Nestled deep within the 100 wooded acres that make up the Audubon State Historic Site is Oakley Plantation. This house, begun in 1815, is significant for its simplicity and elegance, along with its clever adaptation to the Louisiana climate. Tall and airy, Oakley boasts jalousied (meaning horizontal slats) galleries that allow the breeze to come through the house, but not rain or harsh sunlight. And while the house itself is architecturally important, it’s perhaps best known as the temporary home of a rather famous ornithologist and painter.
In the summer of 1821, John James Audubon took up residence at Oakley to give drawing lessons to Eliza Pirrie, daughter Mr. and Mrs. James Pirrie. But teaching wasn’t his only goal that summer. Taking advantage of the house’s natural surroundings, Audubon spent much of his short time on the plantation walking in the woods and painting what he saw. After only four months at Oakley, Audubon had finished or started 32 of his bird paintings that would become famous in The Birds of America, his book of illustrations of North American birds.
Today, Audubon State Historic Site—with Oakley at its heart—has a host of offerings for visitors to experience, including a detached plantation kitchen, two slave cabins, restored formal and kitchen gardens, and nature programs. And as in Audubon’s time, the site is still a bird-lover’s paradise with opportunities to spy Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Carolina Wrens, Brown Thrashers, Northern Cardinals, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, White-eyed Vireos, Brown Creepers, and more.