Many of these owners were not interested in maintaining the antebellum "Big House," but only using the land for agricultural purposes. Sadly, none of these owners was able to keep the plantation viable. We would like to share a few of their stories with you.
John Armstrong bought the plantation at auction in 1866, from the Whitney Bank of New Orleans. We have little recorded information about Armstrong, but we do know that he was not related to Josephine Armstrong Stewart, the last resident owner of Oak Alley Plantation and who willed the plantation to Oak Alley Foundation. Other owners of note over the years included the Hotards, the Sobrals, the Pittmans, and the Hardins, among others. Descendants of the Roman, Hotard and Hardin families still live in the New Orleans area.
Over an 18-year period, other owners controlled the plantation and used it for agricultural purposes. Antoine Sobral purchased Oak Alley at a sheriff's sale in 1882 and brought the property back to a proper family home for his wife and children. However, his sons showed little interest in assuming operational responsibility for the property and, as a result, it would soon be sold again. Sobral's daughter, Josie, offered to buy the property, but by the time her offer letter reached her father, the sale had already been made.
Oak Alley's "Big House" would sit in disrepair for several decades, as various owners bought and sold the property. J.D. Hardin, Jr. bought the plantation in December, 1917 after years of abandonment. The Hardin family immediately began to make much needed repairs, including repairing the roof of the Big House. However, a bad growing season and the economic downturn after World War I placed the Hardins in a challenging financial position.
In addition, the Hardins had to spend a great deal of money saving the four northern-most trees in the Alley of Oaks. Both the Corps of Engineers and the Highway Department had plans to straighten the Mississippi River levee and the highway in front of the plantation which would require removal of those four trees. The Hardins spent a small fortune fighting to keep those four trees standing and won.
The final straw for the Hardins was when one of their cattle caused a train derailment on the railroad tracks that cross the plantation. Losing the resulting lawsuit, the Hardin family was forced to give up the plantation they tried so hard to restore. The Hardins turned Oak Alley over to Whitney Bank on April 19, 1924.
If you are interested in stories like these, please visit us to learn more about the families that helped define the culture, history and majesty that is Oak Alley Plantation.