John Hampden Randolph had a LOT of money. In fact, if his wealth in his day was adjusted into today’s terms, he would have been richer than Donald Trump! He commissioned for a house to be built on his 7116 acres in White Castle, Louisiana, that would be a visual showcase of his vast economic worth. It was to serve as a home for himself, his wife Emily Jane and their 11 children, as well as a place to lavishly entertain many influential guests. Mr. Randolph’s desire was for people passing by either by boat along the Mississippi River or by horse-drawn carriage on the road beside the river to want to stop and bask in the sight.
When the mansion of Nottoway Plantation was completed, there were 53,000+ square feet of living space. In that day, property owners were taxed on the number of doors in their homes. Nottoway had 265 doors, 200 windows and 64 rooms, of which 27 were just closets. Other features in this home were unheard of at the time — three flushable commodes, hot and cold running water, and gas lines for the lamps in each room. There were 12 Italian marble fireplaces and even levers by one of the fireplaces which served as a bell-calling system such as in “Downton Abbey.”
The exquisite white oval ballroom is probably the most stunning room in the mansion. It took six years to bend the cypress used to create this rounded room. Five of the seven Randolph daughters were married in this room with its 15 1/2-foot ceiling and 11 foot doors. Puddling drapes adorn the windows. The extra fabric purchased to allow for the puddling was yet another display of wealth.
The basement of the home originally housed a 2-lane bowling alley. Now, The Mansion Restaurant is located there with walls of windows looking out onto the immaculate grounds.
Cornelia, daughter number 7, wrote a book about her years living in this mansion under the pen name of M R Ailenroc, which is Cornelia spelled backwards with her maiden and married initials. The book is “The White Castle of Louisiana.”
The hour-long tour of Nottoway is filled with interesting anecdotes about the family and the cultural habits of the years from 1859, when the house was finally completed, to the present. Be sure to climb through the double windows on the second floor to stand on the porch and see over the levee to watch the ships glide down the river.
If you have time to spend the night at Nottoway, I urge you to do so. You can choose between restored rooms within the actual mansion or deluxe hotel-type rooms in the cottages and carriage house behind the mansion. Steve and I had a room in one of the cottages and found it to be comfortable, relaxing and lavish.
Mansion Restaurant is open 7 days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Chef Michael Loupe prepares amazing dishes. He has studied and cooked all over the world, even Paris. Nottoway is fortunate indeed to have his skills in the kitchen. We were there for dinner and for breakfast. Both times the food was wonderful, and the service was attentive and friendly.
As you walk the grounds after hours, you will be entertained by the sounds of bullfrogs, trains, barges and ships.
I wrote more about the restaurant in an article for Epicurean-Traveler.com here.
And, this is a link to an article in Trip101.com describing the accommodations at Nottoway in more detail.