NEW IBERIA, La. — If you were to wake up after a 20-year nap, Rip Van Winkle Gardens on Jefferson Island wouldn’t be a bad place to find yourself.
There are more than 25 acres of semi-tropical greenery on the island, which is actually the top of a prehistoric salt dome. This tourist attraction (that has bed and breakfast accommodations on site) takes about two-and-a-half hours to get to by car from New Orleans. The plants on the island, much like the people who come to visit them, are from around the world.
“Joe Jefferson would come here only for three months during the winter,” says modern-day owner Mike Richard.
Joseph Jefferson — who the island is named for — was the island’s most famous owner. He was an actor and an artist who was famous in the 1800s for playing the role of the sleepy Dutch man, Rip Van Winkle. He took the stage as Rip more than 4,500 times! Jefferson was even friends with President Grover Cleveland, who came to visit him on the island.
The role of Rip Van Winkle made Jefferson a rich man, wealthy enough to purchase the island, and in 1870, build a 22-room mansion that’s open for tours today.
“He had his own railroad cars that he traveled with his troupe and all their props,” says Mike.
Mike has put his own stamp on the island, with unique splashes of Asian architecture, such as a Balinese gateway that he had carved on the island of Bali. It’s a popular place for weddings, and a gorgeous setting anytime.
As you walk the gardens, peacocks fly about, often from tree to tree, or tree to rooftop. There are about 15 of them wandering around the property. This is a perfect overnight getaway for couples looking for peace and quiet, history and some international flair.