Monday, December 29, 2008

Celebration of Readers & Writers

Celebration of Readers and Writers
Symposium, February 28, 2009

The West Feliciana Parish Library and the Friends of the Library will host its 3rd Annual Celebration of Readers and Writers Symposium on February 28, 2009. This event recognizes outstanding regional authors and provides a forum for discussion of their works.
The Symposium program will include:
• James Wilcox, the author of nine novels, is the director of Creative Writing at Louisiana State University. In his most recent novel, Hunk City, Wilcox revisits Tula Springs and the characters of his debut novel, Modern Baptists. Wilcox was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.
• Danny Heitman, an award-winning columnist for The Baton Rouge Advocate, chronicles a pivotal season that John James Audubon spent in St. Francisville in 1821. His first book, A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House has moved Heitman into new arenas. A recognized essayist, his essays have appeared in “Smithsonian,” “The Christian Science Monitor” and other national publication. In 2007, Heitman was awarded the Templeton Foundation’s national “In Character Prize” for distinguished commentary.
• Pamela Binnings Ewen is a retired lawyer and author of her just released second novel, The Moon in the Mango Tree. Ewen’s first novel Walk Back the Cat was published in 2006. She is also the author of the nonfiction book, Faith on Trial (1999) which was used as a text for a course in law and religion at Yale Law School.
• Reggie Scott Young is an Associate Professor of English at UL, Lafayette. He is a scholar, fiction writer, and poet who grew up in Chicago, and has now edited two volumes of works by Ernest J. Gaines. Among his creative honors is the Gwendolyn Brooks Poet Laureate Award for Significant Illinois Poets and the PEN Discovery Award for fiction. We await his first novel, Preludes: A Love Story, available in the spring of 2009.
• Charles Elliott, prolific author, scholar, film director and history faculty member at Southeastern Louisiana University, will speak about the creative process as well as literary genres these authors represent.

Lunch at the Oxbow is included, and books will be available for purchase and signing by the authors. Tickets are $35.00 per person and must be purchased ( cash / check only) in advance at the West Feliciana Parish Library, 11865 Ferdinand St, (St. Francisville) or by mail: PO Box 3120, St. Francisville, LA 70775. For information call the West Feliciana Parish Library (225) 635-3364.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Christmas in the Country

St. Francisville Celebrates Christmas in the Country

By Anne Butler

Parade in St. Francisville
Christmas in Country Parade
Troubled economic times call for a return to comfort, to simplicity, to the tried-and-true. That’s just what the little Louisiana community of St. Francisville, perched on a ridge overlooking the Mississippi River, offers visitors with its annual Christmas in the Country on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, December 5, 6 and 7th. This safe, small-town celebration of the season combines intriguing shopping opportunities with lots of old-fashioned fun for the whole family—lively Christmas parade, strolling carolers, living nativity, house tours, theatrical performances, all in historic downtown St. Francisville.

Numerous vendors display their wares along the main street.
Vendors display their wares along the main street.
The celebration kicks off on Friday evening when the angelic voices of the Children’s Choir of the First Baptist Church ring out from the front porch of Town Hall on Ferdinand St., following which longtime Mayor Billy D’Aquilla will light the town tree and host a welcome reception at which Santa just might put in an appearance.

With its Victorian homes and shops decorated with twinkling white lights tracing gingerbread galleries and soaring rooflines, the little town is transformed into a veritable winter wonderland for the holiday season, and after dark it is positively magical. Friday night the downtown merchants host White Light Night from 6:30 to 9 p.m., with trolley transportation between shops, each one featuring spectacular decorations and delightful merchandise in a pleasant and relaxed environment far removed from mall madness. Visitors should take time to hop off the trolley to participate in the popular pastime called Peep Into Our Holiday Homes, with signs designating those historic homes that offer curious visitors a glimpse through lace-c urtained windows into family holiday observances. At 7 p.m. the Baton Rouge Symphony performs at Grace Episcopal Church, followed by a dessert reception, and tickets are available through the Bank of St. Francisville.

Always a hightlight, marching bands for the Christmas Parade.
Christmas in Country Parade

Saturday gets an early start with a 7:30 Prayer Breakfast at the Methodist Church Fellowship Hall. Children will relish the opportunity to have Breakfast With St. Nick at Grace Episcopal’s Jackson Hall, sponsored by the Women’s Service League, with three seatings, 8, 9:30 and 11 a.m.; reservations may be made by calling 225-202-5403 and there is a fee. The Women’s Service League will also sell their popular giant cypress wreaths as well as Plantation Country Cookbooks on Ferdinand St. throughout the weekend to fund charitable community projects.

Throughout the day on Saturday, musical entertainments are scheduled all around the historic downtown area. The Bains Elementary Chorus sings at 9:30 a.m. at the Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, Bains Lower Elementary Choir at 9:30 at the Historical Society Museum, West Feliciana Middle School Choir at 10 at the museum, Lagniappe Quartet strolling along Ferdinand and Royal Streets from 10 to 2, West Feliciana High School Spanish and Latin Club singers at 10:30 at the Methodist Fellowship Hall, High School Choir at Methodist Hall at 11. The Angola Inmate Traveling Band enlivens things across from Garden Symposium Park from noon to 4, and the Main Street Band performs in Parker Memorial Park noon to 2. Junior Jazzercise puts on a lively demonstration at 11:30 downtown.
Vendors offer handmade goods.
The Women’s Service League’s immensely popular annual Christmas Parade begins at 2 p.m. Saturday and runs along Ferdinand and Commerce Sts. with decorated floats, bands, marching units and plenty of candy flung to onlookers. Theme this year is JUMP IN! in tribute to grand marshall Miguel Pate, hometown hero-athlete who participated in this year’s Olympics competing in the Long Jump. All day in Parker Memorial Park there will be vendors offering food, music and children’s activities, and other artisans will offer strictly homemade items along Ferdinand and Royal Streets throughout the weekend.

Saturday evening abounds with special activities, beginning with a Community Sing-A-Long at the Methodist Church on Royal St. at 6 p.m. The First Baptist Church at the intersection of LA 10 and US 61 reprises its beloved Live Nativity from 6 to 8 p.m., and the Peep Into Our Holiday Homes continues along Ferdinand and Royal Streets from 6 to 8 p.m. At 7:30 p.m. at the Old Market Hall on Royal St., the talented group of thespians in the St. Francisville Transitory Theatre presents two Christmas stories, “A Christmas Carol” and “The Gift of the Magi,” with limited seating and a small admission charge.

Christmas in Country Parade

Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. the Library Tour of Homes opens the doors to some spectacular private residences for the benefit of the parish library system; tickets may be purchased at the library on Ferdinand St. in advance or on the day of the tour. Featured homes are those of Clifford and Cynthia Wilcox, Phillip Plaisance and Ken Haydel, L.J. and Jo Sevin, Chard and Mendy Richard, and the Chapel at The Bluffs. The St. Francisville Transitory Theatre presents a second performance of the two Christmas stories at 7:30 p.m. Sunday evening in the Old Market Hall.

Unless otherwise noted, all activities are free of charge and open to the public. The St. Francisville area also provides other opportunities for visitors throughout the month. There are a number of splendidly restored plantation homes open for tours daily: The Cottage Plantation, Butler Greenwood Plantation, The Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, all decorated for the holidays in antebellum style, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation and Afton Villa Gardens seasonally. The area’s two state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, offer fascinating living-history demonstrations every weekend to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs. The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, horseback riding with rental mounts from Cross Creek Stables. Besides the shops, many in restored historic structures, there are fine little restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area as well as some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts for overnight stays, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of all the seasonal festivities.

For additional information on the St. Francisville area, telephone 225-635-4224, 225-635-3873 or 225-635-6330; online, or

Monday, November 10, 2008

Friends of Library "Tour of Homes"


Friends of the WFP Library's
Annual Christmas Tour of Homes

West Feliciana Tour of Homes

The twelfth annual Friends of the West Feliciana Tour of Homes will be held Sunday, December 7, 2008 between 12 noon and 5:00P.M. During Christmas in the Country. Four homes will be on tour: one in Plantation Oaks off Hwy 61 near Riverbend Nuclear Plant, one in Plantation Ridge off Hwy 10, and two in the Bluffs. Additionally, The Chapel on the Bluff in The Bluffs will be open to the tour.

Tickets for the tour are $15 per person and may be purchased in advance and on the day of the tour at the West Feliciana Parish Library, 11865 Ferdinand Street in St. Francisville. All Proceeds from the tour are used for library projects. For more information, call the library at 225-635-3364.

West Feliciana Parish Library
11865 Ferdinand St.
St. Francisville, La, 70775

For more information call 225-635-3364

Homes on 2008 Tour

Clifford and Cynthia Wilcox
5310 Live Oak Drive
St. Francisville, La 70775

A country French style home built in 2006. It features an open floor plan and is completely handicapped accessible. It sits on 9 acres of beautifully landscaped property.

Home of Clifford and Cynthia Wilcox
Photo by
Ann Weller
Philip Plaisance & Ken Haydel
5758 Alexander Drive
St. Francisville, La 70775

A brick and stucco cottage in French Quarter-West Indies style built in 2004 by Haydel Contractors. The owners’ collections feature antique estate silver, Tiffany china, vermeil and Chinese and Japanese porcelains. The home is currently being photographed for several national interior design magazines.

Home of Philip Plaisance & Ken Haydel
Photo by
Ann Weller
L.J. & Jo Sevin
14205 Sunrise Way
St. Francisville, La 70775

The Sevin Home is built in the West Indies style with an enclosed courtyard. The outdoor kitchen overlooks the 18th green of The Bluffs Golf Course and Thompson Creek, and a sundeck is above the outdoor kitchen. An interior winding staircase, locally crafted, leads to a library area, guest quarters, and a media center which opens to a sundeck.

Home of L.J. & Jo Sevin
Photo by
Ann Weller
Chard & Mindey Richard
5913 Afton Villa Way
St. Francisville, La 70775

Built and designed by Jordan Traditions in 2005, this Louisiana colonial style home was designed using materials from the 18th century era. Rustic materials, such as old brick and virgin longleaf heart pine floors and beams, gabled rooflines and a huge classic front porch speak to the traditional roots of this home. These classic features join with the open floor plan, kitchen and bath amenities and Energy Star features to meet the needs of modern family life.

home of Chard & Mindey Richard
Photo by
Ann Weller
The Chapel on the Bluffs

The Chapel on the Bluffs is a nondenominational chapel for the use and enjoyment of all Bluffs members, residents, and lodge guests. The hanging light fixtures originated from an old European chapel. Black walnut paneled walls are from a preacher’s barn. The church is surrounded by a custom built white picket fence with cross detail. The masonry of the outdoor steps is an exact replica of an old church in Clinton, Louisiana.

Chapel at the Bluffs
Photo by
Ann Weller

Chapel at the Bluffs
Photo by Ann Weller

Christmas Special - Transitory Theatre

St. Francisville Transitory Theatre presents;
Performances are scheduled for 4:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, December 6 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, December 7 at Market Hall on Royal Street in St. Francisville. Each performance will run approximately 90 minutes which includes a 15 minute intermission between plays. Admission to all performances is $5.00 per person. Tickets will be on sale 30 minutes prior to each performance. Seating is limited to 50 people, so come early to get your seats!.

For more informaiton: Click Here

Transportation Notice!

Ferry Schedule
The St. Francisville/New Roads ferry is on a low water schedule which means that it will run only during daylight hours. Until further notice, the ferry will operate from 6 am until 6 pm.

Highway 61 Closing -(Hwy Closure has been postponded until further notice - Hwy will be open this weekend.)
Highway 61 from Folks Road to Highway 965 will be closed on Friday, November 14 at 7:00 pm with a scheduled re-opening on Monday morning, November 17 at 6:00 am. Denton & James, the contractor for the widening of the highway, will need to do culvert work during this time. There will be detours set up to allow flow into state highways.
More information on the exact route of the detours will be forthcoming.

Informational Map - Click on icons for information.

View Larger Map

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Get those teams together for the chamber's annual Swing for Scholarships Golf Tournament! CALL NOW for your entry form. The tournament will be held on November 10, 2008 at The Bluffs. The range opens at 10:30am with lots of food, fun, and a good time! Proceeds benefit the Scholarship Fund and the Chamber. Sponsorships are needed NOW!

The chamber reminds everyone that Election Day is soon approaching! Early voting is now going on until Tuesday, October 28th until 6pm at the Registrar of Voters Office located at 5932 Commerce Street, next to the Police Jury Office in St. Francisville. The office hours are 8:30am until 6pm, Monday - Saturday. Get there and vote early if you anticipate being out of town or have something else to do! It is an honor and privilege to vote!!

The chamber's Discovery Trip 2008 was a HUGE success! Everyone had a good time and and returned with many ideas that would work in our community. Chamber President, Miles Higgins, chaired the event and worked diligently to make this event a success with the love and concerns of our community, the place his and our families live and grow. The Mayor and the Economic Development Director of Madison opened their city to everyone with warm hospitality. Miles will report on the trip in next weeks newsletter. Thank you Miles for a job well done!!!

Many events are going on the next few weeks here in St. Francisville. There is something for everyone of every age. Get out and come to St. Francisville for a weekend of fun and relaxation in "our" wonderful town.

Linda Osterberger
Executive Director
St. Francisville Chamber of Commerce

"Swing for Scholarships" Applications now Ready

The Chamber's "Swing for Scholarships" golf tournament applications are now available. The event is planned for November 10,2008 at The Bluffs. Get those clubs and your team ready for a good time.
Deadline for team applications are November 3, 2008. You may call the chamber office at 225-635-6717 for more details and for an application.

Movie Under the Stars

"Meet the Robinsons" will be shown at dark on Friday, October 24 at Parker Park. The Women's Service League will provide refreshments while you sit back, relax and enjoy the movie. All you'll need is a canned good for the Food Bank for admission and a blanket and/or chairs.

Town Hosts Dedication to Mr. Richard Holcomb

On Saturday, October 25, 2008 at 10am, The Town of St. Francisville will hold a dedication ceremony to Mr. Richard "Dick" Holcomb, the former Mayor Pro-Tem of St. Francisville at the railroad park on Ferdinand St. (site of the red caboose). This is a special dedication to a special person who was dedicated to St. Francisville. Light refreshments will be served. The public is invited.

Relay For Life Meeting

Join the community in the fight against cancer by attending the Relay For Life meeting on Thursday, October 30th at 6pm at Town Hall. Do you know someone who has cancer or are you a survivor? Come to be part of this worthwhile event for our community. Call Amy Spillman, Relay Chair, at 225-721-1742 for more information.

Yellow Leaf Arts Festival

The 6th Annual Yellow Leaf Arts Festival will be held at Parker Park on Saturday and Sunday, October 26 and 26. There will artists display and selling their wares as well as demonstrating their artistic talents. Musical groups will also be playing. Bring the family out for a weekend of fun.

Trick or Treat Time!

Come join the fun downtown and visit local businesses and residents for Trick or Treat. Stroll along Ferdinand and Royal Streets for this safe and Happy Halloween tradition on Friday, October 31st from 5:30pm until 7:30pm.
For more information, call Laurie Walsh at the Main Street Office at 635-3873.

Relocation Packets are now Available

If you know of anyone who is moving to St. Francisville, they can call the Chamber office at 635-6717 and request a re-location packet. Information about the parish and parish facilities along with phone numbers they will need and some brochures from Chamber businesses and maps of the town and parish are enclosed in the packets.

Contact Information
Linda Osterberger; Executive Secretary
phone: 635-6717

Thursday, October 16, 2008

St. Francisville Symphony

The St. Francisville Symphony Association is proud to announce 2008-2009 events. Hope you can attend one or all of these wonderful events. Get your tickets early to ensure your seat.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fall is Colorful in St. Francisville


By Anne Butler

Fall Countryside
Fall colors along local hilly & windy back-roads.
photo by ptWalsh

The first frosty nights of fall bring to the St. Francisville area some of south Louisiana's most spectacular autumn foliage, as the leaves of wild sumac and swamp maples are tinged with scarlet, providing striking contrast with the brilliant golds and yellows of the beech and gingko trees. Early fall also brings cool clear days simply perfect for hiking or horseback riding through the scenic unspoiled Tunica Hills.

Fall also brings some of the area's most popular special events. October 17 and 18 mark the 20th anniversary of the Southern Garden Symposium, which attracts gardening enthusiasts to hear programs presented by outstanding experts from around the globe. There are workshops and lectures on garden and floral design as well as heirloom and newly developed plants. Proceeds over the years have funded important revitalization projects in state historic gardens and scholarships for LSUís School of Landscape Architecture.

The last weekend in October brings the increasingly popular Yellow Leaf Arts Festival, sponsored by Arts For All and this year combining Vibes in the Ville musical entertainment with all manner of creative arts and crafts. From 10 to 5 Saturday and Sunday, October 25 and 26th, picturesque Parker Park in historic downtown St. Francisville will be filled with lively activities. Donna Kilbourne is the Artist In Residence in the park's bandstand, while dozens of other artists and crafters present their creations in booths scattered around beneath the ancient live oaks.

Painting by Murrell Butler
Oil painting by Murrell Butler, who will be attending the Yellow Leaf Festival
Painters like Laura Lindsey, Lorraine Griffin, Leon Hollins, Coco Treppendahl, Carin Carlson, Alvin Batiste, Marsha Eisworth and Murrell Butler; potters including Craig Roth and Tina Ufford doing raku firing on site; jewelry artists like Blanchie Johnson and Sandra Ware, Leese Widajewski, Vero and EveAnna Gomez; graphic artists like Amanda McKinney; photographers such as Ken Stewart and Salongo Lee; furniture makers like Wendell Dietz; makers of soaps and body lotions and candles like Camp Topisaw; dollmakers like Anna Hinson; authors like Margot Soule and Anne Butleróa wonderful mix of creative artists will be around both days to exhibit their wares and meet admirers. Visitors will also have the rare opportunity to hear Louisiana's current poet laureate Darrell Bourque, who will present a poetry workshop on Friday, October 24 (register by calling 225-721-1296 or online at birdman@bsf.netThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ) and will also read from his works on Friday evening at 6:30 at Birdman and Saturday during the festival at 1 p.m.

The Yellow Leaf Arts Festival this year also includes a great selection of varied musical entertainment. On Saturday at 10:30 the children's group called "Voices in Motion" performs, followed at noon by Annie Fergus, at 3 by Nancy Roppolo and at 4:30 by an acoustic jam offstage. On Sunday the Laughing Lizards String Band kicks off the entertainment at noon, followed at 1:30 by Kevin Johnson, at 2:30 by the immensely talented West Feliciana Community Singers and at 3 by the Fugitive Poets. This year marks the sixth anniversary for this arts festival, which has grown in scope and popularity each year.

Inmates risk attacks to collect poker chip on the bull. - courtesy LSP/CORRECTIONS
And then, of course, fall also brings the hugely popular Angola Prison Rodeo, held every Sunday throughout the month. This year's rodeos are October 5, 12, 19 and 26, with the arena opening at 9 for the huge arts and crafts festival, complete with inmate bands and plenty of food concessions, and the rodeo events kicking off at 2. The covered rodeo arena now seats more than 10,000 spectators, and it is filled for every performance, generating enormous funds and bringing more visitors to the St. Francisville area than any other annual event.

This was surely not always the case. Now the longest running prison rodeo in the country, this one had its inauspicious beginnings in 1965 with a few inmates putting on a show for a few employee-spectators sprawled on the hoods of their cars circled around a make-shift arena. Within a couple of years the public was allowed to attend, but they had to sit on apple crates until 1969 when bleachers were erected (their collapse during one performance added to the excitement, but there were no injuries and the show went on).

Over the years, the rodeo has grown in scope and stature, now held according to the rules of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association with professional rodeo stock and judges as well as professional clowns and emergency services to ensure inmate and spectator safety. The record-breaking ticket, concession and hobbycraft sales have exceeded all expectations, and the new stadium-arena is a far cry from the football bleachers of the early shows.

With the success of the prison rodeo, there was some contention as to exactly who had had a hand in starting it, so much so that the Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum Foundation ratified a resolution in 2002 stating that no one specific individual could be identified as deserving credit as the founder of the rodeo, though several longtime employees were singled out as having played significant roles: Claude Butler, Red Norris, Walter Carmouche, Dick Oliveaux, John Cavalier, Jessie Simms, H.L. Hanchey, Nick Skrmetta, Nolan Tollett, C. M. Henderson, Kermi Varnado and Thomas Hill, plus several inmates like longtime Angolite staffer Ron Wikberg.

Angola rodeo bareback rider
Bareback rider - courtesy LSP/CORRECTIONS
But in the late 1960's, a bizarre twist of fate did more to push the Angola Prison Rodeo toward the professional status it enjoys today than any other event when Jack Favor was wrongfully convicted of murder in Bossier City and shipped to the state penitentiary. While the conviction would be overturned after nine long years, Favor's stay at Angola would prove a great boon to the rodeo. A native of Eula, Texas, 6"2', handsome Jack Favor was a rodeo professional, a bigger-than-life and colorful all-American cowboy, four-time world-champion steer wrestler and bronco buster. Throughout the 1940s and 50s he had travelled the rodeo circuit across the country, setting a world record by bulldogging a steer in 2.2 seconds in Houston and winning $18,000 in Madison Square Garden as the only cowboy to ever ride Hell's Angel, called the greatest bucking horse that ever lived.

By the sixties Favor had retired from active rodeo participation and had settled down with his family in Texas, working as a travelling salesman. He had the misfortune to pick up a couple of hitchhikers while making a sales call in north Louisiana, and when they later robbed and killed the owners of a fish-bait stand, they tried to shift some of the blame onto Jack Favor, who had actually gone on to Oklahoma by the time the crime was being committed.

Angola rodeo Flag Bearer
Opening Flag Bearer

At Angola, Favor broke horses for prison guards, worked in the library and hospital, and transformed the rodeo from a ragtag operation to a thoroughly professional production attracting big-name performers and thousands of visitors. He added excitement with such prison rodeo favorites as the "Bust Out" and "Guts and Glory" pitting scrambling inmates and bucking bulls, and he travelled the state promoting the production, his national reputation adding credibility and appeal.

Today the Angola Prison Rodeo is called the Wildest Show in the South and is immensely popular, so visitors must reserve tickets ahead of time (

Halloween weekend heralds another wildly popular event in the St. Francisville area, the eerie ghost tours at The Myrtles Plantation, which bills itself as Americaís most haunted house. As dusk darkens the galleries with their wrought-iron trim and shadows deepen beneath the ancient live oaks, grim stories of murders and mishaps send chills down spines. The bloodstains on the stair step where the body dropped, the crackled finish of the vintage mirror where a soul lies trapped, the vengeful poisoning of the children's birthday cake--stories to terrify the timid and set even the most sceptical teeth on edge.

Visitors today will find fascinating restored 19th-century structures filled with fine shops and restaurants throughout downtown St. Francisville, which boasts an extensive Historic District listed on the National Register. The area has a wonderful assortment of Bed & Breakfasts as well as a modern motel. Six restored historic plantations are open daily for tours; Rosedown Plantation and Audubon State Historic Sites, Butler Greenwood Plantation, The Cottage Plantation, Greenwood Plantation and The Myrtles; Catalpa Plantation is open by reservation, and Afton Villa Gardens is open seasonally. The surrounding Tunica Hills region offers a wide array of unsurpassed recreational opportunities, from birding and biking to horseback riding and hiking.

For additional information on the St. Francisville area, telephone 225-635-4224, 225-635-3873 or 225-635-6330; online, or

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Murrell Butler Reports

About Murrell Butler

In 1988 Butler was selected as artist of the year by the Louisiana Wild Turkey Federation and his print, "Courting the Yellow Tops," was selected as the 1988 Stamp Print. In 1994 he won the "Wild Louisiana Stamp" contest with his depiction of a pair of roseate spoonbills. In 1997 Butler was commissioned by the National Wild Turkey Federation to print three paints for their limited edition prints. He has also designed stamps for the National Wildlife Federation's annual stamp sheet, done illustrations for the Encyclopedia Britannica, and illustrated Dr. Ernest P. Edwards' A Field Guide To Mexican Birds. For many years he was a freelance artist for Cape Shore Paper Company, a greeting card company in Maine. Butler's work has been featured in National Wildlife Magazine, Wildlife Art, The Louisiana Conservationist, Louisiana Life and many other publications.

"Proud Parents"

"White Ibis at Lake Fausse"

"Palm Sunday"

Murrell reports on his latest projects:

The Canada Goose painting, Proud Parents, was done here at my pond (Oak Hill - St. Francisville, La.) the first day the goslings took a swim. Jim Mire shot the picture. The composition and lighting were perfect for a painting so I painted it in oil on canvas justas it was.

The second painting, "White Ibis at Lake Fausse" was taken by myself in the big cypress end of the lake (Lake Fausse) in early morning with the light streaming through the moss. I painted this one just as the photograph showed and added the white ibis.

My painting, "Palm Sunday", showing a great egret and palmetas that was done at Jean Lafette National Park at Barataria, La. was chosen for the top l00 travel show and will be at the St. George Museum in St. Louis, Mo. for the month of August. I am now working on a Commission for the John Conrads of Berwick, La. of their champion live oak.

For more paintings & prints by Murrell Butler, visit his website.

White Linen Night


Taking a cue from the French Quarter’s popular event, the St. Francisville Main Street Merchants Association hosts its own White Linen Night beginning at 6 p.m. on Saturday, August 23. The evening promises to put a little sizzle into summer by pairing popular shops with the area’s finest eateries, local artisans and musicians. Trolley transportation will link the featured locations along Commerce, Ferdinand and Royal Streets, and each retail outlet is offering special red-hot deals to draw customers to the downtown area to shop in the cool of the evening. Stroll along the street, hop on and off the trolley, but by all means make it to as many participating destinations as possible, because intrepid shoppers who make it to every location receive a special reward.

Long the center of commerce for the surrounding rural area, the historic little rivertown lends itself perfectly to such a spectacular event. Nearly all of its finest mercantile outlets are confined to just a few short streets, for St. Francisville was established in the opening years of the 19th century atop a narrow finger-ridge stretching along an elevation toward the Mississippi River below the bluff. There was only so much level space suitable for building, so the downtown area has been spared modern intrusions and is listed as several inclusive Historic Districts on the National Register for its architectural integrity and significance. Today the picturesque downtown area remains alive and vital, still the community center of activity, with upscale shops in historic commercial structures side-by-side with gingerbread-trimmed Victorian homes and churches shaded by century-old live oaks.

White Linen Night is designed to showcase a sampling of just about everything the St. Francisville area has to offer. Colorful shops offer everything from gifts and decorative objects to antiques and specialty clothing. Participating restaurants run the gamut from down-home soul food and ethnic dishes to fancy gourmet cuisine, so shoppers can nibble while they browse. Artists, craftspersons and artisans will show a variety of works ranging from rustic birdhouses and other crafts to copper metalworks and fine-art jewelry as well as paintings, prints and photography. The local library, historical museum and town hall get into the act with special exhibits. And live music will fill featured locations with everything from blues to banjo picking, turning this special evening into one big ol’ block party encompassing the entirety of downtown St. Francisville and everything in it.

Parking is provided at four convenient locations (West Feliciana Parish Police Jury Complex, Courthouse, St. Francisville Town Hall and St. Francisville Post Office) so that shoppers can leave their cars and jump on the trolleys provided by Highlands Bank. The trolleys will run continuously throughout the downtown area, with local high school cheerleaders to provide helpful information and maps showing locations of all participating shops. Information may be obtained online at or by telephoning the St. Francisville Main Street office at 225-635-3873.

Visitors can turn White Linen Night into a fun full weekend visit by staying over at one of the St. Francisville area’s unique Bed & Breakfasts or the modern motel (see Six restored historic plantations are open daily for tours—Rosedown Plantation and Audubon State Historic Sites, Butler Greenwood Plantation, The Cottage Plantation, Greenwood Plantation and The Myrtles; Catalpa Plantation is open by reservation, and Afton Villa Gardens is open seasonally. The surrounding Tunica Hills region offers a wide array of unsurpassed recreational opportunities, from birding and biking to horseback riding and hiking. For additional information on the St. Francisville area, telephone 225-635-4224, 225-635-3873 or 225-635-6330; online or





















P.T. Barnum Visits


By Anne Butler

That great American showman Phineas Taylor Barnum had an exuberant career exhibiting freaks and frauds, Fee-Gee Mermaids and Siamese twins, giants and midgets and everything in between, in various museums and theatrical settings until fairly late in his life he founded what would become the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus. His original, outrageous autobiography, The Life of P.T. Barnum written by Himself, was published in 1855 and gives an amusing account of his troupe’s visit to St. Francisville, Louisiana, in 1838.

Barnum’s traveling company performed throughout the South that year, from Nashville where they visited General Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage, on down through Vicksburg where they transferred from land conveyances to a steamboat purchased for $6000, to Natchez and on to St. Francisville. There, a drunk trying to sneak into the tent for free was denied admission and consequently took aim at Barnum with “a slung-shot.” Said Barnum with characteristic colorfulness, “The blow mashed my hat, and grazed the protuberance where phrenologists located the organ of caution.”

The rejected party returned with “a frightful gang of his half-drunken companions, each with a pistol, bludgeon, or other weapon. They seemed determined to assault me forthwith,” Barnum related in his autobiography. The showman begged the mayor and other respectable citizens present in the theatre for protection against the mob, but the mayor “declared his inability to afford it against such odds.” The rabble-rousing ringleader gave Barnum just one hour to load up his exhibits, strike the tent, and head on downriver on his steamboat. “He looked at his watch, I looked at the pistols and bludgeons, and I reckon that a big tent never came down with greater speed,” said Barnum.

Today’s visitors to St. Francisville, now a popular year-round tourist destination, receive a far more cordial welcome, thanks in large part to the hospitable and knowledgeable staff at the parish tourist information centers. On busy US Highway 61 about 15 miles north of St. Francisville, just below the Mississippi line, is the state-run St. Francisville Welcome Center (225-635-6962). Open daily 8:30 to 5, the facility provides helpful information on all areas of the state, with public-access WiFi and Direct TV for up-to-date weather forecasts. Capable supervisor Cathy Metz and her staff of seven dispense brochures, tour guides and maps while giving each traveler a warm and friendly greeting. Mrs. Metz says it’s a pleasure to assist the travelling public and assure that they enjoy their visit to Louisiana and the St. Francisville area.

On St. Francisville’s main thoroughfare, Ferdinand St., the West Feliciana Historical Society, West Feliciana Tourist Commission, and St. Francisville Main Street combine forces to provide helpful information and interesting museum exhibits (225-635-4224). This facility is housed in a vintage hardware store with gingerbread trim, flanked by a tidy little garden offering a welcome respite from the summer sun. Open daily from 9 to 5, Sundays from 9:30 a.m., the historical society’s well-designed museum houses excellent exhibits on the area’s vernacular architecture and history, including the long-gone port city of Bayou Sara below St. Francisville, artist John James Audubon’s stay in the area in the 1820’s, the West Florida Rebellion, and early Jewish contributions. Maps, brochures and plenty of information are dispensed by Museum Curator Helen Williams and her friendly staff, and the gift shop here is full of prints by Audubon and contemporary local bird artist Murrell Butler, photographs, Louisiana books and tasteful souvenirs. Says Mrs. Williams, who is the Jack-of-all-trades here filling many demanding roles, “We have visitors from all over the world, and it’s so interesting to meet and greet people.”

Of course the staff members of both tourist information centers say their jobs are made easier by what the St. Francisville area has to offer, from magnificent restored plantation homes and gardens open for tours to unspoiled wilderness areas in the Tunica Hills for recreation, from special events throughout the year to hospitable residents anxious to share their treasures with the world. There are wonderful little shops and restaurants, even a wine bar, though that would hold little attraction for master showman P.T. Barnum. After the reception he got in St. Francisville in 1838, threatened by local rowdies and run out of town, it was little wonder that Barnum soon became a teetotaler, enthusiastically involved in the temperance movement and lecturing across the country on the evils of strong drink. After returning from a European tour with the midget he called General Tom Thumb, he crisscrossed America promoting Jenny Lind and gave temperance lectures on nights when the Swedish Nightingale was not singing. In the early 1850’s his audience at the new Lyceum Hall on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans included 3000 of “the most respectable portion of the New Orleans public.” As he illustrated “the poisonous and destructive nature of alcohol to the animal economy,” an opponent in the audience yelled out, “How does it affect us, externally or internally?” To which the quick-witted Barnum replied, to thunderous applause, “E-ternally!”

Visitors to St. Francisville today will find fascinating restored 19th-century structures filled with fine shops and restaurants throughout downtown St. Francisville, which boasts an extensive Historic District listed on the National Register. The area has a wonderful assortment of Bed & Breakfasts as well as a modern motel. Six restored historic plantations are open daily for tours—Rosedown Plantation and Audubon State Historic Sites, Butler Greenwood Plantation, The Cottage Plantation, Greenwood Plantation and The Myrtles; Catalpa Plantation is open by reservation, and Afton Villa Gardens is open seasonally. The surrounding Tunica Hills region offers a wide array of unsurpassed recreational opportunities, from birding and biking to horseback riding and hiking. And yes, there’s even a Transitory Theatre. Mr. Barnum would feel right at home.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The True Democrat

St. Francisville’s True Democrat: more than a century covering the news in a historic little Louisiana river town

By Anne Butler

The True DemocratWhen The True Democrat first “unfurled its flag to the journalistic breeze” on February 3, 1892, in St. Francisville, it proclaimed purity as its emblem and truth and honesty as its lofty motto. It promised to labor for the advancement of the people, politically, socially and financially, to promote agricultural diversity, to encourage manufacturing and to liberally support education. But really, this early newspaper was begun to “make war on a great gambling monopoly,” the controversial Louisiana Lottery.

The True Democrat was not the little rivertown’s first paper. As early as 1811 James Bradford, son of a pioneer Kentucky printer and first official territorial printer in New Orleans, had established the Time Piece in St. Francisville, the first newspaper in the Florida Parishes which had only recently joined the territory of Orleans. This was less than two decades after the first newspaper in Louisiana was begun in New Orleans, prior to which news and official proclamations were spread only by the town crier and the posting of handwritten broadsides.

The True Democrat not only outlasted the lottery problem, but continues in publication today. When it published an ambitious 30-page Silver Anniversary Edition upon the occasion of completing its first 25 years in print, a hefty publication that it advised readers would require a whole two cents of postage to mail, the editor reprinted from the first 1892 issue the serious thought given to the publication’s name. Decrying the fact that many newspapers bear misnomers at their head, “Guardians that betray the public trust, Spectators that see nothing, Bees that make trouble instead of honey, Wasps that forget to sting the foe, and Sentinels that fail to see the spy lurking within the camp,” the editors chose a name assuring readers that the paper would adhere to the time-honored principles of true democracy. And they couldn’t help bragging that in those first 25 years, “despite death, quarantine, fire and flood,” The True Democrat never missed an issue.

Its first edition, like all newspapers of the time, was a four-page six-column sheet covered in just three sizes of type, with advertisements limited to a single column and just a few lines; before the mid-1800s, advertising was by broadsides, handbills and posters for the most part. Three lawyers, three doctors and two dentists “had their cards” in that first issue as advertisement, some of whom were still engaged in practice at the time of the Silver Edition, and the “Personal But Polite” alliterative column of juicy tidbits of local gossip began then and is still going strong today, with many of the same family names still present.

True Democrat 1917Interspersed throughout the anniversary edition’s articles were enthusiastic exhortations and encouragements: “Quit existing elsewhere; come to West Feliciana and live!” and “The spirit of progress is abroad in West Feliciana,” and “Once a West Felicianian, always a West Felicianian.” There was even a little piece entitled “A Second Heaven,” in which Saint Peter is showing a newcomer around heaven, with streets of gold, singing birds and beautiful flowers; asked about the disconsolate group of men over in a corner tied together, St. Peter explains that those were West Felicianians, who had to be kept tied up or otherwise they’d go right back home.

The editor of the True Democrat, in her 25th-anniversary look backward, proclaimed that it must have been “the rashness of extreme ignorance concerning the cost, risks and demands of publishing a newspaper” that led her to begin publication with her first husband, W.W. Leake, Jr., using “a three-fourths worn-out Washington hand-press and meagerly equipped print shop” and campaigning against the lottery at a time when most other publications in the state supported it. With little start-up capital, the True Democrat was begun with subscriptions raised from anti-lottery readers, subscriptions which ranged from five to ten dollars, “and a few of those, be it whispered, were never paid.” The editor’s husband Mr. Leake supported the paper for the most part with proceeds from his insurance business; in the first year, there was no net profit at all.

When the Louisiana Lottery was defeated, primarily due to a decision by the US Supreme Court denying it use of the mails, the True Democrat vowed it would “never be at a loss for good causes to foster, new ideals to implant, fresh enterprises to support for the good of the people among whom we live.” And when Mr. Leake died in 1901, his widow struggled to continue alone as a hardworking country editor, often in ill health and “with one baby at the breast, another’s tiny hands on my skirts, a son too young to be of material assistance, and the accumulation of debts incurred in extensive farming operations untimely cut off before possibility of reaching results.” The community reached out to support her, paying bills, renewing subscriptions, paying in advance, providing printing work. And when in 1908 a fire wiped out the little print shop, a new beginning was made yet again.

As the widowed Mrs. Leake began to rebuild her business, a new printer was called for. One she hired turned out to be a disreputable drunk, another so nervous he could not touch the standing type without knocking it over. But in 1906 she made the fortunate acquaintance of one Elrie Robinson, Texan who knew the printing business inside and out. The outcome was happy, not only for the True Democrat but for the widow Leake, soon to become Mrs. Elrie Robinson. The True Democrat flourished, and in 1917 the paper referred to West Feliciana, its 246,400 acres containing lands along the river “richer than the Valley of the Nile,” as “the portion of the State of Louisiana which burst upon the delighted vision of the sick and travel-worn Spaniards after their wanderings through the swamps and wilds of the Mississippi and Red Rivers, which in their joy they called ‘Feliciana.’”

The 1917 Silver Anniversary Edition of the True Democrat burst with pride at the accomplishments of the area, with histories of the West Florida Rebellion, Bayou Sara and St. Francisville, the West Feliciana Railroad, the Bank of Commerce and the Meyer Hotel (clean accommodations for boarders and transients described as “homey without being unduly familiar”), the Odd Fellows Lodge and other club groups, the historic churches (some like Grace Episcopal already nearly a century old) , agricultural and educational advancements, prize flower gardens, notable plantations, and Audubon’s associations with the parish. There were tributes to leading citizens, many of whose names continue in the parish to this day, the Bowmans and Barrows, the Butlers and Daniels, Plettingers and Haddens, Leakes and Lawrasons, Kilbournes and Ards, Rettigs and Nolands, Powells and Percys, Haralsons and Folkeses.

While the bulk of early parish residents claimed Anglo antecedents, of the 1917 population of 13,449 there were interesting injections of other influences…Peter Trocchiano, for example, pictured with swirling Salvador Dali-esque mustache, was described as a live-wire Sicilian married to the convent-educated Miss Salvatora Vinci who had many brothers in St. Francisville, and who began as a fruit peddler before branching out to establish a fine shoe store and manage the movie theater “where some of the most celebrated reels are seen.”

St. Francisville True DemocratThe Jewish community was not neglected, with articles describing the contributions of citizens like Daniel Mann, Max Dampf, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Stern, and Julius Freyhan who funded the fine brick school bearing his name. The Temple Sinai was called one of St. Francisville’s “most attractive places of worship,” completed in 1903 to house a congregation described as “charitable to the needy and kindly towards all without regard to creed.” Nearly a full page was devoted to M&E Wolf, as 1917 marked the golden anniversary of what the paper called “West Feliciana’s greatest enterprise,” beginning as a little country store opened in 1867 by Julius Freyhan in the “dark days of reconstruction,” and growing to become principal source of supply for a dozen Louisiana parishes and Mississippi counties, selling up to a million dollars’ worth of goods and handling up to 14,000 bales of cotton in a year. As Freyhan’s business prospered, the newspaper said he played no unimportant part in the rehabilitation of the parish as it recovered from “the ravages of war,” and as Freyhan retired to New Orleans and turned the firm over to his brothers-in-law, Morris and Emanuel Wolf, the firm continued to be “generous in charity,” ever ready to provide financing for individuals and businesses struggling to get back on their feet and contributing generously to civic improvements.

The 1917 edition’s advertisements shed as much light upon the life of the times as do the articles; Chas. Weydert offering a line of hardware and machinery at “live and let-live prices,” Max Dampf General Merchandise with “dry goods, staple and fancy groceries,” J.R. Matthews Real Estate Agency offering good farms and plantations while boasting that “this far south is the only section of the US today where good land can be bought cheap,” Parker Stock Farm described as an old-time cotton plantation now devoted to the livestock industry as breeders of Hereford cattle and Duroc Jersey hogs, the Bank of Commerce which had opened with just 30 depositors and $5,185.06, W.R. Daniel purchaser of sweet and Irish potatoes and all kinds of produce, L&S Stern’s “dry goods, notions and gents’ furnishings,” F.S. Percy of Plettenberg buyers of hogs or sheep or cattle in any quantity, Max Mann advertising wines, liquors and cigars, Abe Stern’s livery with “horses and mules always on hand,” and George Rettig’s “Best Eats.”

Mrs. Mae Leake Robinson’s son James M. would succeed his mother as editor of the newspaper until his death, and as he was also the fire chief, the pages of the paper during his tenure were often filled with hair-raising details of local conflagrations. More than a century after its humble origins, the St. Francisville Democrat is still in publication, still extolling the virtues of the parish and its residents, still being written in the same little structure built right smack in the middle of Johnson Street around 1908 as the first building constructed of brick made by the Bayou Sara Brick Company.

While it is now part of a chain of small-town newspapers and is printed elsewhere utilizing computers, modern printing technology and even color photos and graphics, the paper under the editorship of hard-working Becky Hilliard retains much the same appearance and local appeal so familiar to its loyal readers over the past hundred years. In the face of modern advancements, the editor has managed to keep the hometown feel throughout the pages of The Democrat, with the possible exception of editorials which are mostly generated elsewhere and rarely reflect local interest or sentiment. The Democrat, after all these years, is still being read by members of some of the same families who depended upon the editions of 1892 and 1917 and all the rest, and who still think St. Francisville remains just about the best place there is to live and work and keep up with the news.

Visitors today will find the little brick newspaper office with its collection of antique printing equipment across Royal Street from The Barrow House B&B, and they will also find fascinating little shops and restaurants, many of them located in restored 19th-century structures, throughout downtown St. Francisville, which boasts an extensive Historic District listed on the National Register, and a wonderful assortment of Bed & Breakfasts as well as a modern motel. Six restored historic plantations are open daily for tours—Rosedown Plantation and Audubon State Historic Sites, Butler Greenwood Plantation, The Cottage Plantation, Greenwood Plantation and The Myrtles; Catalpa Plantation is open by reservation, and Afton Villa Gardens is open seasonally. The surrounding Tunica Hills region offers a wide array of unsurpassed recreational opportunities, from birding and biking to horseback riding and hiking.
For additional information on the St. Francisville area, telephone 225-635-4224, 225-635-3873 or 225-635-6330; online ,
or .

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Day the War Stopped


- in St. Francisville, Louisiana

by Anne Butler

Up the steep hill they trudged, sweating in the sticky June heat, staggering
under the weight of the coffin, the white flag of truce flying before them in
the hot summer sun. The guns of their federal gunboat, the USS Albatross, anchored in the Mississippi off Bayou Sara, were silent behind them as the ship’s surgeon and two officers struggled toward St. Francisville atop the hill.

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, and the lovely little rivertown of St. Francisville invites the public to join in commemorating the events 145 years ago on the weekend of June 13-15.

In June 1863, the Siege of Port Hudson was pitting 30,000 Union troops under Major General Nathaniel P. Banks against 6,800 weary Confederates under Major General Franklin Gardner, fighting over the all-important control of traffic on the Mississippi River. Port Hudson and Vicksburg were the only rebel strongholds left along the Mississippi, and if the Union forces could wrest from them control of the river traffic, they could cut off supplies from the west and completely surround the Confederacy. Admiral David Farragut had attempted to destroy Confederate cannons atop the bluffs from the river, but of his seven ships, four were turned
back, one was completely destroyed, and only his flagship and the USS Albatross passed upriver safely, leaving ground troops to fight it out for nearly another month.

Lt. Commander John E. Hart, the federal commander of the Albatross, had just the week before posted a touching letter to his wife, left behind with their young son Elliott in Schenectady, New York. Praising his little boat for getting through the fearsome firing from the batteries atop the bluffs at Port Hudson, Commander Hart promises after the war to take his wife on a trip down the river to see the famous battlefields. As he writes he can hear the cannons booming
to the south, but his attentions are on more immediate matters…how many blackberries his crew have had to eat lately, and how when a “jolly good cow” is spotted, he sends a sailor ashore with a pail, chuckling how some rebel farm folk will be surprised when “old Brindle comes home at night
and ain’t got no milk for them”…how hot it is, and how long since he has seen ice, and how he would love a glass of cool claret and water.

Even in the midst of war, there
are mundane little touches of life scattered through the letter from Hart to his beloved wife…the mockingbirds singing around the boat, the little
puppy he’d put ashore at Plaquemine to be raised, the shipboard litter of kittens. After perilously running through the Grand Gulf batteries on the river to the north, Hart writes that the Admiral signalled, “How many killed?” And he answered none. The Admiral signalled, “How many wounded?” And he answered none. And just then Kitty, ship’s mouser, produced kittens which Hart insisted become part of the official report…important to note the wartime births as well as the all-too-frequent deaths.

A respected naval officer, Commander Hart would have even more lasting impact
through his death, which occurred as the Albatross lay at anchor near Bayou
Sara, just below St. Francisville. Masonic and naval records list Hart as having
“suicided,” died by his own hand “in a fit of delirium.” It had been surmised that perhaps he suffered from dementia induced by yellow fever, for a mere four days earlier his cheerful letter home hardly seemed to exhibit despair, but the surgeon’s log implicates debilitating dyspepsia,
perhaps combined with depression.

Hart was a Mason, and aboard his ship were other officers also “members of the Craft,” desirous of burying their commander ashore rather than consigning the remains to the river waters. A boat was sent from the Albatross under flag of truce to ascertain if there were any Masons in the town of St. Francisville. It just so happened that the two White brothers living near the river were Masons, and they informed the little delegation that there was indeed a Masonic lodge in the town, in fact one of the oldest in the state, Feliciana Lodge No. 31 F and AM. Its Grand Master was absent, serving in the Confederate Army, and its Senior Warden, W. W. Leake, was likewise engaged. But, according to Masonic correspondence, “Brother Leake’s headquarters were in the saddle,” he was reported to be in the vicinity, and he was soon found and persuaded to honor the request. As a soldier, Leake reportedly said, he considered it his duty to permit burial of a deceased member of the armed forces of any government, even one presently at war with his own, and as a Mason, he knew it to be his duty to accord Masonic burial to the remains of a brother Mason without taking into account the nature of their relations in the outer

The surgeon and officers of the USS Albatross, struggling up from the river with Hart’s body, were met by W. W. Leake, the White brothers, and a few other members of the Masonic lodge. In the procession was also a squad of Marines at trail arms. They were met at Grace Episcopal Church by the Reverend Mr. Daniel Lewis, rector, and
with full Episcopal and Masonic services, Commander John E. Hart was laid to rest in the Masonic burial plot in Grace’s peaceful cemetery, respect being paid by Union and Confederate soldiers alike. And soon the war resumed, Lee’s northern invasion turned back at Gettysburg July 3, Vicksburg falling July 4, and Port Hudson finally surrendering July 9, all in one catastrophic week.

But for one brief touching moment, the war had stopped at St. Francisville, and this moment will be marked the weekend of June 13, 14 and 15th. The commemorative events begin on Friday, June 13, at 7 p.m., with graveside histories in the
peaceful oak-shaded cemetery at Grace Church, and an important presentation by Professor Chris Pena of Nicholls State University. A widely recognized Civil War researcher and author, Professor Pena has delved deeply into the events surrounding.

The Day The War Stopped and will provide fascinating newly unearthed details regarding Commander Hart’s death and St. Francisville’s role in the war. His talk will be followed by an Open House and presentation of lodge history at the historic double-galleried Masonic Lodge just across Ferdinand St. from the graveyard at 8 p.m.

On Saturday, June 14, a lively parade travels along St. Francisville’s historic main street beginning at 10:30 a.m., followed by lunch at the Masonic Lodge from 11 to 12:30. Visitors will be pleasantly transported back in time during the afternoon, as Grace Church and its parish hall next door are the scene of a concert of antebellum period music and vintage dancing from 11:30
to 1:30. At 1:30 commences the very moving dramatic presentation showing Commander
Hart’s young wife in New York as she reads his last letter to their small son and then receives the terrible news of his death. This is followed by the re-enactment of the burial of Hart, with re-enactors in the dignified rites clad in Civil War uniforms accurate down to the last button and worn brogan. Taking leading roles in this ritual, amazingly, are W.W.Leake’s great-great-grandson Robert S. Leake, as well as Frank Karwowski, member of Commander Hart’s
Masonic lodge, St. George’s in Schnectady, New York, and Shirley Ditloff who now operates a popular B&B in W.W. Leake’s Royal St. townhouse.

During the afternoon on Saturday, Oakley Plantation in the Audubon State Historic Site offers special related programs, including a Civil War encampment, complete with tents and authentically clad re-enactors, which may be visited from 2:30 to 5. At 3 a lecture on the history of the Civil War in West Feliciana will be presented, followed by black powder and musket demonstrations at 3:30 and at 4 a demonstration of Civil War costumes.

On Sunday, June 15, Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site from 1 to 3 presents a program on Civil War medical techniques and their all-too-often conclusion, period burial customs. At nearby Locust Grove State Historic Site, a talk from 1 to 3 focuses on Jefferson Davis’ young bride, Sarah Knox Taylor Davis
who succumbed to yellow fever on their honeymoon visit to his sister’s plantation in West Feliciana, at her gravesite, and a gravestone rendering class will utilize some of the historic headstones in this peaceful little graveyard.
All of these activities are free and open to the public.Among sponsors are St. Francisville Overnight! (Bed & Breakfasts of the area), the Feliciana Lodge No. 31 F and AM, Grace Episcopal Church, and St. Francisville Main Street.

Visitors will find fascinating little shops and restaurants, many of them located
in restored 19th-century structures, throughout downtown St. Francisville, which boasts an extensive Historic District listed on the National Register, and a wonderful assortment of Bed & Breakfasts as well as a modern motel. Six
restored historic plantations are open daily for tours—Rosedown Plantation and Audubon State Historic Sites, Butler Greenwood Plantation, The Cottage Plantation, Greenwood Plantation and The Myrtles; Catalpa Plantation is open by reservation, and Afton Villa Gardens is open seasonally. The surrounding Tunica Hills region offers a wide array of recreational opportunities, from birding and biking to horseback riding and hiking.

For additional information on the St. Francisville area, telephone 225-635-4224,
225-635-3873 or 225-635-6330; online For additional
information on The Day The War Stopped, see

Monday, March 31, 2008

April BirdFest


by Anne Butler

2008 BirdFest Poster by Murrell Butler
In St. Francisville, Louisiana, just north of Baton Rouge on the Mississippi
River, this spring marks the seventh annual Audubon Country BirdFest. The weekend of April 4, 5 and 6 brings birders and outdoor enthusiasts 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 and several choices of destinations. Birding In The Hills, planned for Saturday, offers two distinctly different routes; the Bluebird Route covers Oakhill and Hollywood Plantations, while the Redbird Route visits Beechwood Plantation and Woodhill Farm. Oak Hill, home of wildlife artist Murrell Butler, 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; warblers, orioles, tanagers, yellow-billed cuckoos, Eastern king birds, bluebirds, woodducks,
herons and ibises. Hollywood has 300 acres of woods and rolling fields, as well
as a picturesque lake for ducks and geese. Beechwood is traversed by Alexander Creek where Audubon often painted, and includes the historic cemetery where the artist's 1821 pupil Eliza Pirrie rests in peace. Woodhill Farm, originally part of Wakefield Plantation, has fields and pond with heirloom plants and plenty of birdlife.

Birding at the Plantations
Other field trips feature spectacular wilderness areas like The Nature Conservancy's Mary Ann Brown Preserve (Friday afternoon) with its mature beech-magnolia forest and lots of nesting bluebirds, and Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge (Friday afternoon, Saturday morning and afternoon, and Sunday morning). One of the largest tracts of virgin wetland forest along the Mississippi not protected by levees from cyclical flooding, the wildlife refuge is sometimes inundated by 15 to 20 feet of water in the spring, providing ideal habitat for huge populations of wintering waterfowl, and it also harbors the world's largest Bald Cypress tree, believed to be more than 1000 years old. Lifejackets and canoes are provided for the Cat Island trip, and participants are expected to paddle their own canoes for about 2 hours.

Egret at the St. Francisville Ferry Landing by ptWalsh
Other trips feature the Audubon State Historic Site for guided tours through the 200-year-old three-story main house and outbuildings plus trail walks (all 3 days), a Mississippi River Road Walk along this important migratory
corridor (all 3 days), and Wyoming Plantation (Saturday morning and afternoon) for excellent birding in a diversity of habitats right at the edge of downtown St. Francisville. On Sunday morning the gardens of Afton Villa host birders through yet another type of spectacular landscaped setting.

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 a yellow Prothonotary Warbler on a brilliant blue Louisiana iris.

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. The Feliciana
Nature Society sponsors a number of events each year in furtherance
of its goals to enhance community awareness, education and understanding
of the area's natural resources, but it is the Audubon Country BirdFest that most spectacularly showcases the Felicianas' abundant birdlife, unspoiled natural habitat areas and unique history.

Cat Island canoe trip
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.

Field trips and rotating tours are scheduled Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning. On Friday evening, the opening social takes place at Audubon State Historic Site beginning at 6 p.m. with a talk by the Baton Rouge Advocate's Danny Heitman, a gifted writer whose new book, A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House, which comes out this month, concentrates on the artist's stay in the Felicianas and its supreme importance in his artistic career. A wine and cheese reception follows, as well as a tour of the Oakley House, which is especially lovely by candlelight.

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 Detailed online information is available at the very comprehensive website; 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.

Oakley House birding class.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. April also marks the immensely popular springtime Angola Prison Rodeo, combining the wildest show in the south with a huge selection of inmate-made arts and crafts (see for tickets). For online coverage of tourist facilities and attractions in the St. Francisville area, see,, or; or telephone (225) 635-3873 or 635-6330.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Camellias in the Country



By Anne Butler

Camellias in the Country

The post-Christmas let-down period provides the perfect respite for taking
a breather in the country, and it is fortunately this very time when the glorious antebellum gardens of the St. Francisville, Louisiana, area are at their peak
of camellia bloom. Thus the Feliciana Nature Society joins with Rosedown Plantation Historic Site and the Main Street program to host the fourth annual Camellias in the Country celebration February 8 and 9, 2008.

The two-day event opens on Friday evening, February 8, at 6 p.m. at the historic Old Market Hall on Royal St. in St. Francisville, with a camellia show that draws prize blossoms from the finest gardens of the Felicianas, appropriately combined with a fascinating workshop on the technique of waxing the blooms to preserve their beauty forever. Following the demonstration, an informal reception gives participants ample opportunity to admire the blossoms while enjoying wine and cheese.

Beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 9, the visitor center at Rosedown State Historic Site, LA 10 and US 61 in St. Francisville, hosts a morning session focusing on camellia care including effective methods of combating disease and coping with common insects, as well as demonstrations of the propagation technique of air layering. After lunch at the popular nearby Audubon Café, Rosedown’s horticulture expert Patricia Aleshire leads a walking tour of Rosedown’s exquisite antebellum gardens, which include many of the South’s best heirloom and contemporary camellia specimens.

Registration fee of $20 includes all activities as well as the evening reception and Saturday lunch, with proceeds benefitting projects of the Feliciana Nature Society. Information is available by telephone at 888-376-1867 or 225-635-3110, or online at

The event is a natural for the St. Francisville area, long noted for its glorious gardens. Beginning in the 1830’s as the great cotton mansions were being built and their grounds landscaped, gardening became the passion of plantation mistresses. This passion was happily combined here with a fortuitous climate, rich river bottomland soil, unlimited labor and the funds to indulge every whim. A number of magnificent 19th-century gardens pay tribute even today to this early devotion to natural beauty.

Camellias at Plantation
Rosedown Plantation, of course, heads the list with its 28 acres of formal
gardens conceived by Martha Barrow Turnbull on her 1835 wedding trip to the
Continent. Only such expansive yet orderly grandeur as she witnessed at Versailles and the other great gardens of Europe could adequately complement the fine plantation home she and her wealthy cotton-planter husband were building. In her garden diary which spans 60 years, Martha Turnbull recorded the development and expansion of her gardens flanking the oak alley leading to the Rosedown house.

A remarkable horticulturist, Mrs. Turnbull was one of the first to import camellias to the South in the 1830’s, turning her gardens into an early proving ground for the exotic flora of the Orient. At a time when only royalty or Southern planters could afford camellias, she set out seedlings which today tower over 25 feet tall, some over a century and a half old, testament to Martha Turnbull’s gardening secrets—plenty of water enriched with guano for the camellia plants during the summer, rooting in sand mixed with rich woods earth and a little cow manure, mulching with leaves to keep out the summer’s heat. These ancient camellias fill the Rosedown gardens with a colorful profusion of blossoms in many different shapes and hues, the bloom lasting through the winter and into early spring. St Francisville Louisiana

Natives of the Orient and Far East, camellias were initially carried to other lands by missionaries and early medical men, travelling first afoot and then across the seas. Trade with the Orient, opened in the early 1500’s by the Portuguese and their Black Ships, proved lucrative, leading to the formation of trading companies dealing in spices, silks, porcelains and other treasures. The medical officers of these trade companies were often the first to study native plants of the Far East, initially for their medicinal propensities, then introduced the botanical oddities back home.

A camellia japonica specimen collected in China in 1677 by a physician with the East India Company introduced the plant to England, and camellias by the early 1700’s became popular ornamental shrubs there. Toward the close of the 18th century the first camellias were brought to the United States, established in the Northeast as important greenhouse plants. It was from a nursery in New York that Rosedown first ordered camellias, and subsequent specimens were ordered from Philadelphia. The wonderfully ornamental plants thrived outdoors in the Southern climate, and became the staple of the winter garden throughout the region.

West Feliciana Parish
By the 1840’s the formal and sunken gardens at Butler Greenwood Plantation were being brightened by camellias in many hues. Amid the boxwood parterres beside the 1790’s plantation house, more than 150 camellias were planted under direction of the Irish gardener to complement the lovely Victorian summer house, and there were also large numbers of camellia sasanquas and tea plants, all in the same family. The extensive gardens at Rosedown State Historic Site and Butler Greenwood Plantation, both of which were painstakingly recorded by experts of the Historic American Buildings Survey projects during the Depression, are open for tours daily. The Cottage Plantation has dozens of ancient camellias coloring its extensive landscaped lawns through the cold winter months, and other plantations in the area which may be visited daily, The Myrtles, Greenwood and Oakley at Audubon State Historic Site, also feature smaller groves of japonicas.

Another magnificent antebellum garden in the St. Francisville area, which is open seasonally, is Afton Villa, where the landscaping is all that remains of the flamboyant mansion built in the 1850’s and burned in the 1960’s. What could have been a heartbreaking site has been turned into a garden spot of breathtaking beauty, where flowering vines clamber across the crumbling brick ruins, and masses of bulbs--- thousands and thousands of jonquils, daffodils, narcissus, tulips and others—brighten the terraced lawns in early spring. Formal parterres are set off with ancient camellias, and here, as at the other antebellum gardens, there seems to be a happy marriage between the japonicas and the moss-draped live oaks providing just the right amount of filtered sunlight and shade for a perfection of performance.

In the historic little 19th-century rivertown of St. Francisville, where the entire downtown area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, there’s hardly a Victorian house without its prize camellia blooming through the winter. The tourism information center, right on the main street of town (Ferdinand St.), has free walking tour maps and information.

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area has much to offer visitors year-round, especially in the winter when the camellias add bursts of color to gardens in town and on the early plantations. 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 superb birdwatching. For online coverage of tourist facilities and attractions in the St. Francisville area, see,, or;
or telephone (225) 635-3873 or 635-6330. For special events and activities, see