Jefferson Island and Rip Van Winkle Gardens

Our last activity before leaving southern Louisiana was a visit to Jefferson Island, another of the salt dome “islands” that rise above the southwestern delta country. Like Avery Island where we’d visited the birthplace of Tabasco, the land rests on huge salt deposits that extend miles below the surface but Jefferson Island is unique in that it was completely reshaped in 1980 when an oil drilling rig pierced the salt mine below, creating a massive influx of water from the Vermillion Bay and transforming the 10-foot deep freshwater Lake Peigneur into a 200-foot deep brackish body that swallowed up much of the shoreline. Thankfully no lives were lost and most of the structures on higher ground emerged unscathed.

One of these surviving structures is the mansion built by actor Joseph Jefferson in 1870. Famous for his (4,500!) stage portrayals of Rip Van Winkle, he became quite wealthy and purchased the island where he built his grand hunting lodge; years later a second owner created completed the surrounding gardens and named them after Rip Van Winkle. The day of our visit was warm and humid and so we opted out of touring the house since we were unable to leave Allie in the vehicle but we all had a lovely time strolling around the grounds and gardens where we joined (much to Allie’s delight) by dozens of wandering peacocks. In addition to the feathered residents we saw many gorgeous plants, beautifully carved sculptures, and massive live oaks – including the Cleveland Oak apparently named after President Grover Cleveland took a nap under it.