Picture: from left to right: Shidey Hammack, Janice McDermott, Mark Chustz, Shannon and Kevin Couhig. Not pictured: Mike Hammack, Carolyn and Cole Thornton.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Picture: from left to right: Shidey Hammack, Janice McDermott, Mark Chustz, Shannon and Kevin Couhig. Not pictured: Mike Hammack, Carolyn and Cole Thornton.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
By Anne Butler
Highlight of the bicentennial observation will be an Open House on Sunday, November 11, at Julius Freyhan School just off Royal St. in St. Francisville. A splendid sturdy brick structure overlooking the Mississippi River, it was opened in the early 1900s as the first public school in town, its construction funded initially by a bequest in the will of one of the area’s earliest Jewish immigrants, Julius Freyhan. Freyhan had arrived in this country a penniless peddler in the 1850s and prospered sufficiently as a supply merchant to the cotton empire that he was considered one of the wealthiest men in the state at the time of his death.
For half a century the Freyhan School educated several generations of St. Francisville students, some even riding horseback from the surrounding countryside to attend classes, from which they were dismissed early on stormy days to get home safely before the creeks swelled with rainwater and became impassable. Other country students caught the train carrying cotton and passengers to the riverport beneath the school’s hilltop location, and one intrepid fellow even rowed across the Mississippi River every day for class. Today the alums of J. Freyhan School gather monthly in ever-dwindling numbers to share memories, and many of them will be present in person for the Open House November 11 in “their” school.
In addition, the dynamic director of St. Francisville’s active Main Street Program has enlisted the help of her talented videographer son to record for posterity oral histories related by a number of the earliest students, some now in their 90s. Elderly couples like the Bill Plettingers, married more than 70 years; brothers Ingram and Barrow Norwood of the early pioneering family of Barrows at Highland Plantation; historian Elisabeth Kilbourne Dart who has spent a lifetime carefully recording the history of the area and spearheading its proper preservation; Lucille Leake with whom the idea for the popular spring pilgrimage originated, and who insisted the children of the town learn to swim; the Temple family with their involvement in every aspect of local education as teachers and principals and school board members for generations; and a number of retired teachers and now-elderly students whose lives centered around Freyhan School---Laurie Walsh and son Shane have taped interviews of their fascinating recollections. These will be continuously shown during the Freyhan School Open House and will be preserved in the permanent collection of the museum planned for the future in the building. There will also be an accompanying display of vintage B&W photographs.
Though it has not been used as a school for more than 50 years, the Freyhan School building retains its historic charm, the third-floor auditorium with ceiling of patterned tin and the impressive wooden archways and moldings crying out for restoration. Now the non-profit Freyhan Foundation plans to preserve the structure as a community cultural center and museum with exhibits interpreting early education in the area as well as the significant contributions of its 19th-century Jewish community. The public is invited to see what all the excitement is about at the bicentennial Open House at the school, where they will also be treated to a concert by the wonderful Community Choir, strong voices drawn from a variety of local church choirs, blues bands and other musical groups. The West Feliciana High School ROTC will honor local veterans of wars both past and present at the event to mark Veteran’s Day.
The bicentennial weekend commemorates St. Francisville’s founding 200 years ago as John H. Johnson laid out the little village on a narrow finger-ridge overlooking the Mississippi River. It soon became the cultural and commercial center of the rich surrounding plantation country. Today this charming Main Street Community, listed as an extensive National Register Historic District, is still very much alive and still the center of life in the area, its 200 years being celebrated by the debut this weekend of a book covering the life and times of the little town. The Spirit of St. Francisville has text by local author/historian Anne Butler and images by prize-winning Louisiana photographer Darrell Chitty, their words and superb full-color photographs capturing the very soul of the place and its people over the years. On Friday, November 9, at 6 p.m. the author and photographer discuss the book, sign autographs and show full-size images in 1819 Old Market Hall on Royal St. in St. Francisville, hosted by the West Feliciana Historical Society. On Saturday, Nov. 10, they sign books at Backwoods Gallery.
Also on Saturday, November 10, the wonderful array of little shops in downtown St. Francisville, many in restored 19th-century structures, host special Birthday Sales, and shoppers can have cards stamped to be eligible for a birthday present of their own. The Feliciana Stitchers hold a Quilt Show and Sale in downtown Parker Memorial Park on Commerce St. beginning at 9 a.m. At Birdman Books and Coffee, Arts at the Market showcases a month-long exhibit of members’ creations.
The rolling hills and picturesque plantations of the Felicianas as well as the Victorian streetscape of downtown St. Francisville have long been favored by Hollywood for movies, beginning with such early classics as Otto Preminger’s “Hurry Sundown” and dashing Jeff Chandler in “Band of Angels.” Most recent production, “The Reaping” starring Hilary Swank, will be screened Saturday evening at the 4-H Barn as St. Francisville Main Street kicks off its annual autumn outdoors movie series, this year showcasing popular productions filmed on location in the area; the high school International Club provides concessions, viewers should bring lawn chairs or blankets, and admission is one canned good for the Food Bank. The bicentennial weekend also promises live musical entertainment at several venues; the popular Delta Drifters will be at Magnolia Café beginning at 8 p.m. Friday, while at 7 p.m. Saturday evening Dylan Sneed performs at Birdman Books and Coffee, and Cypress Grill also has live music.
Thanks to the longtime efforts of the dedicated West Feliciana Historical Society as well as some thoughtful zoning regulations and a vibrant, committed Main Street program, nearly all of downtown St. Francisville is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an architecturally significant historic district that remains very much alive today, and it is most appropriate that its bicentennial celebration has been timed to coincide with the statewide Main To Main activities highlighting Louisiana’s incredibly varied array of Main St. Communities. THE SPIRIT OF ST. FRANCISVILLE 200 YEARS and Main To Main activities are made possible in part by grant funding from the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, and Preserve America, as well as the local Main St. program and historical society.
The St. Francisville area has much to offer visitors year-round, most especially in the fall when the Angola Rodeo enlivens every Sunday in October and the Tunica Hills with waterfalls and brilliant fall color beckon outdoorsmen. Every weekend there are art festivals, garden symposiums and other special events (see www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com). Six spectacular antebellum plantations are open for daily tours: Rosedown and Audubon State Historic Sites, The Myrtles, Greenwood, Butler Greenwood and The Cottage; Catalpa is open by reservation, and Afton Villa Gardens opens seasonally. Picturesque 19th-century structures throughout downtown St. Francisville are filled with an eclectic selection of little shops, and reasonably priced meals are available in a nice array of restaurants. Some of the state's best Bed and Breakfasts offer overnight accommodations ranging from golf clubs and lakeside resorts to historic townhouses and country plantations; a modern motel has facilities to accommodate busloads. Recreational opportunities abound in the Tunica Hills, with excellent hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, golfing and horseback riding, in addition to the superb birdwatching. For online coverage of tourist facilities and attractions in the St. Francisville area, see www.stfrancisville.us, www.stfrancisville.net, or www.stfrancisvilleovernight.com; or telephone (225) 635-3873 or 635-6330.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Benefiting St. Jude's Children Hospital
West Feliciana Parish Sports Park
The sole purpose is to raise money for St. Jude. We have different people who are heading up(Subchairing) the below events and those people will be responsible for seeing to it that their sub event, if you will, is a success. These Subchairs will be responsible for recruting volunteers to facilitate the success of their own sub event.
So far some of the events are as follows and is growing
For more information: 225-635-0005 or 225-721-1624
Thursday, September 13, 2007
The Reception will begin at 6:30pm and is open to the public.
For more information call 225-635-4224 StFrancisvilleFestivals.com
THE SPIRIT OF ST. FRANCISVILLE, LA
Happy 200th Birthday
By Anne Butler
|by Darrell Chitty|
Some 200 years ago, John H. Johnson laid out the little village of St. Francisville on a narrow finger-ridge overlooking the Mississippi, and soon it would become the commercial and cultural center of the surrounding rich plantation country. The gently rolling hills and rich soil, the warm climate and long growing seasons proved ideal for the cultivation of first indigo and then cotton, and in the antebellum glory years of the Cotton Kingdom, many of the country’s wealthiest families lived along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Natchez. The St. Francisville area claimed more than its share of them, and soon the area blossomed with magnificent manors with evocative names like Solitude and Rosebank, Oakley and Greenwood, The Cottage and The Myrtles, Wakefield, Live Oak, Ellerslie and all the rest.
Not everyone lived on a plantation, of course. The streets of St. Francisville and its sister port city Bayou Sara, though at first mere muddy thoroughfares clogged with cattle drives or wagonloads of cotton bound for shipment on flatboats and steamers, were soon lined with drygoods emporiums, boarding houses and a fine hotel, the seat of government along with plenty of saloons, libraries and livery stables, newspaper offices, churches and one of the state’s earliest Masonic lodges.
In 1819 the Audubon Market Hall was erected to house vendors hawking fresh produce and all manner of goods beneath its picturesque brick arches. The building has been restored by local preservationists and returned to present-day viability, as has much of the little town, which is lived in and loved and remarkably well preserved. Thanks to the longtime efforts of the dedicated West Feliciana Historical Society as well as some thoughtful zoning regulations and an active Main Street program, nearly all of downtown St. Francisville is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an architecturally significant historic district.
Now, as St. Francisville prepares to celebrate its bicentennial, the old Market Hall will house, most appropriately, the debut of a book covering St. Francisville’s history from the very beginning. On Friday, Nov. 9, the West Feliciana Historical Society will host a public photo/painting exhibit and book signing featuring THE SPIRIT OF ST. FRANCISVILLE, a coffee table book full of superb full-color images of the area and its residents, its structures and special events. The book is a big birthday tribute to St. Francisville on the occasion of its 200th year. Its creators will also sign and sell books and prints all day Saturday at Backwoods Gallery next to Magnolia Café.
Trying to understand particular places and their importance in particular times, chroniclers of history have taken many approaches, from paintings to plays, from journals to volumes of books both fact and fiction. Just as St. Francisville’s visitors today see the results of the happy marriage of felicitous climate and fertile soil in the flowering of fabulous antebellum gardens, so this book happily joins the visual and verbal homages and paeans of praise sung by two artists, one Louisiana's top photographer and the other a local author who contributes that loving insider’s knowledge only a longtime resident-observer can provide. By combining images with words in this book, a true labor of love, photographer/painter Darrell Chitty and author Anne Butler have managed to capture just a bit of the magic of St. Francisville, its soul, its heart, its spirit, its timeless charm that is only enhanced by the patina of the passing of years.
|by Darrell Chitty|
More than a photographer, Chitty is truly an artist, a painter without paintbrush. Instead of canvas and paint pots, he creates veritable impressionistic masterpieces by painting with camera and computer, combining his modern technological skills with an abiding appreciation and in-depth knowledge of art history and the age-old techniques of the Old Masters. The consumate professional, twice named Louisiana Photographer of the Year, he conducts seminars and teaching workshops, and he has a following of patrons around the world who admire his courage in bursting the barriers of tradition to combine yesterday’s art heritage with today’s digital revolution to compose an entirely new artistic song.
But one of his favorite locations has for years been St. Francisville, and his passion for the area shows in the superb photographs in this book, which represent but a smattering of the sturdy salient souls and structures whose special contributions, both great and small, have mattered in the life of the little rivertown of St. Francisville in that part of Louisiana long called Feliciana, the Happy Land. This book is merely a tantalizing glimpse of the spirit of St. Francisville, offered by a 21st-century artist with the passion and talent to capture the elusive soul of a very special place in time.
|by Darrell Chitty|
The St. Francisville area has much to offer visitors year-round. There are six antebellum plantations open for daily tours: Rosedown and Audubon State Historic Sites, The Myrtles, Greenwood, Butler Greenwood and The Cottage; Catalpa is open by reservation, and Afton Villa Gardens opens seasonally. Picturesque 19th-century structures throughout downtown St. Francisville are filled with an eclectic selection of little shops, and reasonably priced meals are available in a nice array of restaurants. Some of the state's best Bed and Breakfasts offer overnight accommodations ranging from golf clubs and lakeside resorts to historic townhouses and country plantations; a modern motel has facilities to accommodate busloads. Recreational opportunities abound in the Tunica Hills, with excellent hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, golfing and horseback riding, in addition to the superb birdwatching. For online coverage of tourist facilities and attractions in the St. Francisville area, see www.StFrancisville.us, www.StFrancisville.net, or www.StFrancisvilleOvernight.com; or telephone (225) 635-3873 or (800) 789-4221. Visit www.StFrancisvilleFestivals.com for information on local festivals and events.
Friday, August 10, 2007
VIBES IN THE VILLE:
St. Francisville, LA, showcases its musical heritage
By Anne Butler
St. Francisville is the heart of Louisiana’s English plantation country, where every historic home had its grand Pleyel piano and gilded harp. The plantation mistresses were well schooled in the arts of hospitality and often entertained guests in the cool of the evening by playing classical selections on these musical instruments and usually singing as well. Sometimes families engaged string bands from New Orleans to play in outdoor pavilions for the entire summer, the strains of the music floating out over the night breezes to be enjoyed by neighboring plantations as well.
Being right along the Mississippi River, the little town was also influenced by the musical entertainments provided on the floating palaces called riverboats, with New Orleans jazz livening up the voyage as the boats drifted along, the passengers gathering in the luxurious salons or ballrooms to enjoy the tunes. And the little riverport of Bayou Sara just down the hill from St. Francisville was not without its cultural offerings as well, though the Opera House it boasted dated from the years when what was billed as an “opera house” more often showcased trained monkeys and black-face vaudeville minstrels than purely operatic arias.
But if St. Francisville has an indigenous music, it is surely gospel, that old hand-clapping, soul-stirring heartfelt musical art form born of sacred Negro spirituals married to the “devil’s music” of the blues, music designed to move its listeners physically and spiritually. Black gospel music drew heavily on the traditional spirituals passed down from slavery days, when the church provided the central focus of the community and the only uncensored outlet for uniquely black musical expression. The spirituals in turn drew heavily from tribal African music.
The slave masters on southern plantations forbade the African drums and dances, but they couldn’t still the music, which took root in the soil of the New World and blossomed into a whole new product. Here, the African tradition of call and response, with its strong rhythmic meter set by drums and other percussive instruments like dried animal bones, would mingle with European traditions of harmony and a wider variety of musical instruments to create a new African-American style of music (think of Ray Charles’ What’d I Say). Across the St. Francisville area after the Civil War the fertile fields sprouted a prolific crop of small black Baptist churches, each with a multi-generational choir raising a joyful music to the Lord, and today the gospel tradition is alive and well in the area.
Music, including the indigenous gospel and the later sounds it influenced over the years, will be the focus of a unique celebration in St. Francisville on Saturday, August 25, a music festival called Vibes in the ‘Ville. The event will be St. Francisville’s contribution to the ambitious statewide initiative grandly called the World Cultural Economic Forum, described by Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu as an attempt to leverage the state’s unique heritage and to ensure that it remains the driving force and embodiment of a global cultural economy. Designed to be the cornerstone of Louisiana’s economic revitalization, this first annual affair will bring together cultural ambassadors, educators and arts and cultural leaders coinciding with the anniversaries of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Across the state there will be special exhibits and events focusing on Louisiana’s unique cultural heritage and doing what Louisianans do so well, celebrating with food and music, art and dance, literature and plenty of optimistic joie de vivre. The workshops, exhibits, events, programs and performances, all sponsored by the Office of the Lt. Governor along with the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, promise to demonstrate the value of culture internationally and to shine the light on Louisiana’s multifaceted cultural industries. And indeed, as the state continues its recovery from the devasting hurricanes of 2005, its unique cultural heritage promises to be one of the bright lights along the way, attracting visitors from across the globe.
St. Francisville’s offering to this World Cultural Economic Forum will be a full day of music, ranging from children’s choirs to gospel groups to beloved local bands. From 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., the music will be accompanied by a variety of food offerings provided as fund-raisers by area nonprofit organizations, plus misters for cooling, tubs of ice and cold drinks; this is a non-alcoholic event. And how better to keep cool than with a big ol’ helping of homemade ice cream! These country folks know just how to make the best in the world, which will be proven at the Homemade Ice Cream Freeze-Off at 2 p.m., as competitors present their best efforts packed in ice; cash prizes provide the incentive for the ice-cream makers, and the chance to gobble up all the entries is sure to please the audience.
Lively children’s activities are planned from 11 a.m. to noon, including a chalk-walk art activity (remember how fun it was to draw with chalk on the sidewalk?) and the making of musical instruments. Sandy Johnson will have the kids up and moving, singing and playing their instruments, and then Kevin Johnson will play songs for children.
From 12 to 12:30 the featured musician is keyboardist James Williams, followed by “Friends of Friends” Amateur Hour. From 2 to 3 the New Magnolia Baptist Church choir sings traditional tried-and-true gospel songs the old-timey way, straight from the heart, followed by talented young dulcimer player Annie Fergus from 3:30 to 4 p.m. The dynamic world-famous Gospel Wonders perform from 4:30 to 5:30. Between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., popular local bands take the stage: the Feliciana Band with its old-time rock and roll from 6 to 7 (dancing is mandatory, but leave those poodle skirts at home!), the Americana-bluegrass sounds of The Fugitive Poets from 7:30 to 8:30, and then the beloved bluesy Delta Drifters round out the evening from 9 to 10 p.m.
This is a fun music festival only a small-town community like St. Francisville could pull off, casual and comfortable, fun for all ages. All events will be held under the live oaks of Parker Memorial Park in the heart of historic uptown St. Francisville. They are all free and open to the public. For information, call 1-800-789-4221 or access online at StFrancisvilleFestivals or StFrancisville.us.
The St. Francisville area has much to offer visitors year-round. There are six antebellum plantations open for daily tours: Rosedown and Audubon State Historic
Sites, The Myrtles, Greenwood, Butler Greenwood and The Cottage; Catalpa is open by reservation, and Afton Villa Gardens opens seasonally.
Picturesque 19th-century structures throughout downtown St. Francisville are filled with an eclectic selection of little shops,
and reasonably priced meals are available in a nice array of restaurants. Some of the state's best Bed and Breakfasts offer overnight
accommodations ranging from golf clubs and lakeside resorts to historic townhouses and country plantations; a modern motel has facilities
to accommodate busloads. Recreational opportunities abound in the Tunica Hills, with excellent hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, golfing and horseback
riding, in addition to the superb birdwatching. For online coverage of tourist facilities and attractions in the St. Francisville area, see
www.stfrancisville.us, www.stfrancisville.net, or www.stfrancisvilleovernight.com; or telephone (225) 635-3873 or 635-6330.
Monday, July 30, 2007
ST. FRANCISVILLE, LOUISIANA:
HISTORY COMES ALIVE
By Anne Butler
Photos by: Henry Cancienne
During the week, personable John Flippen works for the Federal Aviation
Administration, maintaining the navigation and communication facilities
for the airport in Baton Rouge. But on weekends, he leaves the present behind
and slips back into the 19th century as one of a growing number of re-enactors
dedicated to preserving the past and making it come alive for today’s observers.
The increasing popularity of re-enactments and living history demonstrations is just part of a growing trend in travel as the baby boomer generation demands more than mere static museum displays. Today’s travelers are more active and engaged, and they want stimulation and hands-on challenges both mental and physical. They are also well enough informed to want accuracy and authenticity rather than sensationalized or sanitized portrayals of history, and that’s right up a good re-enactor’s alley.
The state historic sites in St. Francisville, particularly Rosedown and
Oakley Plantations, have responded enthusiastically to the changes in travel
demographics with a continuing presentation of living history demonstrations
that involve the visitor in everything from period holiday celebrations
and weddings to antebellum funeral customs. Lost arts and old-time skills
are demonstrated on these plantation sites in appropriate historic settings,
with the presentations well researched and authentically presented. Special
activities and day camps involve visiting children in 19th-century games,
toymaking, and all aspects of antebellum life. In the outside kitchens,
costumed cooks sweat over the open coals as they prepare meals using the
very same recipes treasured by generations of the original families in those
very sites, carpenters sit astride the shaving horse to demonstrate vintage
construction methods and tools, and in the gardens visitors find growing
the herbs and plants so vital for cooking and medicinal uses on the early
The most popular part of the annual Audubon Pilgrimage spring house tour in St. Francisville is the Rural Homestead, re-created early farmstead where the skills of the common folk are demonstrated, from quilting to carding wool, from plowing with a mule to riving cypress shingles with a hand froe, and grinding corn that’s made into cornbread on a woodstove. More interesting than reading some dry textbook? You bet. This is the type of lively activity that makes history come alive for children and visitors of all ages.
After hours, the Louisiana Vintage Dancers shed their workclothes and don splendid antebellum evening garb to whirl through waltzes and polkas, reels and quadrilles, all carefully rehearsed and set to period music of fiddle, banjo and guitar. It was vintage dancers who first captured John Flippen’s attention, performing at the Fall Muster at Beauvoir on the Mississippi Gulf Coast with the 12th Louisiana String Band, and he was so captivated that after moving to Louisiana in 2002 he joined the Louisiana Vintage Dancers after seeing them perform at the Audubon Pilgrimage in St. Francisville, first borrowing costumes to attend the balls and soon investing in his own Regency and 1860s costumes. These dedicated performers dance in all manner of historic venues, from the big plantations like Rosedown and Oakley near St. Francisville or Oak Alley and Houmas House along the River Road, to events like the Audubon Pilgrimage and St. Francisville’s popular Christmas in the Country weekend; they also generously share their talents to put on demonstrations to entertain nursing home patients, library patrons and other groups, mostly on a volunteer basis. Onlookers are welcome to join the dancers and learn the steps.
The Vintage Dancers also perform at Civil War re-enactments, and so it was only natural that John Flippen would also become involved in re-enacting, as some of the dancers participate in both activities. Perfect example is St. Francisville’s Day The War Stopped commemoration each June, featuring the Vintage Dancers performing and also the uniform-clad soldiers in both grey and blue re-enacting the Civil War burial of a Union gunboat officer in the cemetery of historic Grace Episcopal Church as the war halted for a brief moment of civility and brotherhood. John Flippen participates in both activities, and also portrays one of the historic characters in the graveyard tableaux as shadows deepen across the marble tombstones beneath the live oaks and the ghosts emerge to tell their stories. As a member now of the 10th Louisiana Militia (Confederate) and Battery 'K' of the First Illinois Light Artillery(Union), he participates in re-enactments at places like historic Jefferson College and Beauvoir in Mississippi, Camp Moore in Tangipahoa Parish, Jackson Crossroads, Pleasant Hill, and Port Hudson, to name a few. He is also involved in other events across the region, like the monthly firepower demonstrations at Port Hudson, Centenary College in Jackson, and Confederate memorial services at several cemeteries.
What’s the big deal about re-enacting? St. Francisville resident John Flippen,
a Virginian who lived around the globe before settling in Louisiana primarily
for employment and re-enactment opportunities, says he enjoys the camaraderie
and the chance to preserve the past. His great-great-grandfather served
in the Confederate army, but he has uniforms for both Union and Confederate
soldiers—cavalry, marine and infantry, with jackets in butternut, grey and
blue--and they are authentic down to the last button and belt buckle, well-worn
brogans and bayonet, canteen and cavalry boots. When the re-enactments involve
weekend campouts, he has a tent and all the authentic accoutrements for
Civil War camp life. He has a pistol and rifle as well as cartridge and cap
boxes, and points out that great attention goes into ensuring the authenticity
of the weaponry; cavalry re-enactors, for example, have breechloading carbines
rather than muzzleloaders for reloading on horseback. Most cavalry units
have horses, of course, while artillery units have cannons, both big guns
and smaller mountain howitzers, mostly replicas for safety’s sake, and mule-drawn
wagons. Many of the wives of the soldiers also dress out and participate
in the dances and the camp scenes, and some of them even make uniforms from
appropriate patterns. Some battle re-enactments are enormous affairs involving
casts of hundreds, but others are quite simple, like the quiet memorial
services at cemeteries.
Visitors enjoy walking through the campsites and chatting with the re-enactors, though at actual battle re-enactments observers remain at a safe distance out of harm’s way. They never fail to be impressed with the authenticity of the equipment and dress, and John Flippen says this authenticity comes at a price. Simple soldier’s pants, he explains, can cost $60, while jackets can run up to $200 as can custom-made cavalry boots. The weapons are another expense, with rifles beginning around $400 and going up to $1000 for particularly unique ones. But the re-enactors make every effort to remove modern intrusions from the campsites; sometimes a provost marshall inspects the campsites and can levy small fines if he spots inappropriate ice chests or cell phones, for example.
From the boom of the cannon and crack of rifles, the whoops and thunder of hooves at the battle re-enactments to the sutlers’ tents hawking 19th-century gear and equipment, from the lively reels and elegant waltzes as hoopskirts wheel around the candelit camp dance to the evening campfires where soldiers listen to music played by camp musicians, swap stories or play cards, re-enactments transport the observer back in time. They see the sweat drip from faces as soldiers in wool coats cope with the Louisiana heat; they feel the horror and the tears as comrades fall in a hail of bullets, never to rise again. This is the history of America, of the building and binding together of our country, and to see it enfolding in the living flesh makes a far deeper impression than reading about it in a textbook. Many observers, seeing the re-enactments for the first time, are even moved to join the groups and become part of the living history themselves, and they are welcomed.
This is a trend noted nationwide, not just in Louisiana, as historic venues and
museums attempt to connect with modern, more active visitors. At Old Sturbridge
Village, a collection of historic structures near Boston, the director has
commented, “I don’t think people want to be shown so much; they want to
do more.” Instead of “watch me do it,” they want to be involved, to do it
themselves. And when the Louisiana Vintage Dancers grab partners from the
audience, they have that chance, and also when the re-enactors set up campsites
and encourage visitors to stroll through and chat, or when the demonstrators
at Rosedown or Oakley hand the tools or equipment to onlookers and invite
them to try their hand at whatever skill is being demonstrated, and encourage
visiting children to join the fun in rolling old-timey hoops across the
lawns. These visitors can be literally immersed in history, not mere onlookers.
And these days, that’s just what they want.
Like many small communities across the state, St. Francisville has sometimes
struggled to find ways to interpret and preserve its past in ways both meaningful
and relevant to the present, and even to the future. As the picturesque
little rivertown approaches the observation of the bicentennial of its founding
in 1807, with the help of living history demonstrators and re-enactors like
John Flippen it seems to have hit on just the right formula, combining its
wonderful 200-year heritage with present-day attractions, great recreational
opportunities and romantic settings for weekend getaways as well as weddings
Besides the living history demonstrations and re-enactments, the St. Francisville area
has much to offer visitors. There are six antebellum plantations open for
daily tours: Rosedown and Audubon State Historic Sites, The Myrtles, Greenwood,
Butler Greenwood and The Cottage; Catalpa is open by reservation, and Afton
Villa Gardens opens seasonally. Picturesque 19th-century structures throughout
downtown St. Francisville are filled with an eclectic selection of little
shops, and reasonably priced meals are available in a nice array of restaurants.
Some of the state's best Bed and Breakfasts offer overnight accommodations
ranging from golf clubs and lakeside resorts to historic townhouses and
country plantations; a modern motel has facilities to accommodate busloads.
Recreational opportunities abound in the Tunica Hills, with excellent hiking,
biking, hunting, fishing, golfing and horseback riding, in addition to the
superb birdwatching. For online coverage of tourist facilities and attractions
in the St. Francisville area, see www.stfrancisville.us,
www.stfrancisville.net, or www.stfrancisvilleovernight.com;
or telephone (225) 635-3873 or 635-6330.
Monday, July 09, 2007
The Feliciana Hummingbird Celebration will begin with a reception on Friday evening, July 27, at Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site, 12501Hwy.10, St. Francisville. Beginning at 6 p.m., visitors can enjoy wine and cheese while strolling the gardens of Rosedown. At 6:45 p.m., speakers David and Tracey Banowetz will present a program on gardening with native plants to attract birds and wildlife. The presentation is based on their experiences in landscaping their former home in suburban Baton Rouge. Admission is $10.
The festival will continue on Saturday, July 28. From 7:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., hummingbird biologists Linda Beall and Nancy Newfield will capture and band birds at two private gardens in the St. Francisville area. Visitors will have the opportunity to observe hummingbirds up close as they are weighed and measured. In addition, vendors will be at both homes with hummingbird plants, birding equipment, books, and crafts available for sale. Experts will be on hand to share advice about gardening, binoculars, and more. The gardens include the home of Carlisle Rogillio at 15736 Tunica Trace (Hwy. 66) and Murrell Butler at 9485 Oak Hill Road. In addition, the gardens of Hollywood Plantation, the home of Glenn and Eleanor Thomas, 9441 Sligo Road, will be open from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m., offering hummingbird observation and light refreshments. A $5 fee covers admission to all three gardens.
For more information visit www.audubo nbirdfest.com or call 1-800-488-6502
Sunday, May 13, 2007
|THE DAY THE WAR STOPPED|
in St. Francisville, Louisiana
by Anne Butler
One Saturday in June each year marks The Day The War Stopped in the little 19th-century river town of St. Francisville, Louisiana, and in 2007 the dates of this commemoration are Friday, June 15, through Sunday, June 17. This is surely one of the most unusual and touching of Civil War re-enactments, commemorating
The procession was not an impressive one, certainly not an unusual event in the midst of a bloody war, and it would no doubt have escaped all notice but for one fact--this was the day the war stopped, if only for a few mournful moments.
Commanding the Albatross was Lt. Commander John Elliot Hart of Schenectady,
And so Lt. Commander John Hart was laid to rest in the Masonic burial lot in the cemetery of Grace Episcopal Church, whose bell tower had made such a tempting target for his shells. Episcopal services were conducted by the Reverend Mr. Daniel Lewis, rector of Grace, and respect was paid by
But for one brief touching moment of brotherhood, the war had stopped in St. Francisville, and this moment is re-enacted one weekend each June. The commemoration opens Friday evening, June 15, at 7 p.m. with a presentation of graveside histories in the oak-shaded cemetery at Grace Episcopal Church, where the graceful monuments date from the 1800’s and bespeak several centuries of life and death in the community. This will be followed by an open house and tour across the street at the Masonic Lodge at 7:30 p.m.; the highlight of the program here will be the presentation of a
On Saturday, June 16, downtown St. Francisville’s main street is
These activities are all in historic downtown St. Francisville, and all are
Details on the annual Day The
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,
Photographs, including high-resolution pictures, available upon request from firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Deep South Alfa Romeo Club recently held its first Concours d'Elegance at the St. Francisville Inn.
Nine Alfa Romeo cars were entered in the event. A Concours d'Elegance is a car competition that began in the 1920's. Cars are judged on apperance, original parts and maintenance.
Cars at the event ranged from 1957-1988.
The Deep South Alfa Romeo Club consists of car owners from Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.
Trophies were awarded to Bob & Pauline Simmons, 1966 Duetto, first place; Charles During, 1982, Spider, second place; John and Susan Ferguson, 1966 Spider Veloce, third place.
|PICNICKING IN THE PARKS: |
ST. FRANCISVILLE, LOUISIANA, OFFERS OLD-FASHIONED PLEASURES
By Anne Butler
Picnics used to be one of the most highly anticipated of pleasures, whether they were beside bubbling creeks, in sun-drenched meadows filled with wildflowers, or in some urban greenspace with traffic roaring along the periphery. The picnickers themselves might be lovers snatching a few magical moments together, or they might be sunburnt children toting fishing poles along with their baskets of goodies. And as for the picnic fare, it could range from gourmet goose liver pates and imported vino in baskets equipped with fine silverware and china to PB&J “sammiches” and a Mason jar of sweet tea in a brown paper sack. But somehow it all tasted divine on a picnic.
Some of the most memorable picnics began at Catalpa Plantation near St. Francisville in the old days, when Miss Mamie and Miss Sadie doted on young visitors and would send them out into the lovely landscaped grounds with picnic baskets so heavily laden that the gardener had to be dispatched as bearer for the expedition. There would be fried chicken, dainty finger sandwiches with crusts removed, tiny tarts with lemon filling or perhaps pecan, deviled eggs, chicken salad, old-fashioned tea cakes, fresh strawberries, pink lemonade with maraschino cherries, all to be devoured on a patchwork quilt spread beneath the live oaks amidst the blossoming hydrangeas and the drooping pink indigo blooms. At every historic home near St. Francisville, the same scene was repeated, though perhaps not with quite such elan.
Residents and visitors to the St. Francisville area today can still enjoy picnics just as much; it simply takes a little advance planning to discover the perfect spot, but this region has a myriad of possibilities. There are also a number of small restaurants that offer delectable take-outs for picnicking, and even a new wine bar offering lots of liquid enhancements for the picnic fare.
Informed visitors of course know to make their first stop the West Feliciana Historical Society museum and visitor center in the heart of St. Francisville, where information is dispensed, suggestions made, and the friendly staff make sure nobody misses a thing in this scenic unspoiled garden spot of Louisiana. There are even a few picnic venues right in the Historic District of St. Francisville, all of it listed on the National Register. Tiny pocket parks dot the streetscape, and spacious Parker Park, donated to the town for public use, provides the perfect spot for dining al fresco under the towering trees right in the middle of town, with a covered gazebo-bandstand and a war memorial as well.
Several easily accessible picnic spots are not far southeast of St. Francisville along LA 965. The Audubon State Historic Site commemorates the famed artist-naturalist John James Audubon’s arrival in St. Francisville by steamboat in 1821, penniless and with a string of failed business ventures behind him, but rich in talent and dreams, having set for himself the staggering task of painting all of the birds of the immense fledgling country. Hired to tutor the beautiful young daughter of Oakley Plantation, now preserved as Audubon State Historic Site, he was allowed his afternoons free to roam the woods, sketching and collecting specimens, painting a large number of his famous bird studies and cutting a dashing figure with long flowing locks, frilly shirts and satin breeches. Picnickers are welcomed at Oakley upon payment of the small park admission fee, with tables in the open and under a covered pavilion, easy walking trails and guided tours through the historic home.
Nearby is The Nature Conservancy’s Mary Ann Brown Preserve, over 100 acres of deep ravines and loblolly pine forests donated for the enjoyment of the public in memory of a beloved daughter. The site features interpretive trails and is open daily for hiking. School or scout groups have access to picnic areas and primitive camping sites by advance reservation; call The Nature Conservancy at 225-338-1040.
Northwest from St. Francisville range the rugged Tunica Hills, unspoiled wilderness area perfect for picnickers who want to include a little hiking along with the eating.
Rare hilly land formations found only in a narrow strip from West Feliciana on north into Tennessee, the Tunica Hills are loessial ridges created tens of thousands of years ago by dust storms of the Glacier period which swept in from the western plains carrying powdery fertile soil to form vertical cliffs up to 90 feet high resting on the sand-clay bottom of an ancient sea bed. Botanists and zoologists find that the deep cool ravines of this unique microclimate harbor rarities like wild ginseng, Eastern chipmunks and other flora and fauna found nowhere else in Louisiana. Bicyclists and picnickers appreciate the area's quiet country roads, some so ancient they began life as prehistoric game trails stamped indelibly into the soil of lands claimed by Native Americans long before the first Europeans arrived. Birdwatchers find the area still provides habitat for the same rich abundance of birdlife that so inspired artist-naturalist John James Audubon in the 1820's, and for experienced hikers, this is paradise
The popular 700-acre Clark Creek Natural Area just across the Louisiana state line near Pond, Mississippi, has challenging trails leading to a series of spectacular spring-fed waterfalls, some cascading 30 feet or more into pools lined with huge clay boulders. The hills here are heavily forested, while the damp cool creekbeds provide habitat for rare trilliums, jack-in-the-pulpit, violets and a huge variety of ferns, mosses, lichens and mushrooms. The surrounding woodlands harbor a multitude of small mammals, whitetail deer, wild turkey and both resident and migratory birds, as well as a few endangered species like the black bear.
In the Pond community 13 miles west of Woodville, MS, and 20 miles northwest of the intersection of US 61 and LA 66 just above St. Francisville, LA, Clark Creek is open for daytime public use only. This is a steep, rugged area, with undulating ridges rising several hundred feet above the sandy creek bed in places. It is accessible only by foot; no hunting or motorized vehicles are allowed. There are primitive restroom facilities in the parking area just past the Pond Store, and there are shaded picnic tables within easy walking distance of the entrance. Daily Use Permit envelopes are available at the parking area kiosk for paying the $3 entry fee, and hikers should be sure to pick up park maps from the parking area (call 601-888-6040 for the Clark Creek Natural Area office) or from nearby Pond Store before entering the trail system.
Not far to the northwest of St. Francisville the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (225-765-2346) maintains several separate tracts as the Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area for public hunting, trapping, hiking, riding, birding, primitive picnicking (no facilities) and sightseeing, and has pamphlets delineating regulations governing its use. Work is also beginning on the 635-acre Tunica Hills State Preservation Area, which will encompass bluffs and bayous and interpretive centers telling the story of the early Tunica Indians and the later Civil War battle at nearby Como Landing, while introducing Louisiana's "flatlanders" to the wonders of this hilly unspoiled wilderness site.
For more “civilized” picnic venues, visitors should try one of the St. Francisville area’s magnificent restored antebellum plantations, most of which permit picnicking on the grounds after touring the homes and paying the entry fees. Afton Villa Gardens welcomes picnickers to its luxuriously landscaped lawns during open hours, as does Rosedown State Historic Site, where picnic tables are provided near the reception center and the glorious Greek Revival home with surrounding formal gardens may be visited. Butler Greenwood Plantation permits picnicking on the oak-shaded grounds for visitors touring the 1790’s home or staying in the B&B cottages on site, while The Cottage Plantation, another of the early plantations with extensive grounds and fascinating historic outbuildings, allows picnicking only for overnight guests. The Myrtles Plantation has a “no picnicking” rule. At the free state museum at the gates of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, an expansion set for completion mid-July will make available a
covered picnic pavilion with tables and rocking chairs. There is also the West Feliciana Sports and Recreational Park just north of town with natural trails, sports fields and picnic tables; it is open daily during daylight hours at no charge.
The St. Francisville area abounds in sandy creekbeds, with access from most of the bridges, and of course there are the banks of the Mississippi River, but picnickers in these areas need to watch out for snakes. In a rural region like this, visitors would be well advised to pay attention to posted private property signs and to remember that barbed wire fences are usually there for a very good reason, which just might be a big ol’ brahma bull behind the next bush. Trespassing is never a good idea, and it isn’t necessary, because there are plenty of picnic spots that welcome visitors and provide the facilities and the setting to make for a perfect outing, not only enjoyable but also safe. And always remember, as the mantra goes, to leave only footprints and take only photographs.
Now, as for filling that picnic basket: Since few of us are fortunate enough to have a Miss Mamie or a Miss Sadie to pack our picnic hampers for us, we’re lucky to have some local restaurants that can pick up the slack. Feliciana Seafood has some of the best fried chicken around as well as deli sandwiches, and fried chicken, that oldtime picnic staple, is also available at the Cracker Barrel convenience store and Church’s in St. Francisville. Magnolia Café and Audubon Café have specialty sandwiches and salads that make the perfect picnic fare, and don’t forget to add some of those gigantic Mag cookies for desert. Those with an ethnic hankering can get something to go from Que Pasa Mexican food, Sonny’s Pizza or East Dragon Chinese, and if the perfect picnic to you calls for a boudin link and a Dr. Pepper, try Benoit’s Country Meat Block. D’John’s has great barbecue, and Cypress Grill’s poboys would make delectable picnic fare as well. For gourmets, Varnadoe’s Carriage House
at The Myrtles and The Oxbow both can provide delightful takeout feasts with advance notice, complete with beverages, as can the restaurants at The Bluffs. And the St. Francisville Inn now has a specialty wine bar where picnickers can savour old favorites or sample some new varieties before choosing a few bottles to pack into the basket; corkscrews, cheeses and all the necessities are available here.
After picnicking, visitors should take advantage of all the St. Francisville area offers. There are six antebellum plantations open for daily tours: Rosedown and Audubon State Historic Sites, The Myrtles, Greenwood, Butler Greenwood and The Cottage; Catalpa is open by reservation, and Afton Villa Gardens opens seasonally, with spring usually the peak of its blooming season. Picturesque 19th-century structures throughout downtown St. Francisville are filled with an eclectic selection of little shops, and reasonably priced meals are available in a nice array of restaurants. Some of the state's best Bed and Breakfasts offer overnight accommodations ranging from golf clubs and lakeside resorts to historic townhouses and country plantations; a modern motel has facilities to accommodate busloads. Recreational opportunities abound in the Tunica Hills, with excellent hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, golfing and horseback riding, in addition to the superb birdwatching. For online coverage of tourist facilities and attractions in the St. Francisville area, see www.stfrancisville.us, www.stfrancisville.net, or www.stfrancisvilleovernight.com; or telephone (225) 635-3873 or 635-6330.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Participating in this Art Walk down Commerce, Ferdinand and Royal Streets:
Sage Hill Gifts- Donna Kilbourne, paintings
Cypress Grill- Solar Heat playing music in the evening
St. Francisville Inn-photography of Patrick Walsh, Jewelry of Darcy Walsh- also
selling wine and cheese
Michael Miller Pottery- Michael's work
The Massage Center- Hannah Dedon, copperwork, other artwork
West Feliciana Library- children's art activity
Systems Helpers- Michelle Spencer- stained glass
Herschel Harrington Gallery- Edmond Ewell, paintings and photography
Ellen Kennon- Margie Blake, stained glass, angels
Eleanor Manning's front porch- Eleanor will be painting florals
Owen Kemp is opening her home for a special showing of her extensive local art
Grandmother's Buttons- Joanna McLemore, jewelry; children's art activity
Shanty Too- Camille Thibodeaux, paintings
Better Bodies for Ladies- Music by George Freeman and Alaina Richard
Britches and Stitches Consignment- MacKenzie Kaiser, paintings
Chris Morrison's porch- Bryan Horton and Hannah Horton, photography
Mrs. Ware's front porch- Sandra Ware, paintings and jewelry
Lisa Fisher's fence- children's artwork
Olivia Pass' front porch- Carin Carlson, paintings and Elizabeth Denton, photography
Katherine Leake's front porch- special art exhibit by the 3rd grade art class
St. Francis Gallery and Antiques- resident artists and offering refreshments
Town Hall - Barn Door Quilters
Backwoods Gallery- Linda Broderick, Frances Durham, Krista Roche, Joseph Savell, and Mono-printing demonstration with Elizabeth Denton
Mosaic Garden-Pam Steinseik, paintings and music by Kevin Johnson
BirdMan Coffee and Books- mobiles by George Ufford and pottery by Tina Ufford
- raku firing with Tina Ufford at 2:00 and at 5:00
The Beaded Path- Leesa Widajewski, Nancy Rothschild and Dickie Wagner
The Methodist Church- West Feliciana Community Singers and the West Feliciana Academy of Music and the Arts
Fish pond park at corner of Ferdinand and Royal- children's art activity, making
St. Francisville Transitory Theatre - near Julius Freyhan School - - - Poetry
Garden - wooded resting area with bench on Ferdinand St.
4:00 Children's parade- meet at the park (corner of Royal and Ferdinand) with your jewelry you made a Grandmother's Buttons, get your flag you made here, and we will parade down Royal Street, with James Fox-Smith and his rickshaw!!!
Original Painting by Lee Barber will be auctioned off at the office
of Molly McGraw Porter (#2 3V Tourist Court)
Look for the Art Larks, (created by local artists)
to be sold by silent auction at each location!
Meet at BirdMan at 5:30 for results
and purchasing of Art Larks then music by The Fugitive Poets!
Thursday, March 08, 2007
showcases St. Francisville's abundant birdlife
by Anne Butler
|Mississippi Kites over Cat Island NWR|
Oil Painting by Murrell Butler
Birding has been called the second fastest growing outdoor activity in the country, and the state of Louisiana, with its unspoiled forested areas, cypress swamps and coastal marshes, offers unparalleled birdwatching opportunities for enthusiasts throughout the year, especially during those periods when it provides a prime resting spot along migratory routes from cooler northern climes to more temperate winter homes in the southern tropics and then back again.
In St. Francisville, Louisiana, just north of Baton Rouge on the Mississippi River, this year marks the sixth annual Audubon Country BirdFest. The weekend of March 30, 31 and April 1 brings birders and outdoor enthusiasts in boots and binoculars to scenic West Feliciana Parish for an event perfectly suited to this part of Louisiana called Audubon Country. With habitat areas ranging from the hilly loessial bluffs and steep shady ravines of the uplands to the swampy river bottomlands with hardwood forests seasonally flooded by the Mississippi River in the absence of levees, the parish has had a rich and thriving bird population, both resident and migratory, ever since the famous artist-naturalist John James Audubon painted so many of his Birds of America studies there in 1821.
The popular Audubon Country BirdFest offers beginning and advanced birding, with transportation provided, through historic plantations and antebellum gardens with such evocative names as Hollywood and Ouida in the Weyanoke area, Beechwood and Woodhill Farm near Wakefield, Rosedown and Audubon (Oakley) State Historic Sites. Other field trips feature spectacular preserved wilderness areas like The Nature Conservancy’s Mary Ann Brown Preserve and the recently expanded Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge, a heartwarming example of private and governmental cooperation in conserving significant natural resources. Canoes and life jackets will be provided since the Mississippi River is "up," because Cat Island is one of the largest tracts of virgin wetland forest along the Mississippi not protected by levees from cyclical flooding. Sometimes inundated by 15 to 20 feet of water in the spring, the wildlife refuge provides ideal habitat for huge populations of wintering waterfowl and is home to the world’s largest Bald Cypress tree, believed to be between 800 and 1500 years old and an astounding 83 feet tall. Participants on the Cat Island trip are expected to
paddle their own canoes for about 2 hours.
|Bald eagle over Cat Island NWR |
photo by Patrick Walsh
Local wildlife artist Murrell Butler personally conducts the bird walks through his own property, Oak Hill, and as usual he has generously painted this year's fund-raising limited edition print of an exuberant pair of freewheeling swallow-tailed kites. Oak Hill has a wonderful diversity of bird habitats, from the steep slopes and deep hollows of the Tunica Hills to sandy creek bottoms, from Bayou Sara to the swampy Maynard Lake, from cleared cow pastures to deep dark woods, so participating birders usually spot dozens of different varieties on the property, including lots of spring birds…warblers, orioles, tanagers, yellow-billed cuckoos, Eastern king birds. There are Eastern bluebirds in nesting boxes, and always a pair of horned owls with young in an old hawk’s nest clearly visible through a telescope trained on a large pine tree. Around the pond and the lake, woodducks flash through the trees as they leave their nests in boxes and hollow trees, and herons and ibises fish in the shallows.
History and hiking, canoeing and conservation are all part of the BirdFest weekend put together by the Feliciana Nature Society, with activities geared to every age and interest level. Birding tours and field trips are led by recognized experts through areas rich in the flora and fauna for which West Feliciana is famous, including more than 175 species of resident and migratory birds. For novice birders or those not up to a strenuous field trip, some of the trips are rated for beginners, including one excursion that promises interesting sightings right in the middle of St. Francisville's oak-shaded National Register-listed Historic District overlooking the Mississippi River. In addition, Oakley has a full day of children’s nature programs and early 1800’s games planned for Friday.
The Audubon Country Birdfest pays tribute to the famed artist-naturalist John James Audubon, who arrived in St. Francisville by steamboat in 1821, penniless and with a string of failed business ventures behind him, but rich in talent and dreams, having set for himself the staggering task of painting all of the birds of the immense fledgling country. Hired to tutor the beautiful young daughter of Oakley Plantation, now preserved as Audubon State Historic Site, he was allowed his afternoons free to roam the woods, sketching and collecting specimens, painting a large number of his famous bird studies and cutting quite a dashing figure with his long flowing locks, frilly shirts and satin breeches. The bird walk through the Oakley grounds traverses much of the same territory the artist must have trod.
|Egrets in Cypress Swamp|
photo by Patrick Walsh
BirdFest headquarters are the St. Francisville Inn next to Parker Memorial Park, right in the heart of historic downtown St. Francisville; all tours and transportation originate there, and participants may register at headquarters or in advance (telephone 800-488-6502, mail P.O. Box 2866, St. Francisville, LA 70775, e-mail email@example.com). Detailed online information is available at the very comprehensive website www.audubonbirdfest.com; since each birding tour is limited to 20 participants, signing up in advance is a good idea. A large tally board recording bird sightings is located in the park, site of exhibits, artists, demonstrations, children's activities and nature-related vendors all day Saturday.
In the St. Francisville area, there are six antebellum plantations open for daily tours: Rosedown and Audubon State Historic Sites, The Myrtles, Greenwood, Butler Greenwood and The Cottage; Catalpa is open by reservation, and Afton Villa Gardens opens seasonally, with spring usually the peak of its blooming season. Picturesque 19th-century structures throughout downtown St. Francisville are filled with an eclectic selection of little shops, and reasonably priced meals are available in a nice array of restaurants. Some of the state's best Bed and Breakfasts offer overnight accommodations ranging from golf clubs and lakeside resorts to historic townhouses and country plantations; a modern motel has facilities to accommodate busloads. Recreational opportunities abound in the Tunica Hills, with excellent hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, golfing and horseback riding, in addition to the superb birdwatching. For online coverage of tourist facilities and attractions in the St. Francisville area, see, www.stfrancisville.net, or www.stfrancisvilleovernight.com; or telephone (225) 635-3873 or 635-6330.
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Monday, January 29, 2007
WOODLAND WELCOMES VISITORS
FOR ANNUAL AUDUBON SPRING PILGRIMAGE
in St. Francisville, Louisiana
by Anne Butler
|Woodland on this year's Audubon Pilgrimage tour.|
If houses could fly like crows, it would have taken a trip of only 37 miles. But houses cannot fly, and so the historic house called Woodland had to slowly and laboriously cross 300 miles of back roads as well as several centuries to fulfill its role of reestablishing family ties and making dreams come true. As visitors to St. Francisville’s popular Audubon Pilgrimage March 16, 17 and 18 will learn, the improbable odyssey of wonderful Woodland was simply meant to be.
It all began in the opening years of the 19th century, when widowed Olivia Ruffin Barrow led a large group of descendants from their Carolina home to establish a family plantation dynasty along the banks of Little Bayou Sara in Louisiana’s hilly Felicianas. First Highland, and then Greenwood and Ellerslie, Rosebank and Afton Villa, Live Oak and Rosedown, all these magnificent plantations housed Olivia’s sons and daughters and their progeny off and on over the years.
As the Barrows were building palatial plantation houses and planting sugar cane and cotton in the rolling countryside, a Virginia gentleman by the name of Major Amos Webb was establishing himself in nearby St. Francisville, where he operated a theater, had a fine saltbox home on Royal St. and, as postmaster, tried without success to have the town go down in history as Webbsville. Before leaving the parish, Webb would also abide at his bride’s family place, Live Oak, which would later be owned by Barrows, and by 1892 his townhouse would belong to another of Olivia Barrow’s descendants, Dr. Feltus Barrow, colorful turn-of-the-century horse-and-buggy doctor who also served as town mayor.
|Columns of Woodland|
In early antebellum days, there were only so many families in the remote reaches of Louisiana’s plantation country, so the interconnections weren’t wholly surprising. But wait! There’s more. Fast Forward several centuries, when Cammie Norwood took a shortcut to I-49 on her way to visit a daughter in Shreveport. Near the picturesque early steamboat town of Washington along Bayou Courtableau something caught her eye and tugged at her heartstrings—an old abandoned Greek Revival house, deteriorating, decaying, but obviously at one time a magnificent structure. On a subsequent trip she showed it to her husband David, longtime newspaper artist and avid preservationist as well as great-nephew of Dr. Feltus Barrow, and he loved it just as much.
A year later, their nextdoor neighbor in Baton Rouge’s Garden District showed Cammie a picture of a house where her mother had been born, a house now considered such a liability that the family was planning to tear it down. It was the same house! It turned out to have quite a history of its own, a history intertwined with the Barrow family and the Felicianas, for this house had been built around 1850 by that very same Major Amos Webb for his son, Dr. Louis Archibald Webb.
Dr. Webb studied at the University of Virginia, then returned to Louisiana to practice medicine and manage his father’s 4000-acre sugar plantation. After his death, his house eventually passed into the possession of Jacob U. Payne, prominent New Orleans cotton broker and close friend of Jefferson Davis, a frequent houseguest. During the Civil War the house was utilized as a hospital for Confederate soldiers and was damaged by artillery fire when Union troops under Gen. Nathaniel Banks battled Confederates under Gen. Richard Taylor nearby. When hot and thirsty Yankee soldiers tried to drink from her well, the Widow Webb removed the pump and taunted them that the water was polluted by dead cats; when the same troops passed by later, they sang out “Cats in the Well, Cats in the Well.” It was from the Thistlethwaite family that the Norwoods acquired the house they would rename Woodland.
|Author Anne Butler at previous Audubon Pilgrimage|
To move the house from St. Landry Parish to property adjoining Highland Plantation in West Feliciana near St. Francisville, the Norwoods turned to David Beason, the recognized authority on restoration moves. Preparing for the move took a year; putting the house back together after the move took another year. The first and third floor as well as second-floor center hall were disassembled, but the double parlors and 12-foot-deep front and back porches were moved in one piece. The four chimneys were torn down and then reconstructed. Much of the millwork was intact, so that it could be numbered and put right back into place, as were the second-floor hallway flooring, the center hall arch and second-floor back porch columns. The doors are original, as are mantles, baseboards, second-story Federal windows. What is now the first-floor hallway was originally a carriage passage, and this is considered to be among the last of the fine plantation houses to have had such a feature in Louisiana.
Saving Woodland’s original woodwork was well worth all the effort. When David McNicoll, born in 1876, wrote his memoirs of early Washington, he vividly recalled the Dr. Louis Archibald Webb Plantation as a very large southern-style house on the north bank of Bayou Boeuf, flanked by pigeonniers and a garconnier and occupied over the years by a succession of interesting characters like “Six-Shooter Bill” Prudhomme. McNicholl was given a tour of the home by J.U. Payne, who proudly pointed out the handmade stair rails and window trim, moldings and newel posts, all the work of skilled slaves, the spindles turned on a fixed-center lathe utilizing a foot-treadle and springy tree limb. Ironically this same Mr. Payne, so proud of his property, very nearly burned the whole place down trying to dry out an underground cistern beneath the kitchen with a roaring fire.
Woodland with its 14-foot ceilings shows transitional architectural features, combining early Creole influences with the later Anglo-American elements such as the colossal Doric columns across the front. Filled with antiques from early Barrow family homes, it seems right at home now and is a welcome and fitting addition to the historic plantations of West Feliciana.
|Children at play during Pilgrimage|
Other features of the 36th annual Audubon Pilgrimage, sponsored by the long-established West Feliciana Historical Society, include Nydrie which was also used as a hospital during the Civil War, The Oaks which was built in 1888 by Thomas Butler, Rosedown and Oakley Plantations which are now state historic sites, the glorious antebellum gardens of Afton Villa right at the peak of azalea bloom, and three historic churches in the National Register-listed Historic District of St. Francisville.
Audubon Pilgrimage also features costumed children dancing the Maypole, award-winning authentic 1820’s costumes, an Antique Show & Sale in three vintage in-town buildings, a lively re-created rural homestead showcasing the simple farm chores of yesteryear, and entertainment both Friday and Saturday evenings. Friday night features a storytelling tour through the oak-shaded graveyard of Grace Episcopal Church, hymn singing at United Methodist Church, and a wine and cheese reception at the Historical Society Museum, while Saturday evening entertainment is called Revel on Royal Street with music, dancing and refreshments.
Pilgrimage tickets can be purchased at the Historical Society Museum or by mail from West Feliciana Historical Society, Box 338, St. Francisville, LA 70775; online information is available at www.audubonpilgrimage.info. This celebration of a southern spring in the quaint little rivertown of St. Francisville, LA, commemorates the contributions of that famed artist-naturalist John James Audubon, who arrived at St. Francisville by steamboat in 1821, penniless and with a string of failed business ventures behind him, but rich in talent and dreams of painting all the birds of this fledgling country of America. Hired to tutor the beautiful young daughter of Oakley Plantation, he was allowed his afternoons free to roam the woods, sketching and collecting specimens, and would paint a large number of his famous bird folios in this area.
|Azeala's of Grace Episcopal Church|
Born in 1785 in Santa Domingo to a French ship captain and his Creole mistress, young Audubon was reared in France. He was sent to America in 1803 to learn English and a trade on his father’s Pennsylvania estate, but the fiery young artist chafed under the bonds of practical employment, longing instead to be at his nature studies in the woods, where he cut a dashing figure with his long flowing locks, frilly shirts and satin breeches. In 1820 he set out for New Orleans with only his gun, flute, violin, bird books, portfolios of his own drawings, chalks, watercolors, drawing papers in a tin box, and a dog-eared journal. He earned a meager living painting portraits and giving lessons in drawing, dancing and more scholastic subjects, but by the following year Audubon was established at Oakley Plantation near St. Francisville and well on his way to accomplishing his amazing task.
The St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination but is especially lovely in the spring, as flowering bulbs and fruit trees compete with ancient azaleas to brighten lawns and gardens. Six historic St. Francisville area plantations--Rosedown and Audubon State Historic Sites, Butler Greenwood, the Myrtles, the Cottage and Greenwood--are open for daily tours, Catalpa Plantation is open by reservation and Afton Villa Gardens seasonally. Eclectic shops fill restored 19th-century structures throughout the downtown area, reasonably priced meals are available in a nice array of restaurants in St. Francisville, and some of the state's best Bed and Breakfasts offer overnight accommodations ranging from golf clubs and lakeside resorts to historic townhouses and country plantations; a modern motel has facilities to accommodate busloads. The scenic unspoiled Tunica Hills region surrounding St. Francisville offers excellent biking, hiking, fishing, birding, horseback riding
and other recreational activities.
For online coverage of tourist facilities, attractions and events in the St. Francisville area, see www.stfrancisville.us or www.stfrancisvilleovernight.com, or telephone (225) 635-3873 or 635-6330.
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