White Castle, LA

Nottoway Is a White House With a Dark Past

The White Ballroom in Nottoway Plantation House, White Castle, Louisiana

Nottoway is the largest of the antebellum mansions left in the American South. Its most spectacular space is the White Ballroom, with high ceilings, luscious plaster frieze work and tall windows.
JOANNE SASVARI/Meridian Writers’ Group

WHY, FIDDLE-dee-dee, could anything be more beautiful than Nottoway Plantation House? After a multi-million-dollar restoration and expansion, it is once again the epitome of gracious living in Louisiana.

It’s just too bad about its ugly history, which, sadly for some, including singer Ani DiFranco, refuses to stay buried.

In 2013, the “Righteous Babe” of folk music decided to host her annual artists’ retreat at Nottoway, south of the town of White Castle on the west bank of the Mississippi River, midway between Baton Rouge and her adopted home of New Orleans. It is, after all, an ideal venue—if you can ignore the fact that its original owner was one of the biggest slave owners in the South. Turns out, DiFranco’s followers couldn’t. She was stunned by the backlash, which she described as “high velocity bitterness,” and cancelled the retreat.

It’s easy to see Nottoway’s appeal. If you can forget its dark history, it is a stunningly beautiful place, spacious and gracious, with every feature a romantic soul could desire.

Nottoway is the largest of the antebellum mansions left in the American South, a Greco-Italian revival mansion designed for John Hampden Randolph, his wife and their 11 children as the centrepiece of their 400-hectare sugar plantation.

Completed in 1859, it took four years to build, with the estate’s 155 African-American slaves doing most of the labour. No expense was spared: its 4,900 square metres of living area comprise three floors, six staircases, 365 doors and windows (one for each day of the year), and 64 rooms, including three bathrooms, which were a luxury in the 19th century, if not so much these days.

Throughout, the rooms are decorated with ornate plaster detailing and columns topped with Corinthian capitals, and filled with art and antiques. The most memorable of them is the spectacular White Ballroom, a circular, light-filled space with high ceilings, luscious plaster frieze work and tall windows, everything in white, designed by Randolph to showcase the beauty of all women.

Or, at least, all white women.

Because, of course, it is the lingering issues of race that trouble so many about places like Nottoway. Randolph was considered a generally benevolent slave master, but still, he was “massa.”

After Randolph died in 1883, the house passed from hand to hand. In 1980, it was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and, later, the Historic Hotels of America. Its recent renovation not only restored the property to its original beauty, but added a number of luxury resort amenities that range from tennis courts and meeting spaces to posh cabin accommodation.

It has become a popular venue for weddings, reunions, socials and corporate retreats, as well as romantic getaways. Visitors can wander through the elegant gardens, take a guided tour of the mansion or enjoy a decadent southern-fried dinner in the pretty dining room.

It’s a lovely place to send an afternoon or a weekend. It’s just too bad the ghosts of the past have not been laid to rest, and may never be.



For more information on Nottoway Plantation, visit www.nottoway.com.

For information on travel in Louisiana, go to www.louisianatravel.com.