Monday, September 26, 2016

Fall is Fine in St. Francisville, LA

Fall is Fine in St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler


tunica fallsAutumn’s cooling temperatures tempt hikers into the rugged Tunica Hills, the falling leaves having opened up vistas not visible in summer’s tangled overgrowth and the mosquitoes, poison ivy and snakes no longer nuisances. The waterfalls of nearby Clark Creek Natural Area are an especially popular destination for outdoor recreation enthusiasts based in St. Francisville.

But hiking is not the only Happening in the Hills. Bucking bulls and barrel racers, garden parties and workshops on plantings, gifted artisans and musicians, ghost stories to scare the pants off visitors, even intrepid warriors dashing through mud and other challenging obstacles like the fearsome trail called The Beast: just another typical October in St. Francisville, certainly offering something for everyone.

rodeoEvery Sunday in October the Louisiana State Penitentiary on LA 66 at Angola puts on “The Wildest Show in the South,” with a huge variety of prisoner hobbycraft sales, tons of food, inmate bands, and hair-raising rodeo events unique to this prison setting. Other than the ladies’ barrel racing, all rodeo participants are inmates in this enormous maximum-security penitentiary, and they keep the crowds on the edge of their seats from the moment the black-clad Angola Rough Riders charge into the ring at full gallop, flags flying. The covered arena seats over 10,000 and fills up every Sunday. Grounds open at 9 a.m. for the arts and crafts, and the fascinating state museum at the entrance gate will also be open, allowing visitors to make a full day of it. The rodeo starts at 2, and advance tickets are a must. Prison website at www.angolarodeo.com provides information and spells out regulations which must be observed on penitentiary grounds.

The Angola rodeo got its start in the 1960s, mostly for the entertainment of prison staff who sat on pickup tailgates or hay bales to watch a few inmates test their skills. But in 1965 a world-champion steer wrestler and bronc buster named Jack Favor made the mistake of picking up a couple of crooked hitchhikers bent on murder. Found guilty of involvement in the crime (he would be exonerated in a later trial), this Texas cowboy was sent to Angola and soon transformed the rodeo into a professional production attracting big-name entertainers and thousands of visitors, his contacts and vision adding excitement with such crowd favorites as the “Bust Out” when six bucking bulls and inmate riders enter the arena simultaneously, and “Guts & Glory” with inmates on foot scrambling to detach a ticket worth $100 from between the horns of an enraged Brahma bull.

warrior dashJust as exciting is the Warrior Dash on Saturday, October 8, at the West Feliciana Sports Park, a down-and-dirty mud-covered survival-of-the-fittest footrace (info@redfrogevents.com or www.warriordash.com). Sponsoring some 150 event days since 2009, with more than 2.5 million participants across the country, Warrior Dash races have raised more than $12 million for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. The 5-K races take participants through a dozen world-class obstacles , much to the delight of spectators, promising lots of fun for runners of all levels and all ages 12 and over.

The annual Southern Garden Symposium in St. Francisville offers a change of pace, celebrating the area’s great gardening tradition and fostering its continuation by convening horticulture enthusiasts for a weekend of demonstrations, lectures and tours through the area’s glorious antebellum gardens. This year’s 28th annual event, combining prestigious speakers, historic surroundings and engaging social events, takes place Friday, October 14, and Saturday, October 15. Proceeds fund beautification projects, scholarships to LSU’s School of Landscape Architecture, and garden enhancements at state historic sites. For information, visit www.southerngardensymposium.org.

This being the season of witches and goblins, the spooky Myrtles Plantation Halloween Experience scares the pants off visitors every weekend evening throughout October as they tour what is billed as one of the most haunted homes in the country. For information, www.myrtlesplantation.com, 800-809-0565 or 225-635-6277.

yellow leaf 2016The last weekend in October, Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th, the Yellow Leaf Arts Festival draws crowds of art-lovers to oak-shaded Parker Park with its bandstand right in the middle of St. Francisville’s downtown National Register-listed Historic District. A festival called “authentic, genuine and full of small-town charm,” Yellow Leaf from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. showcases the works and talents of more than 50 artists and crafters who offer paintings, metal and woodwork, fabric art, books, sculpture, glass art, jewelry, carvings and lots more. This outdoor celebration of all things creative also includes art activities for children and local farmers with home-grown sweet potatoes both cooked and raw in bulk.

The Yellow Leaf Festival, they say, really is all about the art---no mass productions, no noisy generators, no train rides, although there are usually a few local kiddies hawking refreshments from little red wagons. There’s also great live music both Saturday and Sunday, with guitarist Verlon Thompson, The Fugitive Poets, The Wilder Janes, and others. Featured resident artist this year is quilter Judith Braggs, recognized for her amazing talent in rendering folk art scenes in textiles. Sponsors include the local umbrella arts agency called Arts For All, plus Birdman Coffee, West Feliciana Parish Hospital and the Bank of St. Francisville. For information, telephone 800-715-0510 or access online http://westfelicianaarts.com.

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation (check locally; it has new owners), 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 activities).

High resolution photos available for media use only.  Email here for images.



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).