Thursday, July 14, 2016

St. Francisville’s Got A Cure For Those Summertime Blues

St. Francisville’s Got A Cure For Those Summertime Blues
By Anne Butler
Think there ain’t no cure for those summertime blues? Well, the town of St. Francisville has a new promotional slogan, “We Love It Here,” and that holds true even for that most maligned and hottest month of the year, August. The month’s menu includes smoochin’ pooches, shopping ‘til we drop in the cool cool cool of the evening, and helping veterans while mooning over hotrods, old cars and motorcycles that remind us of drag races and assorted other automotive thrills from way back when.
Hottest ticket in town is the Wags and Whiskers Gala on Saturday, August 6, from 6 to 10 p.m. at Hemingbough just south of St. Francisville. This fun event is the major fundraiser for the West Feliciana Animal Humane Society and the “Bo” Bryant Animal Shelter, featuring live and silent auctions, crazy carnival-type activities like the “Fetch and Run” dash to doggie dishes filled with gift cards, Wine Toss, Corn Hole Toss, cash bar, fabulous food, dancing to live music by the popular Delta Drifters, Paws Boutique, a smooch-a-pooch kissing booth and photo ops with your own cellphone. Appealing shelter animals in colorful costumes longing for a home escort patrons through the entrance gates across the courtyard to elegant Hempstead Hall where all the action takes place.
Tickets 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. On-going operating expenses are staggering, even with parish reimbursement for food and cat litter, and the shelter hopes to be able to afford make a few needed improvements, including roll-up doors, better insulation, more kennels, so funding provided by the gala is crucial.
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 fees for adopting to permanent or foster homes its rescued animals---dogs, cats, horses, pigs, even a snake!---some are homeless strays, some simply lost and able to quickly reunite with owners, 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, shelter director Josette Lester says. When Fourth of July festivities meant extended periods of loud explosions for several nights near the shelter, volunteers arrived at dark and spent hours calming terrified animals. When hard freezes or extreme summertime heat make open-cage living uncomfortable or downright dangerous, volunteers take the more fragile animals to their own homes to temporarily foster them. On a daily basis they 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. Some of the volunteers are children, who provide plenty of loving attention for animals often starved for affection.
Inmates from the nearby parish work-release facility voluntarily help and are especially needed for exercising the larger dogs; a grant pays for part-time employment of a couple of older staff to supervise them. But with the springtime explosion of kittens and puppies, there’s always a need 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 (the new separate cat house was built with mostly volunteer labor), 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, the Bo Bryant Animal Shelter is open to the public Monday through Saturday 9 to 4, Sunday 9 to 12 and 2 to 4. For shelter or humane society information, telephone 225-299-6787, 225-635-5801, or online http://wfahs.felicianalocal.com. The West Feliciana Animal Humane Society and the Bo Bryant Animal Shelter are particularly grateful for corporate and individual financial donors, as well as those donating auction items; the shelter is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization.
And on August 20 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 Highlands Bank trolley to visit participating stores throughout the downtown area on Ferdinand, Royal and Commerce Streets.
As an exciting added attraction for the Polos and Pearls event on Saturday, August 20, the Town of St. Francisville and Pointe Coupee Cruisers join to host a Car and Motorcycle Show from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Most vintage vehicles will be displayed along Commerce Street around oak-shaded Parker Park, the roar of revving motors echoing through the historic downtown area. One hundred percent of the proceeds raised through entry fees go to the Louisiana Veteran’s Foundation to benefit military vets. Registration fee is $25 and early registration is rewarded with a T-shirt; awards will be military collectible memorabilia. Registration forms should be mailed to Town of St. Francisville, Box 400, St. Francisville, LA 70775; for information, telephone 225-635-3873 or 225-287-4068, 225-718-4583 or 225-718-1111; online www.stfrancisville.net.
Another salute to veterans takes place August 31 through September 4th when the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall will be set up in the West Feliciana Sports Park. A 3/5-scale replica of the memorial wall in Washington,D.C., it is 288 feet long and stands six feet tall at the apex. A total of 58,227 names of servicemen and –women appear on the nation’s capitol wall, a simple, touching tribute to those who lost their lives in the Vietnam War, and this scaled-down traveling version draws respectful crowds of visitors as it moves across the country.
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 only), 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).

Photographs by Darlene Reaves

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

St. Francisville’s Immigrants—then and now

St. Francisville’s Immigrants—then and now
By Anne Butler
3v courtIt has been called the little town that’s two miles long and two yards wide, not much of an exaggeration, for the land falls off very steeply behind structures occupying the high ridge comprising its two main streets. As the area was under Spanish control as part of West Florida when it was laid out in 1807, St. Francisville’s two streets were dubbed Royal and Ferdinand in tribute to the Spanish crown. Royal boasts the most beautiful historic homes, but Ferdinand was originally the center of commerce and still is today, lined with boutique shops and art/antique galleries intermingled with Victorian cottages. This unusual mixture of residential and commercial structures gives a significant 24-hour presence to St. Francisville’s very-much-alive downtown, now designated in its entirety a National Register Historic District and a Main Street Community.

In the 19th century Ferdinand Street was a muddy dirt thoroughfare, scene of cattle drives and wagonloads of cotton being hauled down to the Mississippi River for shipment to markets around the globe. Below the bluff upon which St. Francisville developed, Ferdinand St. dropped down the hill by Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church where the monks from across the river came to bury their dead safe from the floodwaters. Along the river below St. Francisville was the port city of Bayou Sara, developed in the late 1700s when flatboaters pulled over to spend the night on the trip to New Orleans, their boats loaded with produce from the Ohio Valley and points west.

Cattledrive3During much of the 19th century, Bayou Sara was the most important port on the Mississippi River between Natchez and New Orleans, with a mile of warehouses to store cotton plus extensive residential and commercial structures, its riverbanks lined with steamboats. The West Feliciana Historical Society museum on Ferdinand Street has an impressive display of vintage images showing early life in Bayou Sara, many showing floodwaters up to the roofs of houses and stores, and raised wooden walkways to provide dry passage for shoppers during flood times. This, of course, is one of the only unlevee-ed stretches of the Lower Mississippi, and with no levees to hold the water in its channel, when the Mississippi is running high, floodwaters engulf all of the lowlying lands below St. Francisville. During the devastating floods of the early 20th century, most of Bayou Sara was washed away or destroyed, leaving only stands of cottonwoods, willows, and the Corps of Engineers Mat Field where concrete mats are manufactured to line levees to combat erosion.

While the outlying plantations were established primarily by Anglos leaving the East Coast after the Revolutionary War, the 19th century saw a great influx of immigrants from the Old Country, especially Germans, both Jewish and Gentile, settling in Bayou Sara and St. Francisville, bringing with them skills in merchandising and financing which were sorely lacking in what was essentially an agrarian society that existed precariously on credit. The Jews, of course, were anxious to escape religious persecution abroad, and Gentiles too welcomed the chance to forge a new and prosperous life.

Cattledrive 2A collection of letters from Max Nuebling, covering the period from October 1822 as he leaves his home in Germany to join his uncle in Louisiana to August 1826, gives in fascinating detail an intimate look at life in early Bayou Sara/St. Francisville, where Uncle Dieter Holl operated a store in his home, now known as Propinquity. Young Nuebling’s writings, preserved at the West Feliciana Historical Society, also shed light on the appeal of this fledgling new country, with all its promised opportunities and freedoms, to immigrants from the Old Country, making them willing to risk life and limb on ocean voyages that were fraught with dangers and must have seemed interminable.

“Good Lord, what a difference between the free and easy life here, and over there,” wrote Max Nuebling to his family back in Germany. “Overbearing people that look down upon everyone else, because they hold some kind of official position and think they are better than everyone else, are unknown here. A man here is valued here according to what he is, and what he can do, and not the position he holds. Our sheriff, who holds a high position here, is the most friendly man one can meet; he talks to everyone, and any man can talk to him. Liberty is the greatest gift of manhood, and here we have real liberty, and I have no intention ever to return to my old home and end my days as a slave. Of course, I want to see you again, but only on a visit, and then to return to the Free America.”

francis2Today Bayou Sara is long gone, but St. Francisville continues to attract new residents from near and far. Consistently ranked as one of Louisiana’s most popular tourist destinations, the little town of fewer than 2,000 residents has just as much to offer those who live there as those who simply visit. New restaurants and groceries, new library and bookstore, new boutique shops and galleries, new sports park offering not only recreational opportunities for all ages but a new focus on homegrown festivals as well, new hospital under construction, great hiking and historic attractions...no wonder its current logo boasts “We Love It Here.”

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).

conundrumThe 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.

There are several upcoming special events in St. Francisville during the month of June. The Walker Percy Weekend (June 3-5) attracts literary bon vivants to various downtown sites for a celebration of the late Louisiana novelist that features good food, craft beer and bourbon, live music, and discussions about books and southern culture under the live oaks. The following weekend, June 10-12, The Day The War Stopped is a Civil War re-enactment like no other, with evening graveside stories in historic Grace Church cemetery, vintage music and dancing, touching drama and a re-creation of the war-stopping burial of a Union gunboat commander complete with Yankee and Confederate Masons joining the Episcopal rector in the burial service.
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, March 31, 2016

Afton Villa Gardens: the plantation, the gardens, the gardener and the book

Afton Villa Gardens: the plantation, the gardens, the gardener and the book
By Anne Butler

Afton_ArchNewly established contemporary gardens can showcase the latest in horticultural research, the newest plant varieties, the most up-to-date techniques. Old gardens, on the other hand, those glorious few left from the 19th century when gardening benefitted from unlimited labor, rich soil and the happy climate of south Louisiana, have a charm and character that can't be matched, the secret shadows and sun-dappled parterres of plantation pleasure grounds adorned with latticed summerhouses and brick pathways, with always a pleasant scent perfuming the air.
But combine the two, the historic and the modern, and the result would be magical, only attainable through a certain vision for what might be appropriate and a sensitivity to the spirit of the original without slavishly attempting an exact recreation. And that's just what the incredible grounds and gardens of Afton Villa are today, not so much a restoration as a rebirth, all thanks largely to Genevieve Munson Trimble.
Only one who dearly loves gardens and gardening would have been so bold (or foolhardy) as to undertake such an overwhelming project requiring not only fortitude but plenty of funding as well, for Afton Villa was a wreck in 1972 when Gen Trimble and her late husband Bud saved the property from development. The Afton Villa house, a fairytale Victorian Gothic castle with towers and turrets and forty rooms, had been lost to fire in 1963, and the extensive surrounding gardens, though brought back from ruin time and again through their history since the 1840s, were in sad shape.
afton-courtyardThe Trimbles not only determined to undertake the project, but persevered through four decades of voracious deer and marauding wild boar, pond levee blowouts and the savage winds of hurricanes uprooting enormous trees and altering the understory sun/shade dynamic more than once.
With the invaluable assistance of eminent landscape architect Dr. Neil Odenwald and hardworking head gardener/manager Ivy Jones, they worked a miracle, preserving and rejuvenating the gardens of Afton Villa not as a restoration but "as a reflection of their own sense of garden design." Today the famous half-mile oak allee, landscaped terraces and garden rooms, including the "garden in the ruins" on the brick foundations where the home once stood in this area historically known as the garden spot of the South, are among the St. Francisville area's most popular tourist and wedding destinations. And all it took was forty years of blood, sweat and tears, not to mention some 8,000 tulips, many thousand daffodils and narcissi, masses of bedding plants and azaleas, more than 250 pots filled with blossoming annuals, and some magnificent Italian statues overseeing with aplomb the house site that has been transformed from a place of tragedy into a place of beauty.
afton-villa-bookNow LSU Press has published Genevieve Munson Trimble's book, AFTON VILLA; BIRTH AND REBIRTH OF A 19-CENTURY LOUISIANA GARDEN, with gorgeous color images by several Louisiana photographers and from the author's personal collection. Successes, failures, struggles and triumphs, Mrs. Trimble includes it all, including her explanation of the necessity of respecting the soul of the old landscape. "We resolved to restore the spirit of the original garden, and to protect it as well. We would beautify, enhance, even superimpose our own ideas, but at the same time we would be very careful never in any way to obliterate the original footprint of the garden or the house. Whenever possible, we would use old nineteenth-century plants and ornamentation such as might have conceivably been contained there originally, but in the interest of practicality, availability and maintenance, we would be willing to make substitutions, so long as they were compatible with the spirit of the garden. What do I mean, one may ask, when I say the spirit of the garden? To me it means the ambiance that permeates or surrounds a garden. At Afton, I am referring to the almost indefinable aura of past grandeur and, even more than this, the ability to have sustained and risen above the rigors of unbearable tragedy."
This gracious gardener, she of the perfectly coiffed white hair and ever-stylish colorful outfits, hesitated in despair upon entering the avenue to Afton for the first time after the death of her husband in 2004. And then she caught sight of the old oak that stood alone at the end of the drive overlooking the ruins, planted by Bartholomew Barrow in 1828, witness to war and reconstruction, deaths and depressions, neglect and the ravages of winds and fire. And the old oak still stood, proud, covered in the resurrection fern that springs back to life after each rainfall, "symbol of endurance and a triumph of nature to overcome all disasters that would befall. Wasn't this, I thought with sudden clarity, exactly what had drawn Bud and me here in the first place? It was Afton Villa's miraculous ability to have risen, phoenixlike, out of the ashes of tragedy....I could not leave this garden behind."
book-signingMrs. Trimble has received widespread recognition and many prestigious awards for her rescue of the Afton Villa Gardens as well as a number of significant projects in New Orleans. Her book is available at area bookstores and online, and the West Feliciana Historical Society in March joined the Southern Garden Symposium to host an immensely successful book-signing reception at Afton Villa.
The gardens of Afton Villa are open for public enjoyment seasonally, six months of the year; closed July, August, and September during summer heat and hurricane season, also closed January and February in the dead of winter. Other extensive gardens in the St. Francisville area that may be visited are Rosedown State Historic Site's 27 acres of 19th-century heirloom plantings and Imahara's Botanical Garden. A number of fine private landscapes are shown on the Spring Garden Stroll April 30, sponsored by the Feliciana Master Gardeners of the LSU Ag Center.
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, 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