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GMA Dave Trips: Rip Van Winkle Gardens

Experience Spring Colors and Much More on Jefferson Island
Posted at 4:30 AM, Mar 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-10 05:30:38-05

The Spring colors are back and there's no better place to see the blooms than Rip Van Winkle Gardens on Jefferson Island.

Jefferson Island really isn't an island at all. Prehistoric salt domes were created over the years, pushing up the land, creating rare hills in the coastal marshes. Jefferson Island has nearby siblings; Avery Island, known for it's famous peppers. Weeks Island, Cote Blanche Island, and Belle Isle.

Salt Domes of South Louisiana

The Joseph Jefferson Mansion, built in 1870, sits on top of the Jefferson Island salt dome at an elevation of 75 feet. Jefferson was a world famous actor who portrayed Rip Van Winkle for the first time in 1865 in London. He continued this role for forty years, and was one of the most recognized characters in the 19th century.

Joseph Jefferson House at Rip Van Winkle Gardens

The home is surrounded by majestic live oak trees, some over 500 years old. The Cleveland Oak, named after President Grover Cleveland, who was known to nap under the tree when visiting the famous. actor. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places. The style is Victorian, complete with a cupola. This helps to bring in the natural light, but also serves a function of releasing heat from the home during the long Louisiana summers. Tour the inside and see beautiful paintings and other pieces from the time period.

For decades, salt was mined from the dome, and over two million tons of salt was brought out. The house and gardens sit near the beautiful Lake Peigneur. It's was a shallow, freshwater lake in Jefferson's time, but after a 1980 disaster, where a drilling rig punctured the salt mine below. The lake drained, causing a vortex that not only pulled in the water, the rig, and several barges, but also displacing over 65 acres of land around the lake.

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Lake Peigneur near Jefferson Island

Today you can enjoy the calm waters of the lake. The 15 acres of gardens are filled with semi tropical plants, beautiful oaks, and wildlife. Some of the peacocks will gladly pose for you. There's lots of shade and the little bit of elevation makes for a great walk.

Peacocks Posing at Rip Van Winkle Gardens

Don't forget Rip's Rookery. The island is home to hundreds of species of birds, including the Roseate Spoonbill. It's a place to enjoy native and migratory birds. Bird watchers and photographers will love it!

You can dine on south Louisiana cuisine at Cafe Jefferson. It's open every day for lunch. Dine al fresco, or inside with a great view of the lake. You can get anything from a poboy, to gumbo, homemade soups and seafood. Don't forget dessert!

Cafe Jefferson at Rip Van Winkle Gardens

Perhaps you'd like to spend the night or several nights on Jefferson Island, you have two choices. Stay in Cook's Cottage or the Servant's Quarters. Both come with a free continental breakfast and tours of the gardens and the Jefferson home. Make sure you visit the gift shop on your way out.

Jefferson Island and Rip Van Winkle Gardens. Full of beauty, history, color, and more! Make sure you check out the Rip Van Winkle Gardens Website, and for upcoming events, visit their Facebook page.