5505 Rip Van Winkle Road
New Iberia, LA 70560
Atop a salt dome on Lake Peigneur sits Rip Van Winkle Gardens with 20 acres surrounding the Joseph Jefferson Home. The home was built in 1870 by the acclaimed American actor, and listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Jefferson purchased "Orange Island" in 1869 and built his winter home here. He is credited for playing the "Rip Van Winkle" role from the Washington Irving tale for many years in the theater.
After his death in 1905, Jefferson's heirs sold Jefferson Island and the 2,000 acre plantation in 1917 to a partnership of John Lyle Bayless, Sr. of Anchorage, Kentucky; Paul Jones, bourbon distiller of Louisville, Kentucky; and E. A. McIlhenny of Avery Island, maker of TABASCO® Sauce. John Lyle Bayless, Jr. affectionately called Jack, developed Rip Van Winkle Gardens around the historic home in the late 1950's after selling the salt mine that tunnels under the island and lake. Bayless donated the home and 800 acres to a private operating foundation which he formed to assure its continued operation far beyond his lifetime to share with everyone, the place he so loved and enjoyed.
Bayless built a 1/2 acre garden under glass. This conservatory and welcome center featured over 3,000 species of exotic tropical plants. On the edge of the 1,300 acre Lake Peigneur, Bayless moved into his retreat to enjoy his retirement. On November 20, 1980 his dreams were washed away when a Texaco drilling rig pierced one of the giant caverns of the Diamond Crystal Salt Company, flooding the entire mine. The vortex into the salt cavern swallowed the lake, 65 acres of native wood land, Rip Van Winkle Welcome Center, the glass conservatory and Bayless' new home. A drilling rig, several barges loaded with trucks and rock salt, boats and equipment also vanished into the whirlpool. Nine of the lost barges were coughed up from the deep recesses of the lake after it was refilled by the Gulf of Mexico via the Delcambre Canal. What was once a 10 foot deep freshwater lake is now a one thousand three hundred foot deep salt water lake. Miraculously, no lives were lost that day in the mines. The damage to the island took 4 years to recover and rebuild. A video of the drilling mistake.
Now exquisitely restored, visitors can view a documentary of the history of the gardens including the disaster, stroll the gardens and tour the Joseph Jefferson Home. The attraction also has facilities for weddings, private functions, conferences, corporate retreats, luncheons and bed and breakfast cottages. Cafe Jefferson is open for lunch.