Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Take a Shopping Staycation to St. Francisville, LA

Take a Shopping Staycation to St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler

cartVisitors often marvel at how such a little town as St. Francisville can offer such diversity. Want something to eat? There’s Chinese, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Southern, you name it, all of it good. Want to spend the night? There are Bed & Breakfasts, modern motels, golf resorts, historic, contemporary, in town, in the country, on a lake. Want recreation? Hiking the hills, biking the rural lanes, birding in the wooded areas or even in the middle of tree-shaded downtown, kayaking in Bayou Sara.

And shopping? An enticing variety of little shops with unique wares offer something for everyone, from upscale jewelry sold around the world to one-of-a-kind items provided with warm personal service. This sure isn’t Wal-Mart, Toto, although there are a couple of Dollar Stores and a well-stocked Fred’s.

In the 19th century, St. Francisville atop the bluffs was the center of culture while Bayou Sara, perched on the banks of the Mississippi River below the bluffs, was the center of commerce, with steamboats unloading treasures from around the world. But after years of overflow flooding, most of that port city was washed away, though some structures and businesses relocated up the hill into St. Francisville. Today there are still some of these same structures and businesses, but they have been joined by a whole host of others, providing a new fresh outlook and plenty of up-to-date shopping opportunities.

Grandmothers Buttons, in the turn-of-the-century red brick bank building, has beautifully designed jewelry utilizing vintage buttons and imported glass or crystal in an affordable price range, as well as an eclectic selection of many other items; there’s also a fascinating museum of antique buttons in the former bank vault. Patrick’s Fine Jewelry (Live Oak Centre) has classic custom pieces as well as estate jewels.

Two art studio/galleries showcase the works of local artists and host periodic shows: Harrington Gallery and Backwoods Gallery, with originals, prints and framing. Temple Design has totebags, tshirts, hats, beach towels and lots of other pieces with local insignia.

home goodsThere are several antiques co-ops with multiple dealers exhibiting vintage collectibles as well as fine antiques: Bohemianville Antiques, St. Francis Art and Antiques, and the new St. Francisville Antique Mall.

Gift shops include The Shanty Too, longtime downtown anchor store with linen clothing, baby presents and an old-time candy shoppe; Hillcrest Gardens and Interiors with something for every age and every taste; Sage Hill Gifts with a wonderful selection of carefully chosen decorative items.

Elliot’s Pharmacy (Live Oak Centre) also has a large gift section, and next door is Mia Sophia Florist, which augments beautiful fresh flowers and plants with children’s clothing and the world’s best fudge. Ins-N-Outs Nursery has hanging and bedding plants for flowerbeds and vegetable gardens, while Border Imports on US Highway 61 North has a huge variety of Mexican import pottery and cast aluminum pieces for indoors and out, ranging from small colorful Talavera pieces to lifesize animal reproductions, garden statuary and seating.

Ladies’ clothing shops offering the latest fashions and stylish accessories include Ma Mille which often has special markdowns, Femme Fatale Boutique, Beehive Boutique, and Trends. Sharing space with Beehive is Mud-Pie Soaps.

booksThe Conundrum Books and Puzzles is a quirkly little indie bookstore with a well-curated collection of reading material and puzzles for children and adults, and the West Feliciana Historical Society also has a nice gift shop with lots of regional books as well as cards and children’s things. Heirloom Quilt Shoppe has patterns and select fabrics for sewing projects and offers periodic instruction as well.

And then there are the little pop-up periodic shopping opportunities. On Thursdays and Fridays the Farmers’ Market has not only fresh produce but also designer Anna Maceda’s beautiful Bon Savon Soaps, plus honey and jellies and baked goods. On days when the American Queen steamboat docks at St. Francisville so its passengers can tour the downtown area and patronize the shops, a boutique of arts and crafts (great jewelry and other items) sets up in historic Audubon Market Hall. Rosedown, Oakley and The Myrtles Plantations in the surrounding area also have well-stocked gift shops.

Most of these shops are in St. Francisville’s National Register-listed Historic District downtown within easy walking distance of each other, except for the ones in Live Oak Centre, on US Hwy 61 North, or at the outlying plantations. So stroll the brick streets beneath the overhanging live oaks and colorful crepe myrtles, and this shopping staycation can make visitors who’ve driven short distances feel a million miles away, transported back to a time when shopping trips were eagerly anticipated and lavishly rewarding.

polos and pearl A fun special event called Polos and Pearls extends shopping hours into the cool of the evening on Saturday, August 19, with trolley transportation throughout the downtown area as shops host open houses with refreshments and live music. Participating shops are open until 9 p.m. and visitors should not miss a single one.

And if auctions are your thing, be sure to attend the Wags and Whiskers Gala at Hemingbough on Saturday, July 29, beginning at 6 p.m. This fundraiser for the West Feliciana Animal Shelter promises food, fun, kissing costumed dogs wishing for a home, dancing to the music of the popular Delta Drifters, and a silent auction with tons of great things to bid on. The shelter does a magnificent job and deserves everyone’s support. Tickets may be purchased at the Bank of St. Francisville or online at Brown Paper Tickets.

g bLocated 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 (weekends), 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. The main house at Oakley is temporarily closed for lead abatement, but the visitor center and grounds remain accessible and planned programs continue.

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, and kayaking on Bayou Sara. 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 West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society 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, May 18, 2017

Salutes Dead Sailors and Writers With Plenty of Spirit(s)

St. Francisville Salutes Dead Sailors and Writers With Plenty of Spirit(s)
By Anne Butler

bourbon tastingLiterati leavened with “bourbon strolls” and graveyard dinners under the live oaks…dead bodies sent off with vintage dancing and period tunes…weekly peeks at 19th-century medical practices at home and on the battlefield that most often ended in the cemetery as well, plus those wild and wacky Zouaves, the Civil War’s most colorful troops. The staid and stately live oaks must be in a state of shock, but visitors to St. Francisville in June are promised a heck of a good time.

“Come for the literature. Stay for the feast,” promises the fourth annual Walker Percy Weekend June 2-4 with activities scattered throughout St. Francisville’s picturesque National Register-listed downtown. Called “intellectually serious but broadly accessible,” the weekend is filled with panel discussions and entertaining presentations by Percy scholars, readings, photo exhibit, and eat-drink-be-merry social and culinary events including summer-weight bourbon cocktails and crawfish boiled by those famous Hot Tails chefs.

musicParticipants register Friday, June 2, at The Conundrum Books & Puzzles on Ferdinand St. from 3 to 5:30, then mosey on down to beautiful oak-shaded Grace Episcopal for what is called “Lost in the Churchyard, an elegantly provisioned reception and cocktail party.” Saturday’s presentations include “Walker Percy and the Benedict Option: Confronting the Culture of Death,” “Walker Percy and the Burden of History,” “The Devil Went Down to Georgia: Flannery O’Connor and the Religion of Me, Myself and I,” “Walker Percy’s Blues: Suffering and Self-Discovery in Love in the Ruins,” and “Memoirs of a Mississippi Boy.” Those who survive the presentations may revive themselves from 5:30 to 7:30 on the Progressive Front Porch Tour and Bourbon Tasting, followed by the Crawfish and Craft Beer Celebration with live music and dancing. Added this year is a Bourbon Tasting Tent with premium bourbons to sample.

What, you may ask, does the late acclaimed Covington author Walker Percy have to do with West Feliciana Parish? Plenty, having 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 the St. Francisville area has had a Percy under practically every bush---sheriffs, farmers, cattlemen, even one cattlewoman who famously drove a herd of steers to LSU in Baton Rouge to pay her tuition during the Great Depression---ever since the very first Percy arrived 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.

seminarAnd the progressive bourbon-tastings on front galleries throughout downtown St. Francisville pay tribute to Percy’s memorable essay called “Bourbon, Neat.” 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.
Proceeds 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. For tickets and schedule of events, visit www.walkerpercyweekend.org or email info@walkerpercyweekend.org. Contributions are deductible to this 501 © (3) arts organization.


soldier
by Darrell Chitty
The following weekend, June 9 and 10th, an event is celebrated that a 1937 article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune called “one of the strangest born of the War Between the States, when fighting men could battle to the death and yet know chivalry, when war had not become the cold-blooded butchery of today.” And indeed, the twentieth anniversary celebration of The Day the War Stopped is a Civil War re-enactment like no other, for instead of blazing guns and battles, this is a tribute to the universality of the Masonic brotherhood that could take precedence over anything happening in the outside world.

In June of 1863, as the siege of Port Hudson pitted 30,000 Union troops against 6,800 weary Confederates as they fought over the all-important control of traffic on the Mississippi River, a shot rang out in the captain’s stateroom of the USS Albatross, patrolling off the coast of Bayou Sara/St. Francisville. The vessel’s commander, John Elliot Hart of Schenectady, New York, lay mortally wounded on the floor.

Attempts to find a metallic coffin the ship the body home were unsuccessful, so the ship’s surgeon, a Mason, went ashore in hopes of arranging burial on land; Commander Hart, a Union naval officer, was also a Mason, and in St. Francisville was the second oldest Masonic lodge in the state, its senior warden a Confederate cavalry officer fortuitously at home on furlough.

And so the war was stopped, if only for a brief mournful moment, as Masons in blue and gray joined the Episcopal rector in burial services. Today this rare moment, a compassionate ceasefire in the midst of a bloody conflict, has been re-created every year for two decades, with re-enactors in Union and Confederate garb, a few of them actual descendants of original participants and others from Hart’s New York lodge.

war stoppedThis year’s Day the War Stopped also marks the bicentennial of St. Francisville’s Feliciana Lodge #31 F&AM, so on Friday evening, June 9, there will be graveside histories in the hauntingly beautiful cemetery surrounding Grace Episcopal Church where Hart rests in peace, followed by a special historical presentation at the Masonic Lodge just across Ferdinand St. On Saturday, June 10, the lodge serves lunch from 11:30 to 12:30, preceded at 10:30 a.m. by a concert of vintage music at Grace Church’s parish hall and followed by vintage dancing in the same location. A presentation saluting the Masonic Lodge bicentennial takes place 12:30 to 1:30, then a heart-touching little play about Hart’s homelife is followed by the re-enactment of his burial from 1:30 to 2:30. Further celebration of the lodge bicentennial takes place from 6 to 11 p.m. at the Austin Daniel home on Joe Daniel Road in Elm Park, with music by the Delta Drifters, crawfish and barbeque, plus drinks; reservations for the After Party are required, and tickets to this event are $25, but all the other activities are free. For information, see www.daythewarstopped.com online or Facebook The Day The War Stopped.

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 (weekends), 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.

The main house at Oakley is temporarily closed for lead abatement, but the visitor center and grounds remain accessible and planned programs continue, in June with special weekend focus on the plantation apothecary (early medical practices with many medicines coming from the herb garden), Civil War medical practices and surgery, an exploration of historical recreation for Take A Kid Fishing day, and a look at some of the Civil War’s most colorful units, the LA Zouaves. For information, telephone 225-635-3739.

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, and kayaking on Bayou Sara. 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 West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society 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).

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Francisville’s Latest Literary Celebration
By Anne Butler

Miracle worker Missy Couhig, co-owner of The Conundrum Books & Puzzles in St. Francisville, was already deeply involved in two adult book festivals---a relatively staid mid-winter one featuring four published writers presenting their varied works to adoring readers, and a mid-summer downtown progressive Eat-Drink-Be Merry one celebrating the late lamented Louisiana author Walker Percy.

IMG 2313The Conundrum has a wonderful selection of children’s books and puzzles, and frequently hosts visiting authors and illustrators with great appeal for the smallfry. And so, when Missy Couhig happened into an ABA session on children’s book festivals a few months back, she determined to perform a miracle by organizing one in St. Francisville. In an amazingly short period of time she managed to persuade a number of writers and illustrators to participate, ramping up the fun level with sidewalk chalk art competitions, storytelling tent, facepainting, crafts, and plenty of readings. All this takes place May 6 in conjunction with national Children’s Book Week, with activities for youngsters at oak-shaded Parker Park, and for middlers and high schoolers lunch, movie and YA author discussions at the West Feliciana Parish Library, where a special display celebrates the 75th anniversary of Little Golden Books.

Festival theme is “Reading Gives You Wings,” as reflected in the logo designed by Thomas Gresham, its bird-like open books flying the reader into amazing adventures. Books are available for autographs and purchase, but presentations and activities are all free. The inaugural West Feliciana Children’s Book Festival has already gained national recognition as the “Cool Idea of the Day” online at the newsletter called Shelf Awareness: Daily Enlightenment for the Book Trade. This is one of the state’s first festivals designed to appeal strictly to children. Park hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; library activities begin with brown-bag lunch, screening of movie at 12:30 p.m., and presentation by authors following.

FullSizeRenderParticipating children’s picture-book authors who will read and sign books in the park include Mom’s Choice Award winner Leif Pederson of the popular Swamp Kids series: Pierre’s Pirogue Parade, The Missing Chord and A Dog Named Cat. Also reading their books for storytime are authors Steven Spires (The Three Little Shrimp and The Oak Tree) and Todd-Michael St. Pierre (Chicory & Roux: The Creole Mouse and the Cajun Mouse). Tracey Koch and Lauren Hawthorne, author and illustrator of Georges: The Goose From Toulouse Who Only Ate Couscous, will lead an interactive presentation and story time, while illustrator Chuck Galey also interacts in the crafting tent. Demonstrating illustrating will be Mike Artell, author and illustrator of Jacques and De Beanstalk, Three Little Cajun Pigs, and Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood. From 10:30 to noon, famed photographer/author CC Lockwood will sign his book for children, CC Lockwood’s Louisiana Nature Guide.

Young Adult author Shalanda Stanley, whose fiction book Drowning is Inevitable is set in St. Francisville, has degrees in creative writing from Florida State and special ed from UL Monroe; her PhD from LSU is in curriculum and instruction with a focus on reading and literacy education. she will speak on her book and her craft at the library after the screening of the Disney movie “Geek Charming,” based on the book by author Robin Palmer, who will also be present to discuss her work.

An extra added attraction will be the presentation of student-written books on the Galapagos Islands, inspired by the travels of Advanced Placement Human Geography/World Geography instructor Nicole Means, chair of the Social Studies Department at West Feliciana High School. These young authors, Sydney Corbin, Madison Pollet, and Morgan Chism, whose books focus on making a positive impact on our world, will autograph and give away for free some 50 copies of their books.

IMG 3611Complete information is available online at http://www.conundrumbooks.com/west-feliciana-childrens-book-festival, email Missy@Conundrumbooks.com, or telephone 504-427-0421.
On Sunday, May 7, the St. Francisville Symphony Association presents the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra’s St. Francisville Chamber Series “The Tempest,” at 3 p.m. at Hemingbough. Viola/composer Christian Frederickson joins the symphony’s Chamber Players and Of Moving Colors in this world premiere collaboration. Tickets are available at the Bank of St. Francisville (telephone 225-635-6397).

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 (weekends), 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 (the main house at Oakley is closed for lead abatement, but the visitor center and grounds remain accessible and planned programs continue).

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