Sunday, January 2, 2005
Jefferson Island was originally named Orange Island after the groves of citrus trees which thrived here. In 1865, actor Joseph Jefferson, who was famous for his portrayal of Rip Van Winkle, purchased the site to be his winter retreat. He bought the 3,600-acre property for $7.81 an acre ($28,000.) Jefferson gained his fame in his 4,500 performances on stage as Rip Van Winkle. After Jefferson's death, the property was sold John Lyle Bayless, Sr. of Louisville, Kentucky in 1917. His son, J. Lyle Bayless, Jr. began developing formal gardens surrounding the Joseph Jefferson home in the late 1950's, establishing "Rip Van Winkle Gardens," named for its former actor-owner. Bayless, Jr. donated the home in 1978 to Live Oak Gardens Foundation, Inc., a non-profit foundation.
In November 1980, workers drilling for oil beneath nearby Lake Peigneur drilled too deeply and punctured the Jefferson Island salt dome. The lake began draining into the cavity, causing a powerful whirlpool that swallowed 65 acres of the gardens. This is still one of the worst disasters and strangest phenomena to occur in Louisiana.
The following text, continuing the history to present day, is from the Rip Van Winkle Gardens Website (link)
"Bayless died in 1985, the foundation that he had endowed and entrusted sold the property in late 1996 to Carolyn Doerle and her husband, Dr. Ron Ray. They set out to revitalize the site by offering many ways for the public to enjoy the tradition that Bayless and the Foundation started years ago.
Doerle ran the property from late 1996 until it closed to the public in July of 2001.
In October 2003 the gardens were sold to Live Oak Gardens, LTD which operates the nursery next door. Gardens' restoration began with the removal of debris and restoration of many buildings. Some of these include the Bayless Conference Center, Café Jefferson, the Caretaker's house, the Joseph Jefferson Mansion, Servant's Quarters and other buildings that were badly neglected for several years.
Mike Richard and Edward Fremin have many new ideas of what can be done here on Jefferson Island. One is to allow the public to enjoy the grounds and buildings again. The Bayless Conference Center, Café Jefferson, and the Bed and Breakfast facilities are all open and are being rented out at this time. Plans for expansion of the Bed and Breakfast facilities are underway at this time also."
OK, still don't have enough? Here is one last article on the fantastic history of Live Oak Gardens.