Monday, August 11, 2014

Clock Marks Passage of Time

Historic Courthouse Clock Marks Passage of Time in St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler

original clock faceEvery little parish seat over the years has had its iconic courthouse, some more elaborate than others but all as fancy as times could afford, and most were topped with a tower or cupola boasting an enormous, often multi-faced clock. The deep tones, the carillon calls, the clanging and banging of these clocks marked the passage of the minutes of their lives for downtown residents, chiming the hours in anticipation of happy occasions and solemn events alike. One haunted historic courthouse clock in Texas tolled away the hours left of life for a condemned prisoner in the nearby jail; just prior to his execution he cursed the clock, which never again kept accurate time and was repeatedly stuck by lightning.

West Feliciana Parish’s courthouse was designed in 1903 by architect Andrew J. Bryan to replace an earlier structure damaged during the Civil War (and an even earlier one in use beginning in 1824). Its National Register of Historic Places inventory listing calls its architectural style “attenuated Georgian Revival, composite quadrastiple portico on each façade, central Baroque dormer,” whatever that means, and it was considered such a letdown from the classical elegance of its predecessor that its cornerstone bore no names of founding fathers. It has recently been augmented by a more modern annex, but still houses offices for the parish gas district and public defender downstairs. The wood-paneled courtroom upstairs is still in use for criminal trials and overflow civil matters, and every hour on the hour, attorneys and witnesses must pause as the clock above their heads deafeningly sounds the time, giving everyone involved a slight breather from the oft-heated proceedings.

Working on courthouse clock - 2014This brief respite from weighty judicial matters must give one of the 20th Judicial District’s judges special pleasure, for beneath the flowing black robes of Judge George Haliburton Ware, Jr., beats the heart of a dedicated metal worker/machinist with great admiration for the intricate workings of old clocks, fans and other mechanical wonders. Ware is the father of the metal working program at the Louisiana State Penitentiary that turns out trained machinists through the prison’s re-entry program. And it is thanks to him and a couple of others who share his passion, Dr. Walker McVea and Charles Broussard, that the old courthouse clock works at all. It didn’t for awhile.

Its first restoration came in 2008, after the parish police jury voted to allocate $50,000 to hire clock restoration specialist David Seay to dismantle it, move it to his workshop in Kansas, machine some parts of the internal mechanism that had to be replaced, and return it in working order, plus replacing with metal ones the old wooden numerals in each of the four clock faces atop the courthouse.

Repairing the clockCharles Broussard calls David Seay a true perfectionist who absolutely loves what he does, and so it was natural that he would be called in again to put the courthouse clock back in working order after lack of regular maintenance caused it to stop working a few years ago. Says Broussard, “It’s nothing but a big old grandfather clock with four faces, but the motorized control we put in for the weights was hit by a surge and the sensitive gears hadn’t been properly oiled on a regular basis, and a binding in the mechanism was preventing it from striking.” Broussard has worked with parish employee Allen Dwyer to assure proper future maintenance of what he calls “a true treasure. Many of Louisiana’s courthouses have clocks, but I’d say 99.9% of them don’t work. We have a true marvel here. If we’re going to call ourselves historical, let’s do it all the way.”
Longtime St. Francisville mayor Billy D’Aquilla also considers the working clock a true icon, with great historic value to the town and its preservation-minded residents. Says attorney Bob Butler, whose law office is directly across the street from the courthouse, “The old clock is historical and unique. And it’s LOUD!”

Clock worksThe restoration of the old courthouse clock will be celebrated at 6 p.m. during the popular event called Polos and Pearls, highlight of August in St. Francisville, designed to add some sizzle to summer shopping and entice customers downtown the evening of August 23, beginning at 5 p.m. All the interesting little shops and galleries offer lots of extras---refreshments from local restaurants and food vendors, music or other entertainment, and plenty of bargains, making shopping after dark just plain fun, with trolley transportation making it a breeze to get around.

As the advent of autumn brings cooler temperatures, St. Francisville offers plenty of special events. The Hummingbird Festival on September 13 provides the opportunity to observe these amazing little birds up close as professional wildlife biologists band and weigh them before releasing them to continue their fall migration patterns.

Clock parts courthouse 2014October is crowded with events every weekend. The Angola Prison Rodeo draws some 10,000 eager spectators every Sunday in October, and the Myrtles Halloween Experience scares the pants off visitors every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and October 31 from 6 to 9 in a historic plantation house calling itself the most haunted in America. October 10 and 11 marks the 26th annual Southern Garden Symposium, a series of entertainments, workshops, tours, demonstrations and lectures by prestigious speakers in this the land of glorious antebellum gardens. The last weekend of October, the Yellow Leaf Arts Festival is a gathering of dozens of artists and crafts persons demonstrating and selling their wares in downtown Parker Park.

November 15 the Louisiana Vets Fest in the West Feliciana Parish Sports Park supports and celebrates veterans of all wars with children’s activities, military displays, hotly contested cook-off contests providing plenty of good food, and exciting live music including Marcia Ball and Jimmie Vaughn. And December brings the well-established and well-loved small-town holiday celebration called Christmas in the Country, with shop open houses, strolling musicians, lively parade, and house tours benefitting the new parish library.

New clock faceLocated 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 restored plantation homes are open for tours daily: 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 fascinating living-history demonstrations some weekends 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 recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty shops, many in restored historic structures, and restaurants 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 historic district; there are also motel accommodations for bus groups.

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

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The above article, including photographs (by Charles Broussard), are available for reprint.  High resolutions photographs are available upon request, email here.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A CENTURY OF SERVICE IN ST. FRANCISVILLE, LA
BY Anne Butler

Young Russell Daniel
Russell Daniel and his father in spiffy hats and suits in downtown Baton Rouge.
He’s in his 80s now, but it’s an absolute miracle Mr. Russell Daniel survived his childhood. Born in 1928, he was a tiny tot when he ran into the arc of a blade wielded by his grandfather, Robert Clifford Brasseaux, who was chopping on a tree with a double-bitted axe. The gash on the left side of young Russell’s face required a number of stitches to close. And then, still a child, he fell out of a tree and nearly killed himself.

Today this white-haired, soft-spoken man, called by his sister-in-law “a real old-time southern gentleman,” is semi-retired from the family gas distributorship, which was recently officially recognized for a full century of service to the community, its provision of services exemplary and its devotion to its customers noteworthy. “Semi-retired,” of course, means that he only goes into the office in the mornings, after breakfasting with buddies at a local café, and then again in the afternoons, just to help his son, you know.

He’s one of the multitude of distinguished descendants of family patriarch Robert Daniel, Junior, born in 1824 and father of some 15 children, many of them sons who, along with their own remarkable progeny, have left their mark on West Feliciana agriculture and business. Russell Daniel’s grandfather John Robert (known as J. Bob) worked with Governor Parker to establish a notable stock farm in the parish; Russell’s own father died in his thirties, which left young Russell and his mother Myrtle to live with her parents in St. Francisville on Royal Street.

Russell and Betty
 Russell and Betty Sue Kendrick Daniel cut the cake at their wedding.
Myrtle’s father Robert Clifford Brasseaux brought the first gasoline distributorship to the area in 1910 and sold kerosene to the little isolated country stores that kept hand-cranked drums of it on their porches for customers in the days before electricity. The kerosene was sent up from the Esso refinery in Baton Rouge by way of the LR&N railway, and Brasseaux unloaded the tank cars into barrels hauled by a mule-drawn wagon.

Upon the advent of automobile traffic, the enterprising Mr. Brasseaux also opened the first service station in St. Francisville. It was located at the upper corner of Royal and Ferdinand Streets in the store/residence of his father-in-law Henry Temple, who had come over from Germany in the mid-19th century. After Russell served in the armed forces and married vivacious Betty Sue Kendrick upon her college graduation in 1951, he assumed management of the business his grandfather had begun, now known as Russell Daniel Oil Company, providing accommodating service to the farmers and other residents of West Feliciana Parish for more than a century.

The oil company and service station across US Highway 61 from it have a long list of loyal customers, as do other long-established businesses located in historic downtown St. Francisville, listed as an extensive Historic District on the National Register. These join more recently established businesses in sponsoring an event called Polos and Pearls, highlight of August in St. Francisville, designed to add some sizzle to summer shopping and entice customers downtown the evening of August 23, beginning at 5 p.m. All the interesting little shops and galleries offer lots of extras---refreshments, music or other entertainment, and plenty of bargains, making shopping after dark just plain fun.

Russell and Betty
 Betty Sue Kendrick Daniel clowns around with a friend.
As the advent of autumn brings cooler temperatures, St. Francisville offers plenty of special events. The Hummingbird Festival on September 13 provides the opportunity to observe these amazing little birds up close as professional wildlife biologists band and weigh them before releasing them to continue their fall migration patterns.

October is crowded with events every weekend. The Angola Prison Rodeo draws some 10,000 eager spectators every Sunday in October, and the Myrtles Halloween Experience scares the pants off visitors every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and October 31 from 6 to 9 in a historic plantation house calling itself the most haunted in America. October 10 and 11 marks the 26th annual Southern Garden Symposium, a series of entertainments, workshops, tours, demonstrations and lectures by prestigious speakers in this the land of glorious antebellum gardens. The last weekend of October, the Yellow Leaf Arts Festival is a gathering of dozens of artists and crafts persons demonstrating and selling their wares in downtown Parker Park.

November 15 the Louisiana Vets Fest in the West Feliciana Parish Sports Park supports and celebrates veterans of all wars with children’s activities, military displays, hotly contested cook-off contests providing plenty of good food, and exciting live music including Marcia Ball and Jimmie Vaughn. And December brings the well-established and well-loved small-town holiday celebration called Christmas in the Country, with shop open houses, strolling musicians, lively parade, and a Sunday afternoon house tour benefitting the new parish library.

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 restored plantation homes are open for tours daily: 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 fascinating living-history demonstrations some weekends 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 recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty shops, many in restored historic structures, and restaurants 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 historic district; there are also motel accommodations for bus groups.

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

Thursday, June 19, 2014

ST. FRANCISVILLE IS FOR THE BIRDS
By Anne Butler
woodpecker oakley house
Pileated-woodpecker at Audubon SHS
photo by ptWalsh
Calling St. Francisville “for the birds” is hardly derogatory. In St. Francisville, it’s ALL about the birds, and it always has been, even since artist-naturalist John James Audubon arrived in the summer of 1821 and was spellbound by the lush landscape and richness of the birdlife. He painted several dozen of his famous bird studies right in the St. Francisville area, and left such an indelible stamp on the area that everywhere you look, there’s some tribute to the artist: the wonderful new Audubon Library, shiny cable-stayed Audubon Bridge over the Mississippi River, cozy little Audubon Café, even the ever-popular Audubon Liquor Store.
 In fact, the first tour of historic homes, as announced in the April 22, 1934, issue of the Times-Picayune, was a Bird Fete planned by the women of West Feliciana to honor Audubon and his wife at Greenwood, home of the Frank Percys, with a presentation of scenes from his life, plus historic homes open “for inspection,” and a colonial ball. Noted historian and author Stanley C. Arthur of New Orleans was master of ceremonies, and Audubon relics, including portraits, prints and letters, were on exhibit at the local library, sponsored by the Drama-Library League. Its successor, the Audubon Pilgrimage, began in 1972 and for four decades has attracted visitors to St. Francisville to revel in the history.
The gifted writer Danny Heitman wrote a small gem of a book entitled A Summer of Birds cataloging Audubon’s time at Oakley Plantation near St. Francisville, and some of the area’s most popular special events have been birding-oriented. The Audubon Birdfest, a wonderful weekend of birding tours through the woodlands guided by experts, was put on hold after an expensive television camera went overboard with its operator while canoeing in the Cat Island Swamp, but the Hummingbird Festival continues to be popular.
music
Music at the Birdman
photo by ptWalsh
Especially appropriate in this area that harbors such a huge population of both resident and migratory birdlife, the event is sponsored yearly by the Feliciana Nature Society and highlights the unique hummingbird feeding and breeding habitat that entices ruby-throats to linger awhile in the months between late March and early September as they migrate between South/Central America and Canada. Hummingbird Festival weekend usually begins on Friday evening with an expert speaker and a wine and cheese reception in the spectacular 27-acre gardens of Rosedown State Historic Site.
On Saturday morning the festival continues at two private gardens, where vendors offer hummingbird-attractive plants and where hummingbird biologists Linda Beall and Nancy Newfield capture and band birds, giving visitors the rare opportunity to observe the tiny creatures up close as they are being weighed and measured. The banding sites are the homes of Carlisle Rogillio on Tunica Trace and artist Murrell Butler on Oak Hill Road, both of which usually attract dozens of hummingbirds.
The Hummingbird Festival has traditionally been held in July, but recent years have attracted fewer and fewer birds, so this year’s festival has been moved to the weekend of September 12 and 13, when there should be an abundance of migratory hummers on their way south for the winter. Hopefully the local weather will be more comfortable for festival attendees as well as the little birds.
And so St. Francisville’s Summer of Birds becomes its Summer of Arts, for after all Audubon’s Summer of Birds was all about art as well. The local umbrella arts agency, Arts For All, is hosting three July activities at Birdman Books & Coffee that promise to be creatively stimulating even in the sizzling summer heat. The fourth annual Songbird Music School, for ages 18 and up, on July 12 and 13, is a full weekend of classes in banjo, mandolin, guitar, voice, fiddle and dobro, providing small instructional classes as well as opportunities to play acoustic music together. Intended for beginners through seasoned performers, the instructional and collaborative workshops are designed to help musicians sharpen their skills or perhaps learn an entirely new instrument. Saturday sessions are geared to each participant’s skill level, leading to Sunday afternoon’s performance. For information on instructors, programs and registration, see http://songbird.felicianalocal.com.  A Young Songbirds Music Camp for ages 10 to 18 follows July 14 to 18 at Birdman in the afternoons.
Walter Waters
Painting by Walter Waters
Also sponsored by Arts For All, beginning at 10 a.m. on July 19 in Parker Park, watercolor master and plein air painter Wyatt Waters will unfold his handmade wooden easel and work for a couple of hours on location right there in the center of historic downtown St. Francisville, giving observers an understanding of why he was the recipient of a Mississippi Governor’s Award for his body of work. This is free and open to the public. In the evening, he displays yet another talent, joining his artist-musician friend Lee Barber in concert at Birdman at 7 p.m., joined by percussionist Bruce Golden; there is a cover charge.
So visitors will just have to wait until September for the Hummingbird Festival, but in July there’s music and art at the quirky local venue known as the Birdman; how fitting is that!
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 restored plantation homes are open for tours daily: Cottage Plantation, Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season, and spring is definitely the season for spectacular bloom. 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 fascinating living-history demonstrations some weekends to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).
Hummingbird by ptWalsh
Hummingbird on Flower
photo by ptWalsh
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty shops, many in restored historic structures, and restaurants 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 historic district; there are also motel accommodations for bus groups.
For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society’s museum and tourist information center at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224 or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).