decided to spare it.
When Randolph began to compile the materials for his castle, he used cypress, which was cut and cured under water for four years. Cypress has two unique qualities: durability and a natural resistance to termites. Considered a “junk wood” back then, it is almost impossible to buy now because it is so highly valued.
Randolph made it clear that no expense would be spared in the construction of his new home, which was completed in 1859 at an estimated cost of $80,000. (Today that would be more than $40 million).
Nottoway has 64 rooms in its 3 floors, 6 interior staircases, 3 modern bathrooms, 22 massive square columns, 165 doors and 200 windows. Designed in the Greek Revival and Italianate style, it features 15½ foot high ceilings and 11 foot doors. Its most unique room is a semi-circular white ballroom with Corinthian columns and hand-cast archways.
When it was completed, Nottoway included a massive entrance hall, a grand white ballroom, a formal dining room, a gentlemen’s study, music room, numerous bed chambers, master bedroom, wicker room, bowling alley, library, Hall of their Ancestors, front parlor, sitting rooms, breakfast room, wine room, dairy, laundry and servant rooms, and boys’ wing. The kitchen was located in a separate building adjacent to the house so that a fire in the kitchen would not destroy the main home.
On the outside, three-story-high columns support the palatial home. The spacious balconies on the second and third floors provide scenic and entertaining views of the Mississippi River.
Randolph hired New Orleans resident John Nelson to draft a landscape plan for the property. With the house as the centerpiece, Nelson incorporated 120 fruit and citrus trees, 12 magnolia trees, poplar and live oak trees, 75 rose bushes, 150 strawberry plants and a variety of flower and vegetable gardens. Unfortunately, most of Nottoway’s beautiful gardens are gone today, since the Mississippi River has taken about six and a half acres of land from the front of the property.
Besides the massive home, Nottoway Plantation included acres of prime farmland, a variety of other buildings including slave quarters, a schoolhouse, greenhouse, stable, steam-powered sugar house, wood cisterns, and other necessary buildings for an agricultural operation.
After the family moved into Nottoway, Randolph continued to own Forest Home Plantation, with its additional 1,500 acres of farmland and substantial acreage.
The Nottoway property also features 16 majestic oak trees, the oldest being estimated at 163 years—the same age as the house. In 2015, 11 of the tree were registered with the Live Oak Society of the Louisiana Garden Club Federation. They were each named after the Randolph children and can be identified on the grounds by plaques at the base of each of the trees.
Unfortunately, Nottoway is closed as an overnight venue and is presently only open for special events.