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).

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Andrew Jackson Slept Here: Romantic GetAways

Andrew Jackson Slept Here: Romantic GetAways in St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler


Cottage PlantationAs the rest of Louisiana and the country celebrate the bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans, that iconic mismatch of 11,000 veteran redcoats against an outnumbered ragtag band of pirates, militiamen, Kaintuck sharpshooters, Creole aristocrats and a troop of Feliciana Horse, St. Francisville remembers its own connections to this pivotal fight. Because after the 1815 battle that would save New Orleans from the British and give Americans a sense of national identity for the first time, after demonstrating the brilliant leadership that led to his election as the seventh president of the United States, General Andrew Jackson spent the night at The Cottage Plantation in St. Francisville. And you can, too.

The Cottage was the home of Judge Thomas Butler, and on Jackson’s staff were a number of Judge Butler’s relatives, two brothers who were married to nieces of the general’s wife Rachel and a sister married to her nephew Stokely Hay(e)s. The Jackson entourage, returning to Tennessee after the Battle of New Orleans, supposedly was large enough to tax the facilities at The Cottage to the extent that the host had to sleep in the pantry, if stories can be believed.

shade treeToday this early plantation hosts Bed & Breakfast guests in six antique-filled rooms in the main house and one individual pond-side cottage. A full breakfast is served in the formal dining room of a house little changed since General Jackson’s visit. This is only one of St. Francisville’s overnight accommodations that are so charmingly varied in style that at least one will be perfect for that romantic getaway for Valentine’s weekend or that quiet escape from Mardi Gras madness.

Several other area plantation Bed & Breakfasts offer similar stays steeped in historic ambience and redolent with romance. The Myrtles, dating from the late 1790s, has eleven rooms in the main house, plus five cottages, an on-site restaurant and an aura of mystery promising unforgettable out-of-this-world experiences for the daring. Greenwood Plantation has a dozen rooms in a structure across the reflecting pond from the grand Greek Revival house painstakingly replicated after the original burned in 1960. Historic Butler Greenwood Plantation offers accommodations in eight well-equipped private cottages on plantation grounds; the main house has been occupied by members of the original family since the 1790s.

St. Francisville itself boasts so many structures of architectural significance that the entire downtown area is listed on the National Register as a Historic District. Included in the district are several fine townhouses that provide overnight accommodations. The St. Francisville Inn, next to oak-shaded Parker Park and dripping with Victorian trim, has ten rooms, a European style courtyard, and popular breakfast buffet. Barrow House and Printer’s Cottage, among the oldest structures in town, face each other across picturesque Royal Street and offer seven rooms/suites filled with fine antiques. Shadetree, also on Royal, has an eclectic collection of suites on a hilltop overlooking the Mississippi River, and the fun little 3-V Tourist Courts, featured in the television docudrama about Bonnie and Clyde, are reminiscent of the thirties’ automobile age when overnight accommodations came with an attached garage.

HemingboughMore contemporary accommodations offering romantic getaways in the St. Francisville area include The Lodge at The Bluffs, 32 room/suites with access to spectacular golf course and other fitness facilities, plus restaurants and chapel. Lake Rosemound Inn has four rooms on the banks of a beautiful large lake, and Hemingbough has 8 rooms and several suites on the landscaped grounds of a large conference center/events venue with lovely lakeside amphitheater. Besides several RV parks, the St. Francisville area also has two full-service motels, the Best Western and the Magnuson, capable of accommodating large bus groups as well as individual travelers; Lamplighter Suites is suitable for longterm rentals as well as overnights.

Winter is a wonderful time to visit St. Francisville. The woodlands invite hikers and birders to enjoy scenic vistas no longer obscured by prolific summertime foliage, and bicyclists enjoy the respite from the oppressive summer heat. Nineteenth-century gardens are filled with colorful camellia blooms, and nice restaurants and shops (several of them newly opened) attract patrons to St. Francisville’s historic downtown. Bed & Breakfasts book up a bit ahead for special holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras, so be sure to make reservations.

February is Black History Month at Rosedown State Historic Site, with special focus exhibits and demonstrations of Afro-Caribbean culinary influences.

Lake Rosemound InnFebruary is also enlivened by A Celebration of Literature and Art’s Writers and Readers Symposium at Hemingbough on February 21, allowing area readers the rare opportunity to interact in person with published authors; this year’s event features mystery writer Abigail Padgett, New Orleans novelist Moira Crone, Louisiana Poet Laureate Ava Haymon, and gifted photographer Richard Sexton (www.brownpapertickets.com ).

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).

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Writers and Readers Symposium

Writers and Readers Symposium Coming Soon to St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler


West Feliciana Parish Library
As 2015 dawns, St. Francisville steps into the future with a number of improvements, from the grand new library and prospects of a commodious new hospital to several much anticipated new restaurants and shops. But location scouts have long appreciated the little town’s ability to step BACK in time, the many preserved historic structures making it possible to throw some dirt on the streets and…voila!...it’s the 19th century.

Residents deal daily with this dichotomy, the delicate balance of preservation and progress, recognizing that the present and hopes for a financially stable future are of necessity firmly grounded in the past, built upon history. Town founders had forethought and high hopes, laying out side streets with optimistic names like Prosperity and Progress. As that old Greek proverb proclaimed, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
padgett
But how to connect past and present, especially in a meaningful and sensible way? Participants at A Celebration of Literature and Art’s Writers and Readers Symposium on Saturday, February 21, at Hemingbough Convention Center in St. Francisville will get a variety of unique views on the interconnections between past and present as four celebrated authors—mystery writer Abigail Padgett, poet Ava Leavell Haymon, New Orleans novelist and short story writer Moira Crone, photographer Richard Sexton, all with new books-- share their creative processes both individually and in moderated panel discussions with audience participation encouraged.

Abigail Padgett’s latest book is An Unremembered Grave. A resident of San Diego who has visited St. Francisville over many years, Padgett was struck by a 1990s photograph showing excavations through the striated strata of Angola’s Tunica Hills. At the lowest level of a dirt pit cut deep into the loess soil, LSU paleontologists were shown examining mammoth bones, while at the very top ground-level layer, archaeologists and prison staff in the same photograph examined newly uncovered skeletal remains of an unidentified 19th-century burial.

Considering these layered connections, a single photograph linking time periods from prehistoric creatures through Native Americans and antebellum plantations to the present correctional facility, award-winning mystery writer Padgett has woven an imaginative web of intrigue involving a prescient history professor, a spooky Louisiana plantation, an innocent prisoner, an ancient slave-made quilt. And, oh yes, a charming vampire with a plausible explanation for these entwined moments of time, whose slumber under the oppressive weight of history was interrupted atop that loessial bluff on Angola, the vampire whose blood-thirst was essential to pass along the eternal stories, the immutable history of the race and the currents of collective memory coursing through the veins of living creatures.
creole world
Gifted writer-photographer Richard Sexton’s most recent book, Creole World: Photographs of New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean Sphere, explores and illustrates with dreamy images the Creole connections between New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean. It’s all in the eye, really---well, maybe the mind too, and the heart and soul. That’s how Sexton, with his strong architecture and art background, spots the elegance amidst the decadence and celebrates the colorful remnants of Creole culture even in the most desolate Caribbean slum or New Orleans housing project. Compelling images reflect the author’s four decades roaming across the Latin Caribbean capturing architectural and urban similarities connecting New Orleans’ Creole heritage with colonial cultures in Haiti, Colombia, Panama, Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador and other historic locales.

Sexton says his Creole book “isn’t about home decorating---or pretty architecture, or even about city planning, although I think it addresses those interests. It’s my attempt to sum up an outlook---and a culture---that feels Creole to me. I’m drawn to places that accept accidents and decay, that put the past to fresh uses, that proceed by trial and error and keep things that work even if they don’t fit the rules.” As Sexton, who has lived in New Orleans since 1991, explains in an interview with Chris Waddington of nola.com, “I don’t just celebrate the past. I’m looking to see how the past can help us get to the future.”
author
Prestigious LSU Press has published four collections of Louisiana Poet Laureate Ava Haymon’s poetry, and she is editor of the press’ Barataria Poetry Series. A Mississippi native who grew up in Kansas City with a Baptist preacher father who made her memorize ten verses of Scripture each week and recite them perfectly before the television set could be turned on, she attended Baylor University and then moved to Baton Rouge so her husband could go to LSU Law School and she could get a master’s degree in English.

She found Louisiana a poet’s dream, “a wonderful place to write poetry about. It has exotic weather, all sorts of ethnic groups and fabulous music. It’s sensory.” And yet, she finds inspiration in family dynamics across the generations as well. Her most recent book is titled Eldest Daughter, in which LSU Press says the poet combines the sensory and the spiritual in wild verbal fireworks. “Concrete descriptions of a woman’s life in the mid-20th-century American South mix with wider concerns about family lies and truths, and culture that supports or forbids clear speech. Haymon’s poems encourage us to revel in the natural world and enjoy its delights, as well as to confront the hard truths that would keep us from doing so.”

Also inspired by family dynamics in the South is Moira Crone, respected New Orleans novelist and short story writer. Called one of the best American writers, Crone attended University of North Carolina and Smith College, then studied writing at Johns Hopkins. After moving to Louisiana, she directed the MFA Program in Creative Writing at LSU in Baton Rouge before relocating to New Orleans with her husband, writer Rodger Kamenetz.

When she received the Robert Penn Warren Award for Fiction from the Fellowship of Southern Writers for the body of her work, it was said that her interest in things spiritual “has led her work to be wittily described as ‘Southern Gnostic.’ In books like What Gets Into Us, Period of Confinement, and Dream State, Crone charts a zone of family resemblance and family claustrophobia. Her work can be hilarious in dealing with contemporary moral relativism. She is a fable maker with a musical ear, a plentitude of nerve, and an epic heart for her beleaguered, if often witty characters.”
ice garden
Moira Crone’s newest book, published in late fall 2014, is The Ice Garden, called “a story as dazzling and dangerous as ice, a heart stopper. This may just be the most haunting and memorable novel you will ever read.” The book’s narrator is ten years old, daughter of a mother trapped in the suffocating southern culture of the sixties, and only she can save her family. Of all Crone’s prize-winning novels and short stories, reviewers call The Ice Garden her finest book yet.

Tickets to the Writers and Readers Symposium, including lunch with these authors and a juried exhibit of photographs linked to literature, may be purchased at www.brownpapertickets.com ( OLLI members can sign up through LSU); January tickets are $40, February $50, at the door $60. Seating is limited. Thanks to the Town of St. Francisville, this program is supported in part by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council, and as administered by the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge. Funding has also been provided by Entergy and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.
Adjuncts to the program include Ava Hayman teaching a poetry workshop for Bains Elementary School students, and Abigail Padgett, who has taught creative writing at Harvard and other institutions, working with promising upper class students. In addition, Hayman and Padgett will conduct a Writers’ Workshop for aspiring and professional adult authors Saturday, February 28, in a stimulating plantation setting.

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).