Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Plantation Country Romance

Plantation Country Romance: February in St. Francisville is for Lovers
By Anne Butler
wedding in the hills, St. Francisville, West Feliciana Parish, LouisianaWhen Martha Barrow of Highland Plantation returned to the St. Francisville area after completing her education at Madame Legoin’s fashionable educational institute in Philadelphia, she was 18 and in the sweet bloom of youth. She quickly caught the eye of handsome planter Daniel Turnbull, ten years her senior. Writing of the relationship some years hence, one of their granddaughters would say, “A mutual romance immediately commenced, little Cupid cast his darts and their hearts that instant caught the sunshine they through life had sought.” They were joined in matrimony in 1828 and their descendants for generations would occupy their magnificent home called Rosedown, now a state historic site where the wedding of the Turnbull’s daughter Sarah is regularly reenacted.

Not far away at The Cottage Plantation, back when letter-writing was an art form marked by fine penmanship and even finer sentiments, the plantation owner would write to his beloved wife the tedious details of an 1838 solitary sea voyage to New York and close by proclaiming his abiding love: “I have nothing further to say except to tell you what you have heard once or twice before, viz. that I love you with all my heart and mind,” to which she subsequently replied, “It would be impossible for me to express half the love I bear you.” Their lengthy union had already been blessed with a dozen children, and The Cottage too would remain the family home for a century and a half.

More of the same.These early settlers in the St. Francisville area enhanced the verdant woodlands with fine homes surrounded by formal gardens and fields of flourishing crops. In the garden gazebos and vine-hung arbors, along the private parterre paths and on shady galleries graced with fanciful trim, many a romance blossomed. Today there’s still something about the peaceful pastoral setting that continues to inspire painters and poets, photographers and nature enthusiasts, and---yes, indeedy---most especially, lovers.

Social mores have drastically changed since suitors of yesteryear had to stealthily exchange love notes or surreptitiously steal kisses while strolling secret garden paths hidden from vigilant chaperones’ surveillance, but romance is still in the air. The St. Francisville area remains a popular lovers’ destination---for romantic getaways, for proposals, for weddings, for honeymoons. And the good folks of St. Francisville do all in their power to enhance the possibilities. February is the month for lovers, and not just on Valentine’s Day.

Carmel historic churchdFirst, fall in love, maybe on a romantic getaway to one of the St. Francisville area’s Bed & Breakfasts, which run the gamut from historic townhouses (Barrow House & Printer’s Cottage, Shadetree, St. Francisville Inn) to antebellum plantations (Butler Greenwood, The Cottage, Greenwood, The Myrtles), from lakeside clubhouses (Lake Rosemound Inn, Hemingbough) to golf resorts (The Bluffs on Thompson Creek); there are also modern motel accommodations (Best Western and Magnuson). Equipped variously with Jacuzzis and fireplaces, porch swings and four-poster beds piled with fluffy comforters, some of the B&Bs are historic and some contemporary, some are in the country and some in town, and they all provide just the perfect backdrop for kindling a romance.
Then, pop the question, and the choice of romantic settings is unlimited, from down by the riverside to atop a gurgling waterfall in the Tunica Hills, from Victorian gardens colorful with blossoming camellias to oak-shaded parks and plantation grounds. Propose over a sumptuous candlelight dinner at St. Francisville’s fine dining venues (Oxbow Restaurant, Carriage House at The Myrtles), or dancing to the live band at Magnolia Cafe. Present the ring, maybe a designer one from Patrick’s Fine Jewelry, along with a box of fabulous chocolates from the local candy shoppe (The Shanty Too), and flowers from the local florist (Magic Maker).

The same fine restaurants provide splendid locations for bridesmaids’ luncheons and rehearsal dinners, as does the restaurant at The Bluffs and the more casual in-town eateries like Que Pasa, East Dragon, Cozy Corner Bistro; for the really casual, there’s a good pizzeria (Sonny’s). For catered sit-down meals, the St. Francisville Inn with its central courtyard and wine parlor is a prime destination. The gift and antique shops and the art galleries of St. Francisville offer a huge selection of unique one-of-a-kind wedding gifts.
Cutting the cake.As for wedding locations, there are a number to choose from, including several beautiful historic churches (Grace Episcopal, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic and United Methodist, all in the National Register-listed downtown historic district, and all with their own special requirements). For large ceremonies and receptions, Hemingbough with its lovely lake and grand Greek Revival Greenwood can accommodate hundreds, as can the fine full-service Victorian of the Felicianas. The Myrtles (30-50 guests, more at Ridgecrest) and Butler Greenwood Plantations (15-20 max) host smaller weddings beneath ancient live oaks hung with Spanish moss, and the two state historic sites (Rosedown and Audubon) have begun permitting outdoor ceremonies on their spectacular grounds, as has magnificent Afton Villa Gardens.
The Bluffs has a lovely small chapel, and popular informal venues in St. Francisville are the gazebo in Parker Park and historic Market Hall on Royal Street, as well as hilltop Shadetree. Sage Hill gift shop has a rear addition that’s ideal for small events. Feliciana Seafood caters and rents tables, chairs and other equipment, and other local caterers include Magnolia CafĂ©, Oxbow, and the superb upscale Heirloom Cuisine. Confections by Michelle furnishes divine wedding cakes (plus creative customized groom cakes ranging from crawfish pots to toothy sharks, from Tiger tailgating to duck hunting). There are several good local photographers for both engagement and wedding photos, and the retired Justice of the Peace (Kevin Dreher) officiates with just the right mix of meaningful dignity and relaxed charm (he’s the consummate storyteller; ask him to expound on some of the more unusual weddings at which he has officiated, in locations ranging from the state pen to elegant estates to doublewides where the cake was probably one of Michelle’s red-velvet armadillos).
Served with a smile.And for the honeymoon and subsequent anniversaries, the St. Francisville area B&Bs can’t be beat, offering romantic charm and privacy, ensuring that the spirit of love and romance lives on. After all these years, Cupid’s darts are still being cast.

St. Francisville remains a year-round tourist destination featuring 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, offering periodic fascinating living-history demonstrations so visitors can 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. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some fine little restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from Chinese and Mexican cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups. In February the West Feliciana Historical Society Museum hosts the travelling Smithsonian Institute exhibit called Journey Stories, free and open to the public, with a number of related activities and events.

For visitor information and details on all of the wedding particulars, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-635-4224; online visit (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities) or