Saturday, July 26, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of restored plantation homes are open for tours daily: Cottage Plantation, Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer fascinating living-history demonstrations some weekends to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).

The nearby Tunica Hills region offers recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty shops, many in restored historic structures, and restaurants serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register historic district; there are also motel accommodations for bus groups.

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

Thursday, June 19, 2014

ST. FRANCISVILLE IS FOR THE BIRDS
By Anne Butler
woodpecker oakley house
Pileated-woodpecker at Audubon SHS
photo by ptWalsh
Calling St. Francisville “for the birds” is hardly derogatory. In St. Francisville, it’s ALL about the birds, and it always has been, even since artist-naturalist John James Audubon arrived in the summer of 1821 and was spellbound by the lush landscape and richness of the birdlife. He painted several dozen of his famous bird studies right in the St. Francisville area, and left such an indelible stamp on the area that everywhere you look, there’s some tribute to the artist: the wonderful new Audubon Library, shiny cable-stayed Audubon Bridge over the Mississippi River, cozy little Audubon Café, even the ever-popular Audubon Liquor Store.
 In fact, the first tour of historic homes, as announced in the April 22, 1934, issue of the Times-Picayune, was a Bird Fete planned by the women of West Feliciana to honor Audubon and his wife at Greenwood, home of the Frank Percys, with a presentation of scenes from his life, plus historic homes open “for inspection,” and a colonial ball. Noted historian and author Stanley C. Arthur of New Orleans was master of ceremonies, and Audubon relics, including portraits, prints and letters, were on exhibit at the local library, sponsored by the Drama-Library League. Its successor, the Audubon Pilgrimage, began in 1972 and for four decades has attracted visitors to St. Francisville to revel in the history.
The gifted writer Danny Heitman wrote a small gem of a book entitled A Summer of Birds cataloging Audubon’s time at Oakley Plantation near St. Francisville, and some of the area’s most popular special events have been birding-oriented. The Audubon Birdfest, a wonderful weekend of birding tours through the woodlands guided by experts, was put on hold after an expensive television camera went overboard with its operator while canoeing in the Cat Island Swamp, but the Hummingbird Festival continues to be popular.
music
Music at the Birdman
photo by ptWalsh
Especially appropriate in this area that harbors such a huge population of both resident and migratory birdlife, the event is sponsored yearly by the Feliciana Nature Society and highlights the unique hummingbird feeding and breeding habitat that entices ruby-throats to linger awhile in the months between late March and early September as they migrate between South/Central America and Canada. Hummingbird Festival weekend usually begins on Friday evening with an expert speaker and a wine and cheese reception in the spectacular 27-acre gardens of Rosedown State Historic Site.
On Saturday morning the festival continues at two private gardens, where vendors offer hummingbird-attractive plants and where hummingbird biologists Linda Beall and Nancy Newfield capture and band birds, giving visitors the rare opportunity to observe the tiny creatures up close as they are being weighed and measured. The banding sites are the homes of Carlisle Rogillio on Tunica Trace and artist Murrell Butler on Oak Hill Road, both of which usually attract dozens of hummingbirds.
The Hummingbird Festival has traditionally been held in July, but recent years have attracted fewer and fewer birds, so this year’s festival has been moved to the weekend of September 12 and 13, when there should be an abundance of migratory hummers on their way south for the winter. Hopefully the local weather will be more comfortable for festival attendees as well as the little birds.
And so St. Francisville’s Summer of Birds becomes its Summer of Arts, for after all Audubon’s Summer of Birds was all about art as well. The local umbrella arts agency, Arts For All, is hosting three July activities at Birdman Books & Coffee that promise to be creatively stimulating even in the sizzling summer heat. The fourth annual Songbird Music School, for ages 18 and up, on July 12 and 13, is a full weekend of classes in banjo, mandolin, guitar, voice, fiddle and dobro, providing small instructional classes as well as opportunities to play acoustic music together. Intended for beginners through seasoned performers, the instructional and collaborative workshops are designed to help musicians sharpen their skills or perhaps learn an entirely new instrument. Saturday sessions are geared to each participant’s skill level, leading to Sunday afternoon’s performance. For information on instructors, programs and registration, see http://songbird.felicianalocal.com.  A Young Songbirds Music Camp for ages 10 to 18 follows July 14 to 18 at Birdman in the afternoons.
Walter Waters
Painting by Walter Waters
Also sponsored by Arts For All, beginning at 10 a.m. on July 19 in Parker Park, watercolor master and plein air painter Wyatt Waters will unfold his handmade wooden easel and work for a couple of hours on location right there in the center of historic downtown St. Francisville, giving observers an understanding of why he was the recipient of a Mississippi Governor’s Award for his body of work. This is free and open to the public. In the evening, he displays yet another talent, joining his artist-musician friend Lee Barber in concert at Birdman at 7 p.m., joined by percussionist Bruce Golden; there is a cover charge.
So visitors will just have to wait until September for the Hummingbird Festival, but in July there’s music and art at the quirky local venue known as the Birdman; how fitting is that!
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination.  A number of restored plantation homes are open for tours daily: Cottage Plantation, Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season, and spring is definitely the season for spectacular bloom. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer fascinating living-history demonstrations some weekends to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).
Hummingbird by ptWalsh
Hummingbird on Flower
photo by ptWalsh
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty shops, many in restored historic structures, and restaurants serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register historic district; there are also motel accommodations for bus groups.
For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society’s museum and tourist information center at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224 or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Friday, May 23, 2014

Continuing Ed in St. Francisville
By Anne Butler

OLLI by Reeves
OLLI birders at the Tunica Hills Campground -
photo by Darlene Reaves
The Boomer Generation, just reaching retirement age in remarkably good physical and mental shape, is not surrendering to old age without a fight. Instead, they are running marathons and racing bikes, beginning new careers and travelling to all corners of the globe. The rocking chairs on the porches of their mountain chalets are strictly for après ski, and when they consider relocating in their retirement years, lifestyle enhancements are even more important than economic opportunities.

Besides physical challenges, these busy Boomers are looking for creative inspiration and mental stimulation as well. Fortunately today, even a small rural community like St. Francisville, LA, can augment the appeal of its peaceful pastoral landscape and intriguing history by offering retirees---in fact anyone over fifty---a myriad of ways to keep minds active well into retirement, thanks to a program familiarly known as OLLI at LSU.

Smiley
Advocate columnist Smiley Anders (center) presented the program for May’s Coffee at the Feliciana Chapter of OLLI in St. Francisville. Photo by Darlene Reaves.

Begun at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in 1996 as Lagniappe Studies, in 2007 the program became the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at LSU (OLLI), joining a nationwide network of programs devoted to lifelong learning. Today OLLI at LSU has five area chapters and over 1,300 members, with volunteer leadership from local chapters planning courses, coffees and field trips with the support of LSU Continuing Education staff.

Sample courses fall into the categories of the Arts, Languages, Humanities, Social Sciences, Personal Enrichment, and Technology. Oil and watercolor painting, art history, opera and film are some Arts offerings, while Language courses have included French, Cajun French, Spanish and Italian. In the Humanities, course offerings have included such topics as the History of Medicine, The Letters of Paul, The World of Anton Chekhov and the Breakup of American Democracy, while Social Sciences classes include such topics as the Changing Media Landscape, Great Decisions, Current Moral Problems and Financial Strategies for a Successful Retirement. Yoga, Gardening, Bridge, Birding, Life Writing, Line and Square Dancing are just a few of the Personal Enrichment offerings, and Technology classes cover iPhones, i-Pads, Cloud, and Getting the Best from the Internet.
OLLI by Reeves
"It's a Watson!" Great OLLI Felicianas coffee today - photo by Darlene Reaves

Courses are taught by a wide variety of instructors, experts in their fields, many of them retired Ph.D. college professors. There are three semesters each year, and most classes meet once a week 9:30-11:30 a.m. for four weeks. Besides courses held in more than 23 locations throughout South Louisiana, there are Field Trips exploring interesting nearby locations, Coffees with speakers and refreshments, and Nature Walks accompanied by experienced naturalists.

There are OLLI chapters in Ascension, Assumption and the Feliciana Parishes, as well as a Cajun Prairie Chapter in Eunice, and a large Lagniappe Chapter in Baton Rouge. In all, OLLI has 1,386 active members who had the opportunity to participate in more than 213 activities in 2013-2014.  OLLI members may attend activities offered by any of the five chapters. Membership, open to anyone 50 years or over who enjoys learning, is $40 annually, tax deductible, plus minimal course fees and only occasional required texts. Information is available from OLLI at LSU, 1225 Pleasant Hall, LSU, Baton Rouge, LA, 70803; telephone 225-578-6763; email OLLI@outreach.lsu.edu .

The steadily growing Feliciana Chapter in St. Francisville has more than 170 members, with an ambitious schedule of 53 activities offered throughout the year; in all, there were some 676 participants. Limited summer session begins in July with Yoga and a literature class on Memoirs, and there are field trips and coffees scheduled for the fall as well as a full schedule of exciting classes in other subjects. Some classes have been so popular that participants were reluctant to let them end and have started clubs---Spanish, Bridge and Birding groups continue to get together on a regular basis.

Walker Percy
In addition to the continuing stimulation of engaging OLLI classes, St. Francisville residents and visitors can look forward to the inaugural Walker Percy Weekend June 6 to 8th, a literary festival of panel discussions and fun extra activities involving progressive front-porch bourbon tastings, crawfish boils and craft beer under the oaks, and field trips to antebellum homes, the local nuclear plant, state penitentiary and other sites significant in Percy’s writings. Friday evening features the screening of an LBP documentary on the author, and Saturday the discussions include “Cinematic Catechism,” “Lost in the Cosmos,” “Place and Non-Place” as related to Percy’s works. A digital recording project will encourage participants to contribute their own experiences to the LSU Library’s oral history archives. Saturday night’s Dinner in the Park features Louisiana cuisine and Sunday morning participants can attend mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church atop a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.

St. Francisville is also the site of the annual Day The War Stopped on June 13, 14 and 15, a re-enactment of the 1863 burial of a Union gunboat commander in the cemetery at Grace Episcopal in a rare moment of civility amidst a bloody war. A tribute to the universality of Masonic brotherhood---Union and Confederate Masons participated in the burial service along with the Episcopal rector---the weekend includes graveyard histories, historical presentations, vintage dancing and music, a touching drama and re-enactment of the actual burial, plus special activities at both local state historic sites, Oakley and Rosedown Plantations.


wagon day the war stopped
The Day the War Stopped
photo by ptWalsh
 Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination.  A number of restored plantation homes are open for tours daily: Cottage Plantation, Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season, and spring is definitely the season for spectacular bloom. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer fascinating living-history demonstrations some weekends to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).

The nearby Tunica Hills region offers recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty shops, many in restored historic structures, and restaurants serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register historic district; there are also motel accommodations for bus groups.
For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society’s museum and tourist information center at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224 or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities). For special events information online: www.daythewarstopped.net (for schedule information; all events are free and open to the public); www.walkerpercyweekend.org (for ticket and schedule information).