Saturday, July 25, 2015

St. Francisville’s Beautiful Oak-Shaded Parker Park

St. Francisville’s Beautiful Oak-Shaded Parker Park
By Anne Butler
Parker Park HomeFew of the folks who enjoy community festivals and get-togethers on the landscaped grounds of beautiful Parker Park in historic downtown St. Francisville stop to think of the history of that particular property, but if these oaks could talk!
In 1870 Sara Mulholland Flower sold her 40-arpent property called Magnolia Glen, located right in the heart of town where the well-travelled roads leading from Woodville, Baton Rouge and Bayou Sara converged. The buyer was a young dentist from New York, Dennison Stocking, who had moved to Pointe Coupee as a 22-year-old, served four years in the Confederate army, then moved across the river to St. Francisville. There he set up his dental chair in one room of the old Magnolia Glen house and advertised that he would attend all calls on the coast (meaning the Mississippi River) from New Orleans to Natchez, as well as “the back country when accessible with a buggy.”
St. Francisville InnAs he prospered, his family grew to include a wife and three daughters named Eliska, Eugenie and Mehitable, the latter known as Hetty. In 1876 plans for a suitable estate were drawn, including a handsome grove and circular drive, plus stables in the back and 6 ½ acres labeled as “park.” The enormous Victorian Gothic house he built had a broad front gallery and three steep pointed gables across the front. By the 1880s the Wolf brothers, who took over Julius Freyhan’s huge dry-goods emporium and cotton gin just across the street, would build matching homes of similar style next door, one still standing as the St. Francisville Inn.
Dr. Stocking died in 1887, and the house burned in 1937. Two of the daughters, Eugenie and Mehitable, demolished the old Royal Hotel and used the bricks to erect cottages on the old house site for travelling tourists of the new automobile age, calling it Stocking Court.
During the Depression, Eugenie’s talented daughter Eloise hit the road for Hollywood in a Model-T Ford and used her musical skills to build a successful business empire that included a klieg lighting business and a fancy hostelry patronized by the rich and famous. During World War II she delighted in entertaining the “local” boys stationed in California, showing them a real good time, and she scandalized the local ladies when she made periodic trips back home to St. Francisville in a big pink Cadillac chauffeured by muscle-bound California beachboys, accompanied by a foul-mouthed minah bird.
Gazebo in Parker parkIn the 1990s the widow of her son, James Munroe Parker, graduate of Annapolis and great-grandson of Dr. Dennison Stocking, donated the property to the Town of St. Francisville, and it now contains a veteran’s memorial, Victorian bandstand, paved walkways and well-maintained shaded grounds. Parker Park is the site of the popular fall Yellow Leaf Arts Festival, community market days, movies in the park, and numerous other activities, and advance scheduling of activities must be done through town officials.
The colorful Eloise Parker will be one of the local characters resurrected for a new fundraising event called Night At The Museum the second Saturday in August. This benefits the West Feliciana Historical Society, with costumed presenters entertaining the crowd, plus fine refreshments at the Ferdinand Street headquarters/museum/tourist information center (call 225-635-4224 for details). The museum, in an 1880s hardware store, has fascinating exhibits recently professionally redesigned to show off the society’s extensive collection of artifacts. Proceeds benefit ongoing preservation projects and maintenance on restored historic structures.
And on August 22 the popular annual Polos and Pearls evening event puts the sizzle into summer shopping and entices customers to St. Francisville’s National Register downtown historic district and outskirts beginning at 5 p.m. All the interesting little shops (and there are some wonderful new ones to complement the more established outlets) and galleries offer lots of extras---refreshments provided by local restaurants or caterers, live music or other entertainment, and plenty of bargains, making shopping after dark just plain fun. Visitors can drive or hop on the trolley to visit participating stores throughout the downtown area.
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. 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 Monday and Tuesday).
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).

Monday, June 29, 2015

Come Smooch-A-Pooch in St. Francisville

Come Smooch-A-Pooch in St. Francisville
By Anne Butler
Photos by Darlene Reeves
           Kissing Booth 2015 Gala “All you need is love” say the promotional posters, but you’d better bring your credit cards too, because the popular WAGS AND WHISKERS GALA Saturday, August 1, from 6 to 10 p.m. at Hemingbough just south of St. Francisville, is the major fundraiser for the West Feliciana Animal Humane Society and the “Bo” Bryant Animal Shelter.
It’s also the hottest ticket in town, with live and silent auctions, crazy fun carnival-type activities like the “Fetch and Run” dash to doggie dishes filled with gift cards, Wine Toss, cash bar, fabulous food, live music by the popular Delta Drifters, a smooch-a-pooch kissing booth, photography booth, and appealing shelter animals in colorful costumes longing for a home. Live auction specialty offerings include guided fishing trip, theater tickets, Monteleone Hotel overnight, and sailboat cruises. And oh yeah, as if that were not enough, this year’s special guest is Marine Corporal Jared Heine and the bomb dog Spike who patrolled with him in Afghanistan, then was reunited with him back home thanks to his determined mother’s efforts, a story of love and bravery and recovery.
Cat and TailTickets to the gala are $25 and may be purchased at the Bank of St. Francisville, from shelter volunteers, or online through www.brownpapertickets.com (search Wags and Whiskers). Cut-off capacity is 500 guests, and those interested should purchase their tickets early, because this is one event that is supported by everyone in town. The gala is sponsored by the non-profit West Feliciana Animal Humane Society, whose dedicated and hard-working members coordinate volunteer and donor efforts for the James L. “Bo” Bryant Shelter in St. Francisville, opened in August 2012. Prior to this, the dog pound consisted of a few makeshift pens attached to the parish jail, where the four-legged inmates were pretty much on death row. Only a small percentage, 5% to 10%, were adopted out, mostly thanks to the efforts of a retired state trooper turned sheriff’s deputy, the late “Bo” Bryant; the rest met a sadder fate.
Now the low-kill shelter has a remarkable success rate (into the 90% range, more than 300 animals adopted last year) with reasonable rates for adopting to permanent or foster homes its rescued animals---dogs, cats, even horses---some are homeless strays, some simply lost and able to quickly reunite with owners (58 dogs returned to owners this year), but others have been removed from abusive situations or abandoned because of owner deaths or relocations. This success rate is all thanks to the volunteers who groom, tame, exercise, socialize, medicate, and transport animals in irresistible “Adopt Me” vests to public gatherings and events, as well as to generous local veterinarians who ensure that the animals are vetted, vaccinated and spayed at cut-rate cost.
Welcome DogInmates from the nearby parish work-release facility voluntarily help, and a new grant pays for part-time employment of a couple of older staff members, but with the springtime explosion of kittens and puppies, there’s always a need, especially for more volunteers to augment the core group keeping the shelter open, caring for animals, overseeing adoptions, cleaning and handling the multitude of requisite chores, plus related efforts in grant writing, fundraising, supply purchasing, carpentry, you name it. More foster homes for animals, especially those too young or injured to stay in the shelter, are needed, too, plus more donations of cash and supplies like collars and leashes, pet carriers, cat litter, old towels, pet food; and of course there’s always the need for more families willing to adopt.
Besides its stated mission to provide a safe, healthy, caring environment for animals under shelter care while searching for original owners or approved adoptive homes, the humane society also works to reduce pet animal over-population and has aTNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) program that, thanks to donations and local vets, has neutered or spayed dozens of feral cats.
Located in St. Francisville at 9946 West Feliciana Parkway going toward the sports park, the Bo Bryant Animal Shelter has a large metal shed with spacious kennels and cages, exercise yards, holding pens and corrals, and a nice new separate cat house constructed almost entirely with volunteer labor. The humane society has a wonderful website and Facebook page full of heartwarming images and videos thanks to its creative and talented volunteers.
Close up catThe shelter is open to the public Sunday through Friday 9 to 12, Fridays until 2, and every day 4 to 5:30, but volunteers are there every day of the week, twice a day, providing the medical care, grooming, maintenance and love. Some of the volunteers are children, who provide plenty of loving attention for animals often starved for affection. For shelter or humane society information, telephone 225-299-6787, 225-635-5801, or online http://wfahs.felicianalocal.com.
 Tickets to the gala are available online (www.brownpapertickets.com and search for Wags and Whiskers), or locally from Bank of St. Francisville or shelter volunteers. The West Feliciana Animal Humane Society and the Bo Bryant Animal Shelter are particularly grateful for corporate and individual financial donors (Dare and Belton Didier, Louisiana Scrap Metal Recycling, Joe and Pam Malara, Peggy Lucky and John Rose, Red Stick Armature), as well as those donating auction items; the shelter is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization.
Dog FaceAnother fundraising event, called Night At The Museum, benefits the West Feliciana Historical Society, with costumed presenters entertaining the crowd, plus fine refreshments at the Ferdinand Street headquarters/museum/tourist information center (call 225-635-4224 for details). The museum, in an 1880s hardware store, has fascinating exhibits recently professionally redesigned to show off the society’s extensive collection of artifacts. Proceeds benefit ongoing preservation projects and maintenance on restored historic structures.
And on August 22 the popular annual Polos and Pearls evening event puts the sizzle into summer shopping and entices customers to St. Francisville’s National Register downtown historic district and outskirts beginning at 5 p.m. All the interesting little shops (and there are some wonderful new ones to complement the more established outlets) and galleries offer lots of extras---refreshments provided by local restaurants or caterers, live music or other entertainment, and plenty of bargains, making shopping after dark just plain fun. Visitors can drive or hop on the trolley to visit participating stores throughout the downtown area.
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and
Happy FamilyNatchez, 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. 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).

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Walker Percy Weekend a big ol’ block party in downtown St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler
percy
The inaugural Walker Percy Weekend was so successful last year that they’re holding a second annual one this June 5, 6 and 7 in St. Francisville, LA, with promises of just as much fun---a memorable celebration of 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. 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.

What, you may ask, does the late acclaimed Covington author Walker Percy have to do with West Feliciana Parish? Plenty, as it turns out. He used some iconic sites including the state pen at Angola and the River Bend nuclear plant in his famous works, as well as a somewhat fictionalized version of the whole parish. Not to mention all the family connections, because in the St. Francisville area, from the 19th century on, there has been a Percy under practically every bush---sheriffs, farmers, cattlemen, even one cattlewoman who famously drove a herd of cows to LSU in Baton Rouge to pay her tuition during the Great Depression. Percy family associations with many of the historic plantations are legendary—Afton Villa, Greenwood, Ellerslie, Retreat, Rosale, etc., all the way back to Beech Woods Plantation, where the mistress of the house hired Lucy Audubon to tutor neighborhood children in the 1820s. Several decades earlier, the very first Percy to arrive in West Feliciana, while it was still part of Spanish West Florida, established the family foothold and then drowned himself in a fit of despondency in Percy Creek, foreshadowing the sad propensity toward suicide that seemed to run through the generations of the author’s family as it did in Hemingway’s.

percy posterCalled “intellectually serious but high spirited,” the Walker Percy Weekend features lectures and panel discussions on topics including “Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy: Catholics in the Christ-Haunted South,” “Walker Percy and David Foster Wallace: Losing it at the Movies,” “From Gone With the Wind to Garden & Gun: Walker Percy at the Crossroads of the Old South and the New,” and “Mississippi Woman, Louisiana Man: Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, and the Southern Imagination.”

There’s also a Twilight in the Ruins cocktail party in the spectacular gardens of Afton Villa Plantation, former Percy home that burned in the sixties; guided tours of Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and the River Bend Nuclear Plant, plus self-guided drive-bys to notable Percy family properties; and Craft Beer and Crawfish in oak-shaded Parker Park with live music by Ben Bell and the Stardust Boys.

And in tribute to Percy’s memorable essay called “Bourbon, Neat,” there will again be progressive bourbon-tastings on front galleries throughout St. Francisville’s downtown Historic District. As he explored in his works the search for meaning in an increasingly materialistic society, Percy applauded the application of a few shots of bourbon daily to “warm the heart, to reduce the anomie of the late twentieth century, to cut the cold phlegm of Wednesday afternoons.” What, he wondered, “if a man comes home from work every day at 5:30 to the exurbs…and there is the grass growing and the little family looking not quite at him but just past the side of his head, and there’s Cronkite on the tube and the smell of pot roast in the living room, and inside the house and outside in the pretty exurb has settled the noxious particles and the sadness of the old dying Western world, and him thinking: ‘Jesus, is this it? Listening to Cronkite and the grass growing?’” Hoist the bottle.

Freyhan High SchoolProceeds benefit the Freyhan Foundation’s ongoing efforts to restore as a community cultural center the area’s first public school building, a stately brick structure overlooking the Mississippi River with a grand third-floor auditorium and an outdoor amphitheater down the hill. Nancy Vinci, Freyhan Foundation head, calls the Walker Percy Weekend the group’s biggest fundraiser and appreciates the national exposure the restoration project receives. “Hopefully,” she says, “in a few years we will be having Walker Percy Weekend events in the restored Freyhan building.”

For tickets and schedule of events, visit www.walkerpercyweekend.org or email info@walkerpercyweekend.org. Contributions are deductible to this 501 © (3) arts organization.

day war stoppedJune also brings The Day The War Stopped in St. Francisville, Civil War re-enactment of a moment of civility in the midst of a bloody conflict when Masons in blue and grey joined the Episcopal rector in burying a Union gunboat commander and fellow Mason from New York. Free events are scheduled June 12, 13 and 14th around Grace Episcopal Church and the Masonic Lodge; for information, www.daythewarstopped.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 and are both spectacular. 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).

funeralThe 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).