By Anne Butler
Since the dawn of history, animals have played vital roles in the development of civilization, as food and furs, as beasts of burden, as comrades and pets. Imagine the early colonists, if you will, enduring months-long ocean voyages in cramped quarters with the fowl and pigs and goats they needed to start a new life in a new world (remind anyone of their last cruise??), or the conquistadors with their warhorses and cattle that became the ancestors of many of our wild mustangs and longhorns. Not only in peacetime did animals contribute; the National World War II Museum in New Orleans currently has an exhibit saluting the four-legged and feathered friends’ significant security roles in campaigns on the Home Front and across the European Theater as well.
|A turkey named Gus welcomes visitors to the museum at Audubon State Historic Site.|
The St. Francisville area’s other major state historic site is gorgeous 1830s Greek Revival Rosedown Plantation, where the emphasis is on the glorious gardens and the only present-day animals are a dozen or so chickens, while the lovely landscaped grounds of nearby Hemingbough are graced by a flock of peacocks, the most popular being an albino one the owner calls, naturally, Whitey.
| Farm Animal at Oakley House|
At historic 1790s Cottage Plantation, guests are greeted by a little yellow Labrador retriever named Tara, unfailingly eager to escort visitors on excursions across the extensive grounds and across the creek into the surrounding unspoiled woodlands. While Tara jumps into the pond to gobble the food thrown to the pet mallard, a previous lab had the strange habit of actually fetching the duck itself out of the water and burying it in the ground with only its head sticking out, quacking for dear life! Just up US 61 above The Cottage, Wakefield Plantation, now a private residence, is surrounded by a picturesque herd of registered longhorn cattle whose lean meat is recommended by the cardiologist-owner as far healthier than other fat-laden beef beloved by less health-conscious consumers today.
|Longhorns at Wakefield Plantation|
Greenwood Plantation tourists and overnight guests enjoy gazing at the horses and the Beefmaster-mix cattle in the adjacent pastures, and there’s a popular green-eyed black cat named Sam. Nearby, the former Angola Plantation now is the Louisiana State Penitentiary, where there are large herds of beef cattle and horses, some used as mounts for the correctional officers patrolling farm fields as inmates work the crops and others bred to pull the heavy farm wagons and equipment. Among the most popular features of St. Francisville’s annual Christmas parade are Angola’s immense Percherons pulling Santa’s sleigh, coats gleaming and harness bells jingling. Angola’s canine population works, too, with bloodhounds bred to track escapees and also often used to locate lost or missing persons in nearby rural areas; there’s also one very scary-looking wolf-dog.
| Mary Thompson of Catalpa Plantation|
and one of her several dogs.
These resident domestic creatures serve as reminders of the important roles animals played in the early years---the hunting dogs and barn cats and mousers, the sleek coach horses and walking horses carrying plantation owners across their fields, the sturdy stubborn mules pulling plows and farm wagons loaded with cotton or cane, the strong oxen hauling huge trees felled in the forests for building, the dairy and beef cattle providing milk and meat and hides, the practical poultry and more decorative fowl adding beauty to 19th-century landscapes and plumage to decorate ladies’ bonnets, the pigs and goats and sheep and all the other reminders of the days when plantations were self-sufficient entities raising all the necessities of life right on the place.
They serve as perfect introductions to the St. Francisville area, which features a number of splendidly restored plantation homes open for tours daily: The Cottage Plantation, Butler Greenwood Plantation, The Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation and Afton Villa Gardens seasonally. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer fascinating living-history demonstrations most weekends to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs.
|Peacok at Hemingbough.|