Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Day The War Stopped

The Day The War Stopped
In  St. Francisville, LA

By Anne Butler
Day the War StoppedThe bonds of brotherhood, those Masonic ties that bind stronger than anything on the outside, saved many a plantation house in south Louisiana during the Civil War---among them, Chretien Point Plantation in Sunset, where ailing elderly Hypolite Landry III drug himself from his sickbed onto the upper gallery and flashed the sign that made General Nathaniel Banks recall the Yankee troops about to destroy the home; and Madewood near Thibodaux, where widowed Eliza Pugh, mother of 15 children, saved the plantation from destruction by appealing to the Union general’s Masonic ties to her late husband.

Nowhere is this celebrated more movingly than St. Francisville’s annual Civil War re-enactment, this year June 12, 13 and 14th. Preserving a moment of civility in the midst of a bloody war, this is a re-enactment that celebrates not a battle but the bonds of brotherhood that proved stronger even than the divisiveness of a bitter civil conflict. They call it The Day The War Stopped, and that is exactly what happened, at least for a little while.

In June 1863, the bloody Siege of Port Hudson was pitting 30,000 Union troops under Major General Nathaniel P. Banks against 6,800 weary Confederates under Major General Franklin Gardner, fighting over the all-important control of traffic on the Mississippi River. Port Hudson and Vicksburg were the only rebel strongholds left along the Mississippi, and if the Union forces could wrest from them control of the river traffic, they could cut off supplies from the west and completely surround the Confederacy. Admiral David Farragut had attempted to destroy Confederate cannons atop the bluffs from the river, but of his seven ships, four were turned back, one was completely destroyed, and only his flagship and the USS Albatross passed upriver safely, leaving ground troops to fight it out for nearly another month.

AlbatrossThe Albatross was patrolling the Mississippi River off the port city of Bayou Sara just below St. Francisville when a single shot rang out from the captain’s stateroom. It was 4:15 p.m. on June 11, and the vessel’s commander, John Elliot Hart of Schenectady, New York, lay mortally wounded on the floor, his pistol beside his body and a note detailing his despondency over his sufferings from dyspepsia. Attempts to find a metal coffin in which to ship his body home proved futile, and so the ship’s surgeon went ashore in hopes of making arrangements for burial on land.

He was a Mason; Commander Hart was also a Mason. Living near the river he found several helpful brothers named White who were also Masons, and in St. Francisville was Feliciana Lodge No. 31 F&AM, the second oldest Masonic Lodge in the state, its senior warden a Confederate cavalry officer who happened to be at home on furlough. It would be his duty, this Confederate officer felt, to afford a decent burial to a fellow Mason and fellow military officer, regardless of politics. And so the war stopped, if only for a few mournful moments.

Burial sceneThe commemorative events begin on Friday, June 12, at 7 p.m. in St. Francisville, with graveside histories in the peaceful oak-shaded cemetery at historic Grace Episcopal Church, where several participants in the original event lie buried---the grave of the Albatross’ commander John E. Hart, whose burial stopped the war and united fellow Masons in both blue and grey, is marked by a marble slab and monument “in loving tribute to the universality of Free Masonry,” while nearby lie the Reverend Dr. Daniel Lewis, Episcopal rector who presided at the burial, and W.W. Leake, the local Masonic leader and Confederate cavalry officer who expedited Hart’s burial. An Open House and historical presentation at the double-galleried Masonic Lodge just across Ferdinand St. from the graveyard follows at 8 p.m. Friday evening.

On Saturday, June 13, visitors will be pleasantly transported back in time at Grace Church’s Bishop Jackson Hall from 10:30 to 11:30 as a concert of antebellum period music is followed from 11:30 to 12:30 by a graceful demonstration of vintage dancing. Lunch is served at the Masonic Lodge from 11:30 to 12:30, with a historical talk from 12:30 to 1.

At 1:00 commences the moving dramatic presentation showing Commander Hart’s young wife in New York as she reads his last letter to their small son and then receives the terrible news of his death. This is followed by the burial of Hart in Grace Church cemetery, with re-enactors in the dignified rites clad in Union and Confederate Civil War uniforms accurate down to the last button and worn brogan. Representatives of Commander Hart’s New York Masonic lodge travel south every year to participate in the re-enactment with local Masons, and some years there are actually descendants of the original participants involved.

Day the War Stopped in St. Francisville, La.On Saturday evening from 6 to 8:30 p.m., at Oakley Plantation (Audubon State Historic Site), brilliantly costumed vintage dancers will perform dances popular during the Civil War period, and the house opens for special evening tours from 6 to 8 p.m. On Sunday, June 14, Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site has a special exhibit on Civil War burial customs.
All of these activities are free and open to the public. Among sponsors are St. Francisville Overnight! (Bed & Breakfasts of the area), the Feliciana Lodge No. 31 F and AM, Grace Episcopal Church, and St. Francisville Main Street. For information on weekend activities as well as overnight accommodations and area attractions, visit online www.daythewarstopped.net, www.stfrancisville.us or www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com; telephone 225-635-4224, 225-635-3873 or 225-635-4791.

Another memorable June event is the second annual Walker Percy Festival June 5, 6 and 7th, celebrating the acclaimed novelist’s life and work with good food, craft beer and bourbon, boiled crawfish, live music and a great time discussing books and southern culture under the moss-hung live oaks. Proceeds benefit the Freyhan Foundation’s ongoing efforts to restore the area’s first public school building for use as a community cultural center. Lectures and panel discussions, readings and films, progressive front-porch bourbon sipping, twilight cocktails in the ruins garden of one former Percy plantation home and other guided tours of area sites readers of Percy’s works will recognize. For information: www.walkerpercyweekend.org.

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: the Cottage Plantation, Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season and are both spectacular in springtime. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).

The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

PLANT IT AND THEY WILL COME: Welcoming the Monarchs back to St. Francisville

PLANT IT AND THEY WILL COME: Welcoming the Monarchs back to St. Francisville
By Anne Butler

"Monarch, Chrysalis and Caterpiller on Ageratum" painting by Murrell Butler
Long known as the Garden Spot of Louisiana, its location where the rugged Tunica Hills skirt the Mississippi River gives the St. Francisville area diversified flora and fauna found nowhere else in south Louisiana. The steep hills and deep cool hollows harbor rare ferns, ginseng, and even chipmunks, while the rich soil and long growing seasons have produced magnificent landscapes and formal gardens, many full of heirloom plantings dating from the 19th century. The abundant waterways and unspoiled forests still attract much the same prolific birdlife, both resident and migratory, that so impressed the artist Audubon when he first stepped off the steamboat at Bayou Sara landing in 1821.

And insects! In this veritable Garden of Eden there were and are plentiful pollinators so necessary for healthy plant growth, the honey bees and the beautiful butterflies. Experts who harvest and collect bugs, both living and dead, for the Audubon Insectarium in New Orleans, a never-ending task, love to work in the St. Francisville area. “Ah, heaven on earth! What a delightful place,” says Linda Barber Auld, otherwise known as “The Bug Lady” and owner/operator of Barber Laboratories in Jefferson, a company begun by her father in 1921 to control invasive and destructive pests like termites but expanded by Linda to place new emphasis on raising the populations of beneficial insects as well.

monarch buttlerfly by ptWalsh
Monarch photo by ptWalsh
She’ll be leading a collecting group in St. Francisville this summer. On her last visit, she was enormously impressed with the huge variety of beetles and large silk moths attracted to the group’s big night lights called blacklights, and she also observed lots of Tiger Swallowtails nectaring on buttonbush pompoms. What she didn’t see was many Monarchs, and that’s about par for the course across the country, a situation she’s not going to take sitting down.

These beautiful black and orange butterflies migrate from Canada to Mexican overwintering sites, and as they pass in great clouds though parts of the United States on their 3,000-mile journey, thousands stop over. They drink nectar from many different varieties of flowers before laying their eggs, but their caterpillars can survive only on one plant, milkweed.
Today the US Fish and Wildlife Service is considering placing the Monarch on the Endangered Species “threatened” list because populations have declined by a shocking 95 percent since 1996, from 1 billion to 33 million. The drastic drop is blamed primarily on the increasing use of herbicides sprayed on crops genetically modified to withstand them, killing millions of acres of other plants including milkweed that serve as habitat for beneficial pollinators like bees and butterflies.

zebra by ptWalsh
 Zebra Longwing photo by ptWalsh
Calling the Monarch “the canary in the coal mine,” environmental groups and federal agencies are instituting a national strategy calling for the creation of milkweed safe havens, and “The Bug Lady” is on a mission to spread seeds throughout Louisiana. “Plant it and they will come,” she promises. In 2014 her Project Monarch distributed more than 120,000 seeds, installed butterfly gardens in dozens of schools, allowed hundreds of students to witness the miracle of metamorphosis while raising Monarchs, and promoted public awareness through interviews and appearances emphasizing that the Monarch cannot successfully reproduce without its only caterpillar host plant.

This year Auld’s goals include the installation of five native milkweed species in the gardens, increasing involvement with volunteer gardeners who belong to established societies and horticultural organizations, and having milkweed gardens planted at all of Louisiana’s Welcome Centers and Visitor Centers, including the one on US Highway 61 which greets St. Francisville’s visitors arriving from the north every day except major holidays from 8:30 to 5. Rosie Politz of that welcome center is excited about the idea, especially with gardening enthusiasts already on staff, and can’t wait to plant the seeds provided by Linda Auld as soon as weather conditions permit. Additional information on butterfly gardening is available from Linda’s Barber Laboratories, and she can provide not just advice but also supplies, seeds in colorful containers with planting instructions, and plants for garden clubs, schools, public and private garden spaces (online contact: nolabuglady@gmail.com).

photo by ptWalsh
photo by ptWalsh
In May visitors will have a chance to see some of St. Francisville’s most interesting private landscapes when the Feliciana Horticulture Society, Master Gardeners of the LSU Ag Center, host their annual Spring Garden Stroll, with proceeds benefitting 4-H scholarships, school gardens and other community beautification projects. An Arts for All exhibit in conjunction with the garden tours will be in Audubon Market Hall. Information is available by telephone (225-635-3614) or online at www.stfrancisvillespringstroll.org or by email (abrock@agcenter.lsu.edu).

Visitors can observe at a safe distance an entirely different type of gardening…acres and acres of food crops as well as flower beds lining white fences…on the third weekend in April, when the gates of Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola swing open at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 18 and 19, for the Spring Rodeo and Arts & Crafts Festival. Arena events pit inmates against professional rodeo stock, the only exception being the ladies’ barrel racing, and crowd favorites are the events unique to Angola like the Guts & Glory with offenders on foot trying to snatch a $100 ticket from between the horns of the meanest brahma bull around. Inmate hobbycraft items include jewelry, leathercraft, paintings, woodworking and toys, and there’s live music by inmate bands, a museum with compelling exhibits covering the long and bloody history of the prison, and plenty of food ranging from ribs and burgers to jambalaya, pizza, nachos and “tornado potatoes,” ice cream and candy apples. For information: 225-655-2030 or 225-655-2607 weekdays 8:30 to 4; online www.angolarodeo.com. Advance tickets are a must, and visitors should remember that this is a maximum-security prison with regulations that must be followed to the letter.
Tiger Butterfly
photo by Henry Cancienne
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: the Cottage Plantation, Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season and are both spectacular in springtime. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).

The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.

For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Popular Audubon Pilgrimage Welcomes Spring To St. Francisville, LA

Popular Audubon Pilgrimage Welcomes Spring To St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler

The forty-fourth annual Audubon Pilgrimage March 20, 21 and 22, 2015, celebrates a southern spring in St. Francisville, the glorious garden spot of Louisiana’s English Plantation Country. For over four decades the sponsoring West Feliciana Historical Society has thrown open the doors of significant historic structures to commemorate artist-naturalist John James Audubon’s stay as he painted a number of his famous bird studies and tutored the daughter of Oakley Plantation’s Pirrie family, beautiful young Eliza. This year’s featured homes include three country plantations and one historic townhouse, plus two significant state historic sites.
RetreatOpen this year for the first time is Retreat Plantation, built around 1823 on property of Sarah Bingman and named Soldier’s Retreat by her second husband, Clarence Mulford, a U.S. Army captain at nearby Fort Adams. A 1½-story Anglo-Creole home with handsome architectural details set on a bluff overlooking Little Bayou Sara, it has been restored by present owners C.B. and Mary C. de Laureal Owen, continuing seven generations of Percy family occupancy since 1859.
At the opposite end of the parish is Dogwood, in the Thompson Creek delta on lands initially granted by Spain to Jean Cloccinet as part of a failed resettlement of Acadian exiles. The house was begun in 1803 by George Freeland, an early settler from the Carolinas. His initial hewn-log shed-roof house, two rooms flanking a hallway and topped by a sleeping loft, has been enlarged over the years and is home to the family of Rob and Missy Couhig.
DogwoodAn exuberant Carpenter Gothic Victorian home approached from US Highway 61 via an impressive oak avenue, The Oaks was built in 1888 by Judge Thomas Butler, Confederate veteran, planter and police juror. From his family’s isolated plantation he moved to be nearer St. Francisville’s amenities, embellishing his new house with stained glass, fanciful gingerbread trim, dormers and turrets. When the last of his nine children died, The Oaks became home to the E. I. Daniel III family.
Perched on a hilly lot overlooking St. Francisville’s main thoroughfare, Ferdinand Street, the Levert-Bockel House was constructed in 1918 for Mamie Bockel Levert using materials salvaged from flooded Bayou Sara properties inherited from her father, a prosperous Prussian immigrant sadler. In one of the comfortable bungalow’s rooms, her husband Dr. Eloi Levert practiced medicine. It is now the home of the Tom Tully family.
The OaksOther popular features of the 2015 Audubon Pilgrimage include Audubon (Oakley) and Rosedown State Historic Sites, three 19th-century churches in town and beautiful St. Mary’s in the country, as well as the Rural Homestead with lively demonstrations of the rustic skills of daily pioneer life. An Audubon Play will be performed several times daily on Saturday and Sunday in recently restored Temple Sinai. Daytime features are open 9:30 to 5, Sunday 11 to 4 for tour homes; Friday evening activities are scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m.
The Historic District around Royal Street is filled during the day with the happy sounds of costumed children singing and dancing the Maypole; in the evening as candles flicker and fireflies flit among the ancient moss-draped live oaks, there is no place more inviting for a leisurely stroll. Friday evening features old-time Hymn Singing at the United Methodist Church, Audubon Play in Temple Sinai, Graveyard Tours at Grace Episcopal cemetery (last tour begins at 8:15 p.m.), and a wine and cheese reception at Bishop Jackson Hall (7 to 9 p.m.) featuring Vintage Dancers and the pilgrimage’s exquisitely detailed 1820’s evening costumes, nationally recognized for their authenticity. Light Up The Night, the enjoyable Saturday evening soiree, features dancing to live music by United We Jam, sensational dinner catered by Heirloom Cuisine and drinks beginning at 7 p.m.
TulleyFor tickets and tour information, contact West Feliciana Historical Society, Box 338, St. Francisville, LA 70775; phone 225-635-6330 or 225-635-4224; online www.audubonpilgrimage.info, email sf@audubonpilgrimage.info. A package including daytime tours and all evening entertainment Friday and Saturday is available. Tickets can be purchased at the Historical Society Museum on Ferdinand Street.
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and
Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: the Cottage Plantation, Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).