North America's greatest river now has a museum of similarly impressive scale.

The 30,000-square-foot Great River Road Museum, which looks at 19th century life along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, opened Monday adjacent to Houmas House Plantation in Darrow.

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"It's about steamboats on the river. It's about all the plantations between New Orleans and Baton Rouge," said Kevin Kelly, who owns the museum and plantation home. "There were 489. We give the stories of about 350, and hopefully in the next six months we'll be giving stories about all 489. It's about where they shopped, what their dining experiences are, what their celebrations are."

The slaves who lived and worked on these plantations are not a significant part of the current displays, but the subject will be part of an exhibit the museum plans in the future, Kelly said.

Three years in the making, it originally was planned as a 5,000-square-foot facility on the river side of the levee focusing on steamboats that made the Mississippi River their highway. But, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers refused to let him build there, Kelly said he expanded the museum's focus.

"It basically costs five times as much to build on the river as it does on land," Kelly said. "So, for the amount of money that we were going to build on the river, we were able to build a facility five times as large."

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However, the museum is not abandoning the river. A wheelchair-accessible walking bridge will allow visitors easy access across River Road and the levee to view the waterway.

The museum cost about $15 million. In addition to the displays, it will feature a restaurant and a 10-foot-wide walkway winding through the gardens. The restaurant has not opened because the coronavirus pandemic has depressed the restaurant business, but it will feature live music nightly, Kelly said.

Visitors entering the museum will see an 18-foot painting that formerly was displayed in the New Orleans Hilton hotel depicting the Mississippi River in New Orleans. A 35-star United States flag from 1863 that once flew over Fort Jackson downriver from New Orleans also is on display. Other sections include models of steamboats and plantations, the history of sugar production and area festivals and wildlife in and around the Mississippi River.

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The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $20. 


Email George Morris at gmorris@theadvocate.com.