Friday, November 10, 2017

Christmas in the Country Dec. 1-3, 2017

St. Francisville’s Christmas in the Country December 1-3
By Anne Butler
christmas paradeThe 1700 residents of the little Mississippi River town of St. Francisville sure know how to throw a party. Flags flying for every special occasion, they host fun festivals throughout the year, but the holiday weekend called Christmas in the Country, this year December 1 through 3, is the most enjoyable. Spectacular decorations, with millions of white lights gracing gallery posts and tracing soaring Victorian trimwork, turn the downtown Historic District into a winter wonderland, and carefully planned activities provide fun for the entire family.

The theme of the Sunday afternoon Christmas parade, Don’t Stop Believing, sets the tone for the whole weekend and is highly appropriate for a safe, small-town celebration of its bedrock beliefs---in the goodness of people, the beauty of nature, and the strength of community and faith. Plus it’s just plain fun!

Friday evening, December 1st, Christmas in the Country is kicked off around St. Francisville’s Town Hall as the children’s choir Voices in Motion sings at 5:30, followed by jovial longtime mayor Billy D’Aquilla lighting the town tree and hosting a reception complete with fireworks. Twilight Shopping is offered until 7 p.m. by a variety of unique little shops throughout the downtown area and spreading out into the outlying district, offering seasonal decorations, great gift items and extended hours. Visitors should not miss a single shop, and vendors in Parker Park will also observe late shopping hours.

breakfast with SantaSaturday, December 2nd, begins with 7:30 a.m. Prayer Breakfast at the Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, followed by Christmas on the Run for the Relay for Life supporting the American Cancer Society, with a one-mile fun run beginning at 8 a.m. and the 5-K run at 8:30 a.m., both starting at Parker Park. Little ones can enjoy Breakfast with St. Nick at Grace Episcopal Church’s Jackson Hall; sponsored by the Women’s Service League, three seatings are available at 8, 9:15 and 10:30, with reservations encouraged and tickets available online. The Women’s Service League also offers fresh wreaths and cookbook sales on Ferdinand St. daily all weekend.

In Parker Park from 10 to 4, vendors offer everything from food and music to jewelry, photos, honey, paintings, t-shirts, calendars, hair bows and more. Main Street Band plays in the park gazebo from noon to 2.

Christmas in the ParkThe Polar Express train transports visitors through the downtown area from 10 to 2, with a Polar Express movie and fun in the Town Hall meeting room.

St. Francisville’s shops and art galleries are the enthusiastic sponsors of this special weekend, offering a wide variety of inventory, from antiques and art (both original and prints), decorative items, one-of-a-kind handmade crafts, custom jewelry, housewares, artisanal foodstuffs, clothing for every member of the family. Plus there’s something new this year called the Candy Cane Shopping Card, featuring discounts and “I Shopped St. Francisville” t-shirts for purchases over $100.

Ferris HouseFrom 10 to 4 on Saturday, the Friends of the Library sponsor the popular annual Tour of Homes benefitting library programs, showcasing four homes showcasing innovative architecture and eclectic d├ęcor. Abby and Doug Cochran’s downtown Ferdinand St. home is a farmhouse-style cottage built in the early 1900s from salvaged lumber, with cypress cabinets and a broad front porch. The Plantation Drive home of Chuck and Heather Walters is in the architectural style called Mediterranean Transitional, with soaring ceilings, old cypress beams, three fireplaces, even a glass staircase. Located on LA 421, the Acadian-style home of Greg Ferris and Wendy Phillips overlooks a 10-acre lake and replicates the understated elegance of area historic homes with exposed beams, old brick, heart-pine floors and old New Orleans accents. Justin and Charlotte Peno’s home in downtown St. Francisville on Fidelity St. began as a simple cottage, later renovated to its current Acadian appearance; it was the 1940s townhouse of Peno’s great-grandfather, widely respected LA senator W.D.Folkes.

Walters HouseSaturday evening entertainment begins at 5:30 at Oakley Plantation’s Colonial Christmas at Audubon State Historic Site, with candlelight tours, period music and wassail until 8:30 p.m. From 6 to 7 United Methodist Church hosts a Community Sing-Along. First Baptist Church (LA 10 at US 61) has a Living Nativity of seven scenes inside the church from 6 to 8, a real Christmas journey—travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem and rediscover the miracle of the birth of Jesus; children love the petting stable, crafts, and hot chocolate and cookies. Participating homes in St. Francisville’s National Register Historic District along Ferdinand and Royal Streets permit visitors to Peep Into Our Holiday Homes from 6 to 8 p.m.

On Sunday, December 3rd, Candy Cane Shopping Card opportunities continue from 10 to closing. Vendors are in Parker Park from 10 to 4, with music noon to 4 by Angola Travelling Band. Sunday’s highlight is the Women’s Service League Christmas Parade beginning at 2 p.m., travelling along Ferdinand and Commerce Streets, with floats, bands, marching groups, dignitaries and lots of throws, all under the theme of Don’t Stop Believing.

Christmas with SantaLocated 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 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 many offering extended evening shopping during the holiday period, 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, October 08, 2017

TurnbillFall in the Felicianas: Glorious Gardens, Gallivanting Ghosts, and a Gathering of Artists
By Anne Butler

On her honeymoon Grand Tour through Europe in 1835, 18-year-old bride Martha Barrow Turnbull fell in love with the gardens of Versailles and other continental landscapes, gleaning the inspiration for formal plantings to complement the stately double-galleried plantation home being built on her cotton plantation back home. Thus began a sixty-year love affair with the 28-acre gardens of Rosedown, meticulously preserved in near-daily diary entries that later proved invaluable in restoring the property.

Blessed with rich land, long growing seasons, a felicitous climate and unlimited labor, Martha Turnbull became one of the great horticultural innovators of her day, the Rosedown gardens serving as early proving grounds for the exotic flora of the Orient. Camellias, for example, were thriving in gardens in Japan and China centuries before they were first seen by Europeans. It was only after trade with the Orient was opened in the early 1500s by the Portuguese and their Black Ships that trading groups like England’s East India Company began importing spices, silks, porcelains and other Oriental treasures. The medical officers of those trade companies first studied the native plants for their medicinal propensities, and the camellia japonica was introduced to England by the 1700s and then crossed the ocean to the East Coast. By 1830s invoices among the Rosedown archival papers show camellias, azaleas and other plants being purchased from nurseries in New York and Philadelphia.


rosedownTestament to the hardiness of early plantings, many of the heirloom plantings of Rosedown survive or have been propagated, even though the post-Civil War era brought great hardship. Martha Turnbull applied for a widow’s pension (she received $8 monthly) and initiated a Civil War claim covering property taken from Rosedown by federal troops in 1863 that included 300 hogsheads of sugar, 600 barrels of molasses, 200 mules and 100 horses, 700 head of cattle, 80 wagons, 300 hogs, 6000 bushels of corn, 50 bales of cotton. The third-generation descendants of Martha Turnbull who struggled to maintain the property were spinster sisters who sometimes had to pay with cotton bales their accounts at the local mercantile, the invoices of 1896 including such varied goods as a tub of lard, nails, syrup, lap robe and whip, spectacles, and a metallic casket for $100, presumably for their grandmother who died that year.

It would be the surviving plantings that saved Rosedown when a Texas oil heiress, herself a great horticulturist, passed through on a national garden club tour in 1956 and saw the potential beneath the rampant jungle growth outside and cracked peeling plaster inside. Purchasing the property from Martha Turnbull’s great-grandchildren, she began the ten-year restoration of house and grounds that turned Rosedown Plantation into one of the country’s premier historic tour destinations.

StarkA century after Rosedown was built in 1834, author Stark Young used it as a picturesque setting in his acclaimed Civil War novel So Red The Rose, saying, “Of all the houses in the world it seemed to be the beloved of its own trees and gardens.” That charm and appeal continues unabated today, the house folded in the embrace of its 19th-century gardens and live oaks grown to immense size.

Now it is a state historic site and national historic landmark, its fall and winter-blooming camellia sasanquas and japonicas grown to tree-size, and serves as one of the most inviting features of the 29th annual Southern Garden Symposium.

Set for October 20 and 21 (registration deadline October 13), the symposium combines top-quality expert speakers and glorious garden settings with engaging social events and historic venues to attract gardening enthusiasts from across the south. Gourmet lunch in the ruins gardens of Afton Villa Plantation, speakers’ gala at Rosale Plantation, afternoon tea at Dogwood complement carefully chosen presentations on everything from orchids to medicinal marijuana, from Thomas Jefferson’s botanical laboratory at Monticello to the challenges of invasive species. Morning and afternoon sessions explore Martha Turnbulls’ grand gardens at Rosedown so participants can admire centuries-old camellias, live oaks and other plantings as well as hear about present-day efforts to ensure that the gardens continue to thrive into the future. Online information on schedules and tickets is available at www.southerngardensymposium.org. Proceeds fund such projects as scholarships to LSU’s School of Landscape Architecture and garden enhancements at state historic sites.

camelliaThe sheer beauty of the cultivated landscapes and the verdant wild woodlands in the St. Francisville area have inspired creative artists ever since John James Audubon painted a number of his famous bird studies in the area, and the arts scene is growing just as prolifically as the glorious gardens. The Yellow Leaf Arts Festival, Saturday and Sunday, October 28 and 29th from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., is sponsored annually by Arts For All (the local arts umbrella agency whose name says it all). The weekend celebrates that rich tradition of artistic inspiration by filling St. Francisville’s downtown oak-shaded Parker Park with an incredible selection of music and art and food and fun.

Featured artist this year is versatile Acadian artist-naturalist Jim Jeansonne, whose colorful woodcut of butterflies graces the Yellow Leaf poster. He will be in the park gazebo. One of the original founding artists of the Baton Rouge Gallery, Jeansonne’s creative endeavors run the gamut from printmaking to sculpture, furniture making, and photography. Festival musicians performing include the Fugitive Poets, Wilder Janes, Nancy Roppolo, Bill Romano and others, while local farmer Jerry Landrum and his family offer sweet potatoes in many forms plus great barbecue.

movieOther events in October include the Angola Prison Rodeo every Sunday throughout the month; grounds open at 9 with inmate arts/crafts, food and music, rodeo starts at 2 (visitors should remember that this is a penitentiary and they would be well advised to follow regulations to the letter). Halloween activities include The Myrtles Halloween Extravaganza every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in October beginning at 5 p.m. and guaranteed to scare the pants off visitors touring this “most haunted house in America” (call 225-635-6277 for information); Movie in the Park from 6 to 8 on Friday the 13th is The Incredibles, with snacks and drinks (bring your own lawn chair or quilt); “Trunk or Treat” at the West Feliciana Sports Park beginning at 6 p.m. on October 26 with costume and trunk decoration competitions (call 225-784-8447 for information on candy distribution and decorating trunks); and Trick Or Treating through downtown St. Francisville from 6 to 8 on Halloween.

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 (Oakley’s main house is temporarily closed for lead abatement, but the wonderful visitor center/museum remains accessible).

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).

Monday, September 04, 2017

West Feliciana Woods Beckon as Walden Once Did

West Feliciana Woods Beckon as Walden Once Did
By Anne Butler

Distraught? Distressed? Disturbed? Weary of worrisome world affairs?

kayakTake a tip from Henry David Thoreau, born in the summer of 1817, who despaired of seeing his fellow men leading “lives of quiet desperation” and sought solitude in the woods by Walden Pond. There he “wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Now Walden Pond is operated by Massachusetts as a state reservation, complete with solar-powered visitor center and half-a-million hikers, boaters, swimmers, sunbathers or skiiers annually. But there are closer areas beckoning those wishing to commune more quietly with Nature. Strolling through St. Francisville’s 19th-century landscapes and formal gardens or wandering unhurried along the little rivertown’s bricked streets beneath overhanging moss-draped live oaks can impart the feeling of being a million miles away from the urban hustle and bustle, and the surrounding area has plenty of unspoiled wilderness accessible to the world-weary public.

treeJust south of St. Francisville on Highway 965 are several child-friendly hiking venues. Audubon State Historic Site has short trails through the hundred-acre park surrounding historic Oakley Plantation house (the house itself is temporarily closed for lead-abatement, but visitors are welcome on the grounds). Nearby Mary Ann Brown Preserve, 109 acres donated to The Nature Conservancy as a memorial, has interpretive trails as well as facilities for scout or school groups to picnic and camp with advance reservations.

The West Feliciana Parish Sports Park, extensive manicured complex of ballfields, tennis and basketball courts, rodeo arena and music stage, is open from 7 a.m. to dusk and hosts organized sports, camps and activities for all ages. Particularly popular is the aptly named Beast, rugged 6.5-mile hiking and mountain biking trail through the challenging terrain of typical Feliciana hills and hollows, providing great exercise for both advanced and intermediate hikers and bikers. There’s also a tamer walking path around the fishing pond. Hikers and bicyclers (who are required to wear bike helmets on the trail) should sign in at the trailhead; no horses are allowed.

The Tunica Hills State Preservation Area and Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area offer thousands of wooded acres encompassing rare land formations found only in a narrow strip from St. Francisville northwest along the Mississippi River into Tennessee. Cool deep shady hollows and steep forested hills harbor rare plants and animals found nowhere else in Louisiana. The Office of State Parks has grand plans for the state preservation area, 700 acres along the river with loessial bluffs and bayous, steep wooded ravines and such a diverse ecosystem that this promises to become one of Louisiana’s most unique tourist destinations once funding is provided to fulfill the master plan. At present, this area and the wildlife management area which is actually two separate tracts of several thousand acres each operated by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, offer unmatched opportunities for hiking, photography and birdwatching, hunting in season (LDWF), horseback riding and just plain appreciation of unspoiled nature. Admission to the wildlife management area is free, but visitors must fill out daily self-clearing permit cards at entrance stations; the South Tract along Old Tunica Road is open year-round, while the North Tract along Farrar-Davis Road is closed March through September.

mary ann brownAlso in the Tunica Hills but entered just above the Mississippi state line is the popular Clark Creek Natural Area with challenging trails leading to a series of waterfalls. This area is reached from St. Francisville via US 61 north, left onto LA 66, right onto Hwy. 969 (Pinckneyville Road), then left onto Fort Adams Road at the old Pond Store (well worth a visit). A nominal contribution is payable at the trailhead parking area. The first two falls are reached by established trails; the rest require some challenging hiking.
Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge is currently closed to the public (including parts accessible by boat) awaiting parish road repair after wash-outs rendered Creek Road impassable during the Great Flood of 2016, but Bayou Sara Kayak Rentals (with or without guides) can access similar areas via the lazy waters of the creek with its swimming holes and sandy beaches.

One resident with a well-documented appreciation for Feliciana’s pastoral reaches and verdant woodlands was, of course, artist John James Audubon, who in the 1820s found inspiration for dozens of his famous bird studies while staying at Oakley Plantation. Just over a century after his stay, what was called a “Bird Fete” first celebrated his tenure in the parish with a presentation of scenes from his life, historic homes open “for inspection,” and a colonial ball. Noted writer Stanley C. Arthur was master of ceremonies, and Audubon relics, portraits, prints and letters were on exhibit at the local library, sponsored in the 1930s by the Drama-Library League. The West Feliciana Historical Society for the last four decades has carried on the tradition with its springtime tour of historic homes and related activities known as the Audubon Pilgrimage.

hummingbirdsToday the area still celebrates its huge population of both resident and migratory birdlife with an annual event highlighting 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. The Hummingbird Festival is set in two private gardens for Saturday, September 9, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., when there should be an abundance of migratory hummers on their way south for the winter. Vendors offer hummingbird-attractive plants and equipment, while 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 (his 400-acre National Wildbird Refuge sponsors the event this year, the 17th festival) and artist Murrell Butler on Oak Hill Road, both of which usually attract dozens of hummingbirds.
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 (Oakley’s main house is temporarily closed for lead abatement, but the wonderful visitor center/museum remains accessible).

tunica fallsThe 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).