Thursday, November 20, 2014

Heralds the Holiday Season

St. Francisville’s Christmas in the Country Heralds the Holiday Season
By Anne Butler

Santa brought St. Francisville, LA, an early Christmas gift with its inclusion on a prestigious popularity list for regional travelers, and the little rivertown will proudly show off its assets as it welcomes visitors to Christmas in the Country December 5, 6 and 7th.
fodor'sFodor’s, world’s largest publisher of travel information in English both in print and online, named St. Francisville to its list of Top Twenty Day-trip Destinations, recommending it as a sidetrip from New Orleans because of its cluster of plantation tours, walkable historic district of National Register 18th and early 19th-century structures, good shopping and historic churches. With its variety of fine Bed & Breakfasts, Fodor’s noted that the town was just as popular for overnight stays, and its Anglo background provided memorable contrast with its French/Creole/Cajun Louisiana neighbors.
So this year’s Christmas in the Country, the little town’s annual celebration of the season, pulls out all the stops, supplementing the ever-popular parade, spectacular seasonal decorations, live nativities and superlative shopping, with everything from cherubic children’s choirs and a grand symphonic brass concert to a gaggle of Elvis impersonators.

local shopsLong the center of commerce for the surrounding plantation country, wide-eyed 19th-century children pressed cold noses against frosted storefront windows and dreamed of china dolls or wooden rocking horses. The dry-goods emporiums in the early days carried everything from farm implements and buggies to ladies’ fashions and gents’ furnishings, and today the little boutique shops in many of these same historic buildings lining the commercial district continue to offer a surprising selection of fine wares.

St. Francisville never looks lovelier than when wearing its holiday finery, tiny white lights decking every Victorian flourish and gallery post to turn the entire town into a veritable winter wonderland. Today’s merchants take pleasure and pride in hosting a Christmas celebration that draws celebrants of the season to a safe, family-oriented weekend of fun festivities and fabulous downtown shopping called Christmas in the Country, always the first full weekend of December, this year December 5, 6, 7.

Fireworks - Tree lighting
St. Nick arrives to kick off the Lighting Ceremony of the Town Christmas Tree beginning at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5, followed by a public reception at Town Hall hosted by jovial longtime St. Francisville Mayor Billy D'Aquilla and featuring fireworks and a performance by the First Baptist Church Children’s Choir. At 7 p.m., the Baton Rouge Symphony presents its annual Christmas Brass concert and dessert reception at Hemingbough.

Saturday, Dec. 6, begins with a 7:30 a.m. Community Prayer Breakfast at United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall just off Royal St., followed by Breakfast with St. Nick for children at Jackson Hall next to Grace Church at 8 and 9:30 a.m., sponsored by the Women’s Service League (reservations recommended; $8 tickets may be purchased online at www.womensserviceleague.com ). The Women’s Service League also sells fresh wreaths all weekend on Ferdinand St., with proceeds benefiting local civic and charitable activities.

Booths at Parker ParkFrom 10 to 4 Saturday and Sunday there will be music, crafts and food vendors in oak-shaded Parker Park, and from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. the Talented Art Walk features displays of student artwork at local shops, with purchase proceeds supporting the arts programs in local schools. There will also be entertainment in various locations throughout the downtown historic district, featuring choirs, dancers, musicians, and other performers, as well as children’s activities. At 2 p.m. Saturday a book signing at the West Feliciana Historical Society museum-headquarters will introduce for the very first time a long-awaited book of some 250 vintage images of the St. Francisville area.

Singing along main street


The angelic voices of the Bains Elementary 2nd Grade Choir are raised at the West Feliciana Historical Society Museum on Ferdinand St. at 10 a.m., while the West Feliciana High School Performance Choir sings at the United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, followed from 11 to 11:45 by the school’s Advanced and Performance Choirs. The front porch of Town Hall is gospel headquarters, while the Angola Inmate Traveling Band from Louisiana State Penitentiary performs across from Garden Symposium Park from noon to 4.

An afternoon Friends of the Library Tour of Homes from noon to 5 p.m. benefits the wonderful new parish library and features four diverse homes, jazz brunch at The Bluffs and boutique shopping. From 6 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, the United Methodist Church on Royal St. hosts a Community Sing-a-long, and from 6 to 8 p.m., St. Francisville First Baptist Church sponsors its very popular Live Nativity, reminding of the reason for the season. Also from 6 to 8 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday, visitors can “Peep into our Holiday Homes,” peering through handblown windowpanes and lace curtains into participating homes all decorated for the holidays in St. Francisville’s downtown National Register Historic District.

White lightsIn addition, Saturday evening from 5:30 to 8:30, visitors are welcomed for candlelight tours, period music, dancing and hot wassail at Oakley Plantation, Audubon State Historic Site on LA Hwy. 965, where artist-naturalist John James Audubon tutored the daughter of plantation owners and painted many of his famous bird studies in the early 1820s. During the day from 10 to 4, the historic site is decked out in seasonal finery as it observes its annual Christmas holiday festival, this year adding a 150th-anniversary re-enactment of the nearby Battle of Alexander’s Creek in 1864 for “A Civil War Christmas” on December 6 and 7. West Feliciana’s other state historic site, Rosedown Plantation, celebrates the season with appropriate 19th-century decorations as well, and the exterior galleries and antique-filled interior rooms are resplendent with garlands of fresh greenery from the surrounding woodlands, colorful berries and fresh fruit, as was the custom.

Parade angola horse wagonSaturday’s highlight has traditionally been the colorful 2 p.m. Christmas parade sponsored by the Women’s Service League, but this year’s parade has had to be moved to Sunday afternoon due to election run-offs (some polling places would have been blocked). Participants include everyone from local dignitaries to Angola’s enormous Percheron work horses, their sleigh bells jingling and their burnished coats gleaming. Dozens of gaily decorated parade floats vie for coveted prizes, accompanied by cheerleaders, bands, bagpipes, vintage cars, marching ROTC units and dancers. The parade, with this year’s theme of “Be There With Bells On,” lines up on Royal St. and traverses Ferdinand and Commerce Streets, so don’t plan on driving through downtown St. Francisville mid-afternoon.

Parade floatAnd the fun continues on Sunday night for those who might have a blue-blue-blue Christmas without Elvis. “An Ultimate Christmas with Greatest Elvis Tributes” features Elvis impersonators Cody Ray Slaughter, Jay Dupuis, the EAS Band and special guest Jeff Lewis at Hemingbough beginning at 6 p.m.; for tickets go to Grandmother’s Buttons or online www.hrhpromotions.com, $30 in advance, $35 at the door.

The enthusiastic sponsors of Christmas in the Country are the downtown merchants, and the real focus of the weekend remains St. Francisville’s marvelous shops, which go all out, hosting Open Houses with refreshments and entertainment for shoppers while offering spectacular seasonal decorations, great gift items, and extended hours. A variety of quaint little shops occupy historic structures throughout the downtown area and spread into the outlying district, each unique in its own way; visitors should not miss a single one.

Shanty Too GiftsFrom the rich Victoriana of The Shanty Too, for thirty years the anchor of the downtown business community complete with old-time candy shoppe, to the jewelry beautifully crafted from vintage buttons at nationally known Grandmother's Buttons, and the incredibly extensive selections of carefully chosen gift and decorative items at Hillcrest Gardens and Sage Hill Gifts, downtown St. Francisville is filled with fine shopping opportunities. Artists Herschel Harrington and Joe Savell (Backwoods Gallery) have studios displaying their own works, while St. Francis Art & Antiques Gallery and Bohemianville Antiques feature vintage collectibles and furnishings. Femme Fatale specializes in fine fashions; Trends Salon & Boutique and Ma Milles Gifts also have stylish clothing, game-day gear and jewelry. Temple Design has signature gift items with a local flair, and Benchmark Interiors has delightful selections to complement any decor.

St. Francisville Inn’s Wine Parlor has gift bottles of fine wines, and Birdman Books & Coffee has an eclectic selection of books. Ins-N-Outs carries live seasonal plants to complement any decorating scheme; Mia Sophia Florist features floral arrangements, wreaths and plants as well as decorative items. The tourist information center/museum in the West Feliciana Historical Society headquarters on Ferdinand St. has a great selection of books, notecards and prints, plus free maps showing locations of all of the other retail outlets, local plantations, restaurants and accommodations.

Dancing and SantasOn the outskirts of town, intrepid shoppers won't want to miss the exquisite custom-designed creations at Patrick’s Fine Jewelry in its exciting new location on US 61, the fleur-de-lis decorative pieces in the expanded Elliott’s Pharmacy in Spring Creek Shopping Center, as well as Border Imports with huge selections of Mexican pottery, eyecatching ironwork and concrete statuary on US 61 north. Most of the plantations around St. Francisville have gift shops, and a visit to those would permit enjoyment of spectacular seasonal decorations as well. Restaurants, B&Bs, even fitness centers in the area offer gift certificates to extend the giving throughout the year, providing Christmas in the Country visitors an extended opportunity to relish the charms of this little Top Twenty Day-Trip Destination.

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 daily: 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).

Mainstreet during Christmas in the CountryThe 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, September 23, 2014

Farewell to St. Francisville’s True Democrat and Welcome to The Advocate

Farewell to St. Francisville’s True Democrat and Welcome to The Advocate

By Anne Butler

Building DemocratChange, of course, is inevitable, and the balance between progress and preservation is a delicate one. A few years back, St. Francisville residents said farewell to the ferry system that had transported generations across the Mississippi River, their reluctance assuaged in part by the beautiful new cable-stayed bridge that was certainly more reliable.

Now, the little town says good-bye to its local newspaper, The Democrat, which has preserved in print the comings and goings, the happenings and heartaches of this little town in an up-close and personal way that may be difficult to match by the big newspaper conglomerate that has absorbed a number of small regional publications. Certainly new resources will provide opportunities unheard of in the tiny two-man office of The Democrat, but lost may be an intimacy of connection that will be hard to replace.

And the history! When The True Democrat first “unfurled its flag to the journalistic breeze” on February 3, 1892, in St. Francisville, it proclaimed purity as its emblem and truth and honesty as its lofty motto. It promised to labor for the advancement of the people, politically, socially and financially, to promote agricultural diversity, to encourage manufacturing and to liberally support education. But really, this early newspaper was begun to “make war on a great gambling monopoly,” the controversial Louisiana Lottery.

True Democrat
The True Democrat was not the little river town’s first paper. As early as 1811 James Bradford, son of a pioneer Kentucky printer and first official territorial printer in New Orleans, had established the Time Piece in St. Francisville, the first newspaper in the Florida Parishes which had only recently joined the territory of Orleans. This was less than two decades after the first newspaper in Louisiana was begun in New Orleans, prior to which news and official proclamations were spread only by the town crier and the posting of handwritten broadsides.

The True Democrat outlasted the lottery problem. When it published an ambitious 30-page Silver Anniversary Edition upon the occasion of completing its first 25 years in print, a hefty publication that it advised readers would require a whole two cents of postage to mail, the editor couldn’t help bragging that from the first 1892 issue “despite death, quarantine, fire and flood,” The True Democrat never missed an issue.
Its first edition, like all newspapers of the time, was a four-page six-column sheet covered in just three sizes of type, with advertisements limited to a single column and just a few lines; before the mid-1800s, advertising was by broadsides, handbills and posters for the most part. Three lawyers, three doctors and two dentists “had their cards” in that first issue as advertisement, some of whom were still engaged in practice at the time of the Silver Edition, and the “Personal But Polite” column shared juicy tidbits of local gossip.

Interspersed throughout the anniversary edition’s articles were enthusiastic exhortations and encouragements: “Quit existing elsewhere; come to West Feliciana and live!” and “The spirit of progress is abroad in West Feliciana.” There was even a little piece entitled “A Second Heaven,” in which Saint Peter is showing a newcomer around heaven, with streets of gold, singing birds and beautiful flowers; asked about the disconsolate group of men over in a corner tied together, St. Peter explains that those were West Felicianians, who had to be kept tied up or otherwise they’d go right back home.

The editor of the True Democrat, in her 25th-anniversary look backward, proclaimed that it must have been “the rashness of extreme ignorance concerning the cost, risks and demands of publishing a newspaper” that led her to begin publication with her first husband, W.W. Leake, Jr., using “a three-fourths worn-out Washington hand-press and meagerly equipped print shop” and campaigning against the lottery at a time when most other publications in the state supported it. With little start-up capital, the True Democrat was begun with subscriptions ranging from five to ten dollars, “and a few of those, be it whispered, were never paid.” The editor’s husband supported the paper with proceeds from his insurance business; the first year, there was no net profit at all.

Old Printing PressWhen the Louisiana Lottery was defeated, primarily due to a US Supreme Court decision denying it use of the mails, the True Democrat vowed it would “never be at a loss for good causes to foster, new ideals to implant, fresh enterprises to support for the good of the people among whom we live.” And when Mr. Leake died in 1901, his widow struggled to continue alone as a hardworking country editor, often in ill health and “with one baby at the breast, another’s tiny hands on my skirts, a son too young to be of material assistance, and the accumulation of debts incurred in extensive farming operations untimely cut off before possibility of reaching results.” The community reached out to support her, paying bills, renewing subscriptions, paying in advance, providing printing work. And when in 1908 a fire wiped out the little print shop, a new beginning was made yet again.

As the widowed Mrs. Leake began to rebuild her business, a new printer was called for. One she hired turned out to be a disreputable drunk, another so nervous he could not touch the standing type without knocking it over. But in 1906 she made the fortunate acquaintance of one Elrie Robinson, Texan who knew the printing business inside and out. The outcome was happy, not only for the True Democrat but for the widow Leake, soon to become Mrs. Elrie Robinson. The paper flourished and in 1917 referred to West Feliciana, its 246,400 acres containing lands along the river “richer than the Valley of the Nile,” as “the portion of the State of Louisiana which burst upon the delighted vision of the sick and travel-worn Spaniards after their wanderings through the swamps and wilds of the Mississippi and Red Rivers, which in their joy they called ‘Feliciana.’”

The 1917 Silver Anniversary Edition of the True Democrat burst with pride at the accomplishments of the area, with histories of the West Florida Rebellion, Bayou Sara and St. Francisville, the West Feliciana Railroad, the Bank of Commerce and the Meyer Hotel (clean accommodations described as “homey without being unduly familiar”), the Odd Fellows Lodge and other club groups, the historic churches (some like Grace Episcopal already nearly a century old) , agricultural and educational advancements, prize flower gardens, notable plantations, and Audubon’s associations with the parish. There were tributes to leading citizens, many of whose names continue in the parish to this day.

While the bulk of early parish residents claimed Anglo antecedents, of the 1917 population of 13,449 there were interesting injections of other influences, like Peter Trocchiano with his swirling Salvador Dali-esque mustache, described as a live-wire Sicilian married to convent-educated Miss Salvatora Vinci; he began as a fruit peddler before branching out to establish a fine shoe store and manage the movie theater “where some of the most celebrated reels are seen.”

Newspaper True Democrat
The Jewish community was not neglected, with articles describing the contributions of citizens like Daniel Mann, Max Dampf, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Stern, and Julius Freyhan who funded the fine brick school bearing his name. The Temple Sinai was called one of St. Francisville’s “most attractive places of worship,” completed in 1903 to house a congregation described as “charitable to the needy and kindly towards all without regard to creed.” Nearly a full page was devoted to M&E Wolf, as 1917 marked the golden anniversary of what the paper called “West Feliciana’s greatest enterprise,” beginning as a little country store opened in 1867 by Julius Freyhan in the “dark days of reconstruction,” and growing to become principal source of supply for a dozen Louisiana parishes and Mississippi counties, selling up to a million dollars’ worth of goods and handling up to 14,000 bales of cotton in a year.

The 1917 edition’s advertisements shed as much light upon the life of the times as do the articles; Chas. Weydert offering a line of hardware and machinery at “live and let-live prices,” Max Dampf General Merchandise with “dry goods, staple and fancy groceries,” J.R. Matthews Real Estate Agency offering good farms and plantations while boasting that “this far south is the only section of the US today where good land can be bought cheap,” Parker Stock Farm described as an old-time cotton plantation now devoted to the livestock industry as breeders of Hereford cattle and Duroc Jersey hogs, the Bank of Commerce which had opened with just 30 depositors and $5,185.06, W.R. Daniel purchaser of sweet and Irish potatoes and all kinds of produce, L&S Stern’s “dry goods, notions and gents’ furnishings,” F.S. Percy of Plettenberg buyers of hogs or sheep or cattle in any quantity, Max Mann advertising wines, liquors and cigars, Abe Stern’s livery with “horses and mules always on hand,” and George Rettig’s “Best Eats.”

Mrs. Mae Leake Robinson’s son James M. would succeed his mother as editor of the newspaper until his death, and as he was also the fire chief, the pages of the paper during his tenure were often filled with hair-raising details of local conflagrations. For more than a century after its humble origins, the St. Francisville Democrat remained in publication, extolling the virtues of the parish and its residents, written in the same little structure built right smack in the middle of Johnson Street around 1908 as the first building constructed of brick made by the Bayou Sara Brick Company.

Hopefully the new limited version of news coverage in St. Francisville will include detailed notices of the beloved special events that draw visitors to the town, like the Hemingbough Blues Festival 12:30 to 6:30 on Sunday, November 2, bringing world-class blues artists like Luther Kent, Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone, Gregg Wright, Christ LeBlanc, Eden Brent and the Delta Drifters (for information, find Facebook page for Baton Rouge Blues Society).
Another exciting music festival follows on November 15th, the Louisiana Vets Fest in the West Feliciana Parish Sports Park from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. (http://lavetsfest.org). This is an outdoor festival that supports and celebrates veterans of all wars with fun children’s activities, medical screenings, military displays, and hotly contested cook-off contests providing plenty of good food like barbecue chicken, jambalaya and gumbo.

This year’s LA Vets-Fest has a really exciting line-up of musical entertainment, including the Angola inmate band and that little bitty local dynamo named Julie DeJean. Headlining the program are the Marcia Ball Band from 2:15 to 3:30 p.m. and Jimmie Vaughan and the Tilt-a-Whirl Band featuring Lou Ann Barton from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Iconic blues singer-pianist Marcia Ball for three decades has repeatedly won various music awards and been nominated for Grammys five times, has been inducted into the Louisiana and Gulf Coast Music Halls of Fame, and has performed in films and on radio and television. USA Today’s music critic calls her a sensational saucy singer and superb pianist. With a huge following of fans around the world, this enormously popular musician and songwriter is said to know how to “raise roofs and tear down walls with her infectious, intelligent and deeply emotional brand of southern boogie, rollicking roadhouse blues, and heartfelt ballads. Her exquisite piano playing and passionate, playful vocals fuse New Orleans and Gulf Coast R&B with Austin’s deep songwriting tradition into a sound described as a little rock, a lot of roll, a pinch of rhythm and a handful of blues.”

Presses at the True DemocratFollowing Ball’s set, living legend Jimmie Vaughan, one of the popular music world’s greatest guitarists, takes the stage with the Tilt-A-Whirl Band featuring Lou Ann Barton of Austin, Texas, who is called one of the finest purveyors of raw, unadulterated roadhouse blues you’ll ever hear. Vaughan, older brother of blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan who was killed in a helicopter crash in 1990, formed The Fabulous Thunderbirds and performed with the likes of B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan. Known for his retro cool, slicked-back hair, sharp vintage threads and classic car collection, Vaughan is credited with sparking the modern blues revival with his clean and uncluttered guitar style, utilizing raw emotion to convey the message within what is called modern roots music, linking contemporary music with its proud heritage.

December in St. Francisville brings the well-established and well-loved small-town holiday celebration called Christmas in the Country, with shop open houses, strolling musicians, lively parade (this year on Sunday rather than the customary Saturday afternoon due to election run-offs requiring that polling places not be blocked), and an 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 (Chinese, Mexican, most recently Lebanese) 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 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, including the Farmers Market on Thursday mornings).

October in St. Francisville Brings Out Colorful Leaves…and Colorful Characters

October in St. Francisville Brings Out Colorful Leaves…and Colorful Characters
By Anne Butler
Dancing ManHollywood veteran and ageless beauty Andie MacDowell was recently quoted as saying Southern people are crazy and she’s thankful for having grown up as part of that, recognizing the richness a little local color and a lot of local characters can add to life. If ever there were a living breathing example of that, it’s little St. Francisville, Louisiana, where eccentricity is not just tolerated but enthusiastically embraced.

From the late lamented town jailer who covered his bald pate with everything from Elvis pompadours to orange poodle-curl wigs, to the overgrown child who saddled up his three-wheel bicycle and patrolled the streets handing out speeding tickets to unsuspecting tourists, from the hard-drinking pistol-packing mama who wore a pirate’s eyepatch and drove a herd of her own cattle to LSU during the Depression to pay her tuition, to the savant who picks up trash along the roadways while reading Charles Dickens, and the mysterious Orthodox priest stalking the streets in long flowing black robes, St. Francisville has certainly harbored its share of colorful and well-loved characters.

So it’s appropriate that the town’s celebrations of life, its festivals, are just as colorful. And in October, they run the gamut from ghosts to garden-club ladies sipping tea, from fearless inmate roughriders to artists and crafters under the ancient live oaks of the town park. And every one of these diverse celebrations adds to the richness of life in this southern small town. Says Andie McDowell, “People say reading Faulkner is hard because he’s all over the place, but for me it’s easy—I’m right there with him.” And you can be, too.
Angola Rodeo
October is crowded with events allowing visitors to sample first-hand St. Francisville’s beloved quirkiness.  This being the season of witches and goblins, 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 (for tickets, telephone 800-809-0565). Indeed, when the attached gift shop caught fire not long ago, the ghosts were said to have saved the 1790s main house (the local firefighters just might’ve helped, too).

For a taste of authentic historic funeral customs, nearby Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site is dressed in mourning garb October 27 through November 3. On October 31 at 4 p.m. the costumed staff of this National Historic Landmark relates Soul Stories of Rosedown family members’ lives and deaths.

The BandEvery Sunday in October, the Angola Prison Rodeo draws more than 10,000 eager spectators to witness death-defying bravado in events like bareback bronc or bull riding, wild cow milking, wild horse race, buddy pick-up, bulldogging, inmate poker (last one seated wins, the other players having been hooked sky-high by charging brahma bulls), Bust Out (six bulls released at once) and the crowd-pleasing Guts and Glory when inmates on foot try to snatch a $100 chit from a bull’s horns. “The Wildest Show in the South, ” which keeps the audience on the edge of their seats from the moment the black-clad Angola Rough Riders charge into the arena at break-neck speed, also features prisoner hobbycraft sales, tons of food, and inmate bands. Other than the ladies’ barrel racing, all rodeo participants are inmates in this enormous maximum-security prison. Grounds open at 9 for the arts and crafts, and the fascinating state museum at the entrance gate will also be open. The rodeo starts at 2, and advance tickets are a must (www.angolarodeo.com provides information and spells out regulations which must be observed on prison property).
Vets FestSomewhat more sedate activities are offered October 10 and 11th at 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. Workshop topics this year include floral design, container gardening, edible garnishes, plant structures, gardening for birds and bees, heirloom bulbs and period architecture, and landscape design over the years (www.southerngardensymposium.org).

The last weekend of October, the 25th and 26th, the Yellow Leaf Arts Festival is a gathering of dozens of artists and crafters demonstrating and selling their wares in downtown oak-shaded Parker Park. This 12th annual event sponsored by the umbrella arts organization called Arts For All to celebrate all arts for all persons, Yellow Leaf 2014 brings together more than 55 artists, plus live music, fun children’s activities, and food including locally grown sweet potatoes. New this year is a Native Bird Photography Contest, and just down Burnett Road from Yellow Leaf on Saturday, the Friends of the Library hold a book sale at the wonderful new parish library.

FestivalsArts For All calls the Yellow Leaf Festival a celebration of the “friendly, relaxed, authentic, small-town quaintness that is St. Francisville” (for information, www.artsforall.felicianalocal.com).

For this and every other October event, the town welcomes visitors to revel in its pervasive local color and meet its local characters to understand just what actress Andie McDowell was talking about, that wonderful richness of life in a small southern town.

And the events just keep rolling along through fall into winter. 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 (http://lavetsfest.org). 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 (this year on Sunday rather than the customary Saturday afternoon due to election run-offs requiring that polling places not be blocked), and an afternoon house tour benefitting the new parish library.

TentLocated 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 (Chinese, Mexican, most recently Lebanese) 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 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, including the Farmers Market on Thursday mornings).