Joseph Jefferson was born February 20, 1829 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He became famous for his adaptation and portrayal of Washington Irving’s story of Rip Van Winkle, presenting over 4,500 performances.
In 1869 Jefferson bought a place called Orange Island in New Iberia, Louisiana. There he built his winter mansion. The site is on a peninsula on Lake Peigneur; the peninsula became known as Jefferson Island in his honor.
Jefferson Island is not really an island, but one of five salt domes in this area that rise 75 to over 100 feet above the surrounding landscape. The water from an ancient sea that once covered parts of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi evaporated leaving behind large salt deposits. The deposits were then covered by thousands of feet of sediment. Salt, which was less dense than the sediment, found its way upward in the form of bulbous columns. The rising columns of salt formed the 5 Louisiana “islands” that exist today.
A worker in 1923 unearthed three boxes under these oaks filled with gold and silver coins. The treasure is believed to have been buried by Pirate Jean Lafitte between the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.
President Grover Cleveland was often a guest of Jefferson, and would nap under this live oak, now called The Cleveland Oak.
When Jefferson died in 1905, his heirs held onto the property for a while and eventually sold Jefferson Island and the 2,000 acre plantation to John Lyle Bayless. Bayless was not interested in the mansion, but in the salt that lay beneath adjacent Lake Peigneur. He and several partners began mining salt.
In the late 1950s, John Bayless’ son and heir to the estate, began developing gardens around the mansion after selling the salt mine. In 1980 he built a multi-million dollar dream home on the shores of the lake. Nine months after moving in, on November 20, 1980, a Texaco oil-drilling team on a platform out in the lake (oil is frequently trapped in the rock strata surrounding salt domes) accidentally drilled into the Diamond Crystal Salt Company salt mine under the lake. The 14″ drill bit punctured the roof of the mine that created an opening in the bottom of the lake.
The lake then drained into the hole, expanding the size of that hole as the soil and salt were washed into the mine by the rushing water, filling the enormous caverns that had been left by the removal of salt since 1919. The resultant whirlpool sucked in the drilling platform, eleven barges, a tugboat, and 65 acres of the surrounding land, including Bayless’ home. All that’s left of John Bayless’ new home was this fireplace, which was on the second floor, and now shows above the waterline.
The damage to the island took 4 years to recover and rebuild, and is now open to the public. We toured the mansion.
And viewed the gardens.
Flowers were in bloom.
This fountain is made from cups used to mine the salt.
At the entrance to the property was a bird sanctuary.