The trees at Oak Alley Plantation were supposedly planted by an unknown Frenchman about 100 years prior to 1836 when Jacques Telesphore Roman III built his lavish plantation home. The best guess is that the trees were planted in the early 1700s, possibly even before 1718 when New Orleans became the seat of colonial government in Louisiana. A French immigrant was probably attracted to Louisiana by the government-produced propaganda which painted a romantic picture of the Louisiana wildernesss. He settled on a parcel of land along the Mississippi River and planted the oaks, probably to create an esplanade of young trees from the River to his home. He carefully placed the seedling oaks in two parallel rows of 14, reminiscent of the tree-lined garden paths and thoroughfares popular in France at the time. The alley of oaks is referenced in records of the French Capuchin Fathers who established a settlement in this area in 1722. But, of the planter of the oaks, there are no records, only the trees which were his legacy to his new homeland. Little did he know that his legacy would grow to become the most well-known and loved live oak alley in Louisiana and the world.
The unknown planter planned well for the aesthetic affect of the mature alley. The oaks are planted very near a north-south line that maximizes the dramatic effect of side lighting in early morning and late afternoon. The planter must also have had a good idea of the size that the mature oaks would reach, and so planted them at a distance that allows the full grown trees' limbs to intermingle without being too crowded. The distance across the rows is a consistent 85 feet along the full length of the alley (approximately 766 feet long. The east row is slightly shorter at 761 feet.). But the spacing between the trees in each row varies slightly. From river road and beginning with trees 14-E and 14-W, the oaks begin at 40 to 42 ft. apart. Between trees number 4 and 5, in both rows, the distance spreads slightly to between 44 ft. (E) and 47 ft. (W). Then the spacing opens to a consistent 62 to 66 ft. between the remaining trees in each row. I have no theory why this distance between trees varies. Its logic is lost with the planter.
Of all the mysteries surrounding Oak Alley there is one which my photographs and writing can only hint at -- the immense power of the trees. Of all the oaks alleys I've visited and photographed, Oak Alley has a presence and energy that is incomparable.