Friday, November 29, 2013

DECK THE HILLS AT ST. FRANCISVILLE’S CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION

By Anne Butler
 gifts Christmas in the Country
 Local Shop
Christmas, as customarily celebrated in the country, was marked by beloved rituals and time-honored traditions. Houses were decked with woodland greenery, cedar trees cut and strung with cherished decorations, mistletoe hung in anticipation of stolen kisses, nativities assembled and church services attended, even a few cups of creamy eggnog downed. And then 19th-century country folk piled into horsedrawn wagons and headed into the area’s commercial and cultural center, St. Francisville, where wide-eyed children pressed cold noses against frosted storefront windows and dreamed of china dolls or wooden rocking horses.
The dry-goods emporiums and specialty shops of St. Francisville in the early days carried everything from farm implements and buggies to ladies’ fine millinery and gents’ furnishings, everything from cradles to coffins. They still do today, and the merchants of historic downtown St. Francisville take pleasure and pride in hosting a Christmas celebration that still draws celebrants of the season to a safe, family-oriented weekend of fun and festivities and fabulous shopping called Christmas in the Country, always the first full weekend of December, this year December 6, 7 and 8. There may not be any coffins for sale, but Santa still arrives in a horse-drawn vehicle.
White lights
White Cottage & Market Hall
Millions of white lights trace soaring Victorian trimwork and grace gallery posts to transform the entire town into a veritable winter wonderland as St. Nick arrives to kick off the Lighting Ceremony of the Town Christmas Tree beginning at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6, followed by a public reception at Town Hall hosted by jovial longtime St. Francisville Mayor Billy D'Aquilla and featuring fireworks and a performance by the First Baptist Church Children’s Choir.  The Baton Rouge Symphony presents its annual concert of seasonal selections and dessert reception beginning at 7 p.m. at Hemingbough; tickets are available at the Bank of St. Francisville.
Saturday, Dec. 7, begins with a 7:30 a.m. Community Prayer Breakfast at United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall just off Royal St., followed by Breakfast with St. Nick for children at Jackson Hall next to Grace Church at 8 and 9:30 a.m., sponsored by the Women’s Service League (reservations recommended; $6 tickets may be purchased online at www.womensserviceleague.com ).   The Women’s Service League also sells fresh wreaths and pre-wrapped Plantation Country Cookbooks all weekend on Ferdinand St. next to the library, with proceeds benefiting local civic and charitable activities.
From 10 to 4 Saturday there will be children’s activities plus the Main Street Band (noon to 2), handmade crafts and food vendors in oak-shaded Parker Park.  There will also be entertainment in various locations throughout the downtown historic district, featuring choirs, dancers, musicians, and other performers. 
Santa
Children meet Santa

The angelic voices of the Bains Elementary 2nd Grade Choir are raised at the West Feliciana Historical Society Museum on Ferdinand St. at 10 a.m. From 9:45 to 10:45 the West Feliciana High School Mixed Performance Choir sings at the United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, followed from 11 to 11:45 by the school’s Beginning, Advanced, Performance and Soloist Choirs. The front porch of Town Hall is gospel headquarters with stirring performances from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. by the Sherobee Missionary Baptist Church Combined Choir, Mount Bethel Baptist Church Choir, recording artist Minister TEHA, and from New Roads Arthur & Friends Community Choir. From 10 to 2 the Sweet Adelines’ Lyrical Quartet strolls and sings along Ferdinand and Royal Sts., while the Angola Inmate Traveling Band from Louisiana State Penitentiary performs across from Garden Symposium Park from noon to 4.
Angola wagon
 Christmas Parade
Saturday’s highlight, of course, is the colorful 2 p.m. Christmas parade sponsored by the Women’s Service League with the theme “Deck the Hills with Lights and Holly.” Participants include everyone from local dignitaries and Mike the Tiger to Angola’s enormous Percheron work horses, their sleigh bells jingling and their burnished coats gleaming. Dozens of gaily decorated parade floats vie for coveted prizes, accompanied by cheerleaders, bands, bagpipes, vintage cars, marching ROTC units and dancers. Grand Marshall is the newly elected Parish President. The parade lines up on Royal St. and traverses Ferdinand and Commerce Streets, so don’t plan on driving through downtown St. Francisville mid-afternoon.
From 6 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, the United Methodist Church on Royal St. hosts a Community Sing-a-long, while the First Baptist Church (US 61 at LA 10) sponsors its very popular Live Nativity from 6 to 8 p.m., reminding of the reason for the season.  Also from 6 to 8 p.m., visitors can “Peep into our Holiday Homes,” peeking through handblown windowpanes and lace curtains into participating homes all decorated for the holidays in St. Francisville’s downtown National Register Historic District.
santa motorcycle
Santa Rides
In addition, Saturday evening from 5:30 to 8:30, visitors are welcomed for candlelight tours, period music and wassail at Oakley Plantation, Audubon State Historic Site on LA Hwy. 965, where artist-naturalist John James Audubon tutored the daughter of plantation owners and painted many of his famous bird studies in the early 1820's. This historic home never looks lovelier than in the soft romantic glow of the candles that were its only illumination for its early years. During the day from 10 to 4, the historic site observes its annual Colonial Christmas holiday festival, including cooking demonstrations.
Christmas in the Country activities continue on Sunday, December 8, with in-town activities and an afternoon Friends of the Library Tour of Homes from noon to 5 p.m. ($20 fee benefits the new parish library and advance tickets are available online at wftourofhomes.bpt.me or from the West Feliciana Parish Library; on the day of the tour, tickets may be purchased at The Bluffs clubhouse or participating homes). Four diverse homes are featured, two on LA 965 and two on Ferdinand St.; at The Bluffs, a jazz brunch (extra fee) precedes the tour and boutique shopping with refreshments follows.
 local shop treats
 Local Shop
The enthusiastic sponsors of Christmas in the Country are the downtown merchants, and the real focus of the weekend remains St. Francisville’s marvelous shops, which go all out, hosting Open Houses with refreshments and entertainment for shoppers while offering spectacular seasonal decorations, great gift items, and extended hours.  A variety of quaint little shops occupy historic structures throughout the downtown area and spread into the outlying district, each unique in its own way; visitors should not miss a single one. 
From the rich Victoriana of The Shanty Too, for thirty years the anchor of the downtown business community complete with old-time candy shoppe, to the jewelry beautifully crafted from vintage buttons at nationally known Grandmother's Buttons, and the incredibly extensive selections of carefully chosen gift and decorative items at Hillcrest Gardens and Sage Hill Gifts, downtown St. Francisville is filled with fine shopping opportunities.  Artists Herschel Harrington and Joe Savell (Backwoods Gallery) have studios displaying their own works, while St. Francisville Art & Antiques and Bohemianville Antiques feature vintage collectibles and furnishings. Femme Fatale specializes in fine fashions; Trends Boutique and Ma Milles Gifts also have stylish clothing, game-day gear and jewelry.
singing christmas in country
Singing along Main Street
St. Francisville Inn’s Wine Parlor has gift bottles of fine wines, and Birdman Books & Coffee has an eclectic selection of books. Ins-N-Outs and Coyote Creek nurseries carry live seasonal plants to complement any decorating scheme; St. Francis Christmas Trees also has fresh-cut trees, and Mia Sophia Florist features floral arrangements, wreaths and plants as well. The tourist information center/museum in the West Feliciana Historical Society headquarters on Ferdinand St. has a great selection of books, notecards and prints, plus free maps showing locations of all of the other retail outlets, local plantations, restaurants and accommodations.
On the outskirts of town, intrepid shoppers won't want to miss the exquisite custom-designed creations at Patrick’s Fine Jewelry and the fleur-de-lis decorative pieces in the expanded Elliott’s Pharmacy in Spring Creek Shopping Center, as well as Border Imports with huge selections of Mexican pottery, eyecatching ironwork and concrete statuary on US 61 north.  Most of the plantations around St. Francisville have gift shops, and a visit to those would permit enjoyment of spectacular seasonal decorations as well. Restaurants and B&Bs in the area offer gift certificates to extend the giving throughout the year.

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and
trolley
Christmas Parade Trolley
Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination.  A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours daily: the Cottage Plantation, Butler Greenwood Plantation, the Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season. 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 (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Monday, October 21, 2013

Visit St. Francisville—new guidebook for tourists
By Anne Butler
Tunica Hills - photo by Darrell Chitty
Throughout much of the 20th century, tourists flocked to the St. Francisville area’s unspoiled pastoral landscapes and splendid plantation homes for guided tours through the romanticized glories of the antebellum period, with some historic homes open to the public on a daily basis and other private homes open only during the spring Audubon Pilgrimage. But times have changed, and so have the demographics of tourism. Some visitors are younger, the older ones are more active, and they all want to be more engaged, more involved, more informed.
While many visitors continue to enjoy the plantation homes, where history is now presented in a more realistic version and hands-on demonstrations make it come alive, others are looking for more active pursuits. The St. Francisville area is uniquely suited to satisfy their wildest desires, from bicycle races through the steep hilly terrain to warrior dashes across firepits and mudholes, from waterfall hikes to birding in the same woodlands that inspired the artist Audubon in the 1820s.
Greenwood Plantation
Greenwood Plantation - by Anne Butler
The area is especially popular with bicyclists. Quiet country lanes overhung with moss-draped live oaks beckon recreational bikers, but for the competitive bike racer there are several more challenging options. The nationally famous Rouge Roubaix, a classic 100-mile road race considered one of the top 12 hardest races in the world,  draws experienced bikers to the treacherous Old Tunica Road’s sunken roadbeds and rugged hills on a demanding course that crosses some of the roughest terrain in West Feliciana Parish and Wilkinson County, MS. Even in the middle of town there are bike races that go round and round and up and down the hills of St. Francisville proper past historic homes with galleries dripping with gingerbread trim, galleries and shops in vintage structures, the still-used parish courthouse and the banks of the Mississippi River.
And then there’s the infamous 8-mile wooded mountain bike trail called The Beast that crisscrosses the creeks and hollows of the 200-acre West Feliciana Parish Sports Park, where the challenging Warrior Dash is also set; the world’s largest obstacle course, the annual dash takes place in numerous locations across the country and world with thousands of participants slipping and sliding through grueling 5-K Mud Runs, the individual participants often raising funds for St. Jude’s Hospital and other worthy causes.
Hiking in the Tunica Hills, Cat Island and just across the Mississippi state line in the Clark Creek Natural Area with its scenic waterfalls is especially popular in the fall and winter, while the Nature Conservancy’s Mary Ann Brown Preserve and the shorter trails at the Audubon State Historic Site are child-friendly and not as demanding. Birders find the wilderness areas full of both resident and migratory birdlife, and Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge, with its rare cyclical flooding from Mississippi River overflow and its old-growth cypress trees, provides a prime observation area for migratory waterfowl. The Tunica Hills and Cat Island woodlands and swamps are filled with whitetail deer and smaller game animals, so the areas attract hunters during season.
Rosedown Plantation
Rosedown Plantation - by D. Chitty
With the shift in tourism interest from sedentary study of historic sites to more active and more involved activities, the St. Francisville tourist guide has been redesigned to reflect the new emphasis on recreational areas. Just released, it features fine color images of not just the historic plantations but also the unique landscapes that draw visitors to the area. The guide book is available at the West Feliciana Historical Society’s museum and visitor information center on Ferdinand St. in St. Francisville as well as other local outlets, and it will be introduced at the Yellow Leaf Arts Festival the last weekend in October.
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and
Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination.  A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours daily: the Cottage Plantation, Butler Greenwood Plantation, the Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer fascinating living-history demonstrations most weekends to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities, including the Farmers Market on Thursday mornings).

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Celebrate the Yellow Leaves of Autumn in St. Francisville

Joe Lackie - the artist
Artist Joe Lackie
By Anne Butler
In one of few spots in South Louisiana where the arrival of autumn actually does bring brilliant fall color---the yellows and oranges and reds of turning leaves in the hardwood forests of the Tunica Hills---the appropriately named Yellow Leaf Festival October 26 and 27 is an outdoor celebration of all things creative---art and crafts and music and writing. And this year’s eleventh annual festival is heralded by a colorful poster that is the wonderful work of Joe Lackie, whose many years of astute observation of his surroundings have given him the rare gift of being able to share that sense of wonder and appreciation through his very fine watercolors.
Fall in the Felicianas brings many activities---the Southern Garden Symposium October 18 and 19 featuring prestigious gardening experts lecturing and demonstrating amidst the glorious garden settings of the St. Francisville area, the Baton Rouge Symphony’s Baroque Concert October 25 on historic Grace Episcopal Church’s splendid 1850s Pilcher organ, the Angola Prison Rodeo (“Wildest Show in the South”) every Sunday, and the chilling thrilling Halloween extravangas at The Myrtles (“Most Haunted House in the South”) every Friday and Saturday in October (plus October 31). November features two music festivals (LA Vets Fest Nov. 8-10 and Modern South Music Fest Nov. 10), and December’s special celebration of the season is called Christmas in the Country Dec. 6-8th in St. Francisville.

Fugutive Poet
Fugutive Poets
But the last weekend in October the Yellow Leaf Arts Festival draws crowds of art-lovers to oak-shaded Parker Park with its bandstand right in the middle of St. Francisville’s downtown National Register-listed Historic District. A festival called “authentic, genuine and full of small-town charm,” Yellow Leaf from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday showcases the works and talents of more than 50 artists and crafters who offer paintings, pottery including a potters reunion and a chance to try throwing pots, metalwork, fabric art, books, woodwork, sculpture, glass art, jewelry, carvings and lots more. There are art activities for children and local farmers with home-grown sweet potatoes both cooked and raw in bulk, plus local honey.
This festival, they say, really is all about the art---no mass productions, no noisy generators, no train rides, although there are usually a few local kiddies hawking refreshments from little red wagons. There’s also great live music from 10 to 3 both Saturday and Sunday, with a Louisiana songwriter showcase plus The Fugitive Poets, Clay Parker, Emily Branton, The Wilder Janes, Karuna Spoon and Hot Club de Lune. Also on the music stage the Bains Elementary Children’s Choir performs at 10 Saturday. Sponsors include the local umbrella arts agency called Arts For All, plus Birdman Coffee, West Feliciana Parish Hospital and the Bank of St. Francisville. For information, access www.artsforall.uniquelyfeliciana.com or www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com.
Pottery
Pottery for Sale


The park pavilion will showcase the varied works of Arts For All members. The 2013 Yellow Leaf poster was executed by Joe Lackie, who was supposed to be the featured artist in the park pavilion until health constraints intervened. Mr. Lackie, whose creative talents have inspired and encouraged members of the arts organization, is a gifted artist with that rare ability to reveal volumes from the slightest glimpse, finding beauty in everyday subjects from dogs and street artists to an old farmer washing the mud from his rubber boots. A tiny porch corner of a weathered cypress cabin on LA Highway 1 down the bayou whispers of life there just as compellingly as the grand white-columned gallery at Manresa Retreat Center, and the small section of a cast-iron fence is just enough to impart that quintessential New Orleans spirit. The painter, who works primarily in watercolors but is equally proficient in acrylics, oils, pastels and pen and ink, is adept at letting a narrow but carefully selected view speak for a wider world and broader message.

From St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square to tiny bait shops and shrimp boats along the bayou, from a row of quirky flamingo-decorated rural mail boxes entitled “Expecting” to the priceless expressions on the wrinkled faces of three old Bolivian matrons wrapped in woven shawls, Mr. Lackie celebrates the soul and spirit in the most mundane of subjects; as he says, he tries to capture an instant in time or bit of history that preserves on canvas the essence of that moment for future generations. His website (www.joesart.com) sprinkles religious encouragements among his galleries of paintings: “A cheerful heart is good medicine,” Prov. 17:22, a sentiment that permeates his works, which are gentle, generous and cheerful, simple and sincere. And very, very good.




Musicians
Musician Heather

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination.  A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours daily: the Cottage Plantation, Butler Greenwood Plantation, the Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer fascinating living-history demonstrations most weekends to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).

The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.

For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities, including the Farmers Market on Thursday mornings).

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Saving St. Francisville History, One Frame At A Time
By Anne Butler

“If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday,” said Nobel Prize-winning novelist Pearl Buck. West Feliciana Historic Society museum director Helen Williams has had to keep reminding herself of that every time another patron has arrived loaded down with dusty boxes full of fragments of local history---vintage sepia-toned photographs, dog-eared journals, ledgers, diaries, yellowed clippings from ancient newspapers, maps, and assorted other family treasures. A frustrated groan must surely have escaped from Williams at the prospect of preserving all these valued donations in the face of limited space, limited staff, limited funding. And yet she recognized the vital contribution of even the smallest shred of evidence of our yesterdays to our understanding of today.
But there was just so much stuff!  Every old house had its trove of treasures, every family its fading ancestral photos. Mississippi’s beloved author Eudora Welty, herself an avid photographer, wrote movingly about the importance of images: “Among all living creatures, only human beings seem to have the knowledge that the moment is passing, and the acute wish to hold that moment.”
While past generations took pride in stern portraits glowering from the walls, each with its lesson to teach (“You don’t change the course of history by turning the faces of portraits to the wall,” as Nehru understood), contemporary generations often shift their focus to the future with a desire to “clear out the clutter.” Consequently, a safe repository for all of these precious recorded moments of history is often required beyond the private home.
That local repository has been the West Feliciana Historical Society museum, and within its exhibit spaces, its attic and barn, its warren of storerooms, there have been boxes piled upon boxes, papers and photos overflowing from file cabinets, and prized possessions stuffed into every nook and cranny. Williams and the historical society were not about to turn down any donations in this area that is so rich in history and with such a remarkable sense of place, but researchers were only able to access the collections in person, and in many cases there was no record at all to accurately identify exactly who was who and what was what.
That’s all about to change, and just in the nick of time. The West Feliciana Historical Society board of directors has approved a proposal (“Copy Cats”) by Norman C. Ferachi and Anne Butler to create a permanent photographic history of West Feliciana’s past and present by collecting, cataloging, organizing and preserving old photographs, and, once that is accomplished, expanding the scope of the project to permit archiving more contemporary images as well. Beginning with the Historical Society’s valuable vintage images and then branching out to include private collections, the photographs will be duplicated and entered into a searchable electronic database, indexed by subject matter. Potential categories include religion, culture, commerce, communities, festivals and fairs, architecture and landscaping, labor and leisure time, people and organizations, schools and sports, transportation and waterways. Funding for equipment was provided by the society board and a suitable scanner has been obtained for the project’s museum office.
The project will serve several purposes. Fragile and fading images will be permanently preserved, and it will be possible to view them online without further damaging the originals. It will also be possible for researchers and writers to access the digitally archived collections from a distance, encouraging the use of these historic images in various projects and publications. Every effort will be made to ensure proper identification of places, people and dates, for which the memories of elderly community members will be invaluable resources.
An enthusiastic committee of volunteers will spearhead the project, each bringing specialized talents. Norman Ferachi has semi-retired from a publications career that included publishing Baton Rouge Magazine as well as a number of books of vintage Louisiana images. As the author of 20 books and hundreds of articles on Louisiana culture and landscapes, Anne Butler has had a great deal of experience in accessing historic images from archives around the state. Dr. Olivia Pass, retired university English professor, has edited scholarly journals and continues to teach under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Humanities and LSU continuing education programs (OLLI). Helen Williams, as director of the West Feliciana Historical Society museum, deals daily with its growing collections of historical artifacts, and two other volunteers, Arlene Folmar and photographer Kathleen Harris, bring to the project the discipline and detail orientation gained from demanding careers in nursing administration.
The historic images in the museum collection span the mid- to late-19th century and most of the 20th. Photographs record in vivid detail Mississippi River floodwaters inundating low-lying Bayou Sara just below the St. Francisville bluffs, and there are other images of residents in quaint period dress, vintage steamboats, historic plantation homes (some long gone, burned to the ground or washed away in floods)---all lessons in history. Once the museum photographs have been preserved, the public will be encouraged to share private collections of old images as well as contemporary ones, which will be scanned into the database so that the owners can retain possession of the originals.
This is a vast but important undertaking, and it will not be accomplished overnight. In the meantime, visitors to St. Francisville can view many of the original historic images on display in the West Feliciana Historical Society’s museum/tourist information center on Ferdinand St.
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination.  A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours daily: the Cottage Plantation, Butler Greenwood Plantation, the Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer fascinating living-history demonstrations most weekends 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, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities, including the Farmers Markets on Thursday mornings).




Greenwood during Pilgrimage Festivals

Docking at Bayou Sara and Miss. River







Burton Hotel - Bayou Sara





Greenwood during Pilgrimage Festivals

Greenwood Plantation - Pilgrimage





Vincis

Vinci's Store on Commerce St.





3V-Court

3V Cafe on Commerce St.





Commerce St.

Stores on Commerce St.





Committee

Left to right: “Copy Cats” digital archiving committee members Kathleen Harris, Arlene Folmar, Olivia Pass, Norman Ferachi, Anne Butler, Helen Williams.





julius freyhan students


1940 Students of Julius Freyhan School





Car barge


Car Ferry near St. Francisville, La.








SOUND OF MUSIC IN THE HILLS AROUND ST. FRANCISVILLE
By Anne Butler
n the 19th century, according to Louisiana author Stanley C. Arthur, “with the coming of summer, planters with their wives and children flocked into the city from the countryside, all looking for culture.” Everyone knows the story of how plantation mistress Lucy Pirrie of Oakley found gifted artist/naturalist John James Audubon down on his luck in New Orleans, engaged him to instruct her artistic fifteen-year-old daughter Eliza in drawing at $2 a lesson in the city, then persuaded him to continue the art lessons for the summer and fall in residence in West Feliciana Parish, where he would find the inspiration to paint dozens of his famous bird studies and also found the courage to continue his quest to paint all of the birds of this fledgling country.
            That’s all true, but there’s more to the story than that, for what Mme. Pirrie was seeking for young Eliza was just as Arthur noted: culture, and Audubon was ideally suited to introduce his pupil to more than just drawing. Indeed, as Audubon wrote in a letter to his wife about Eliza, “Yesterday I begged to hear her Sing and play on the Piano. I played with her on a flute and made the mother stare. She was much surprised to hear me sing the notes.”
And so, in June 1821, the destitute artist accompanied the Pirries upriver to the Bayou Sara landing aboard the steamboat Columbus, taking along his portfolios, art supplies and guns, violins, flutes and flageolets. He would spend some four months at Oakley, with half the day devoted to studying and recording the birds of the surrounding woodlands, and the other half instructing the beauteous Eliza in drawing, dancing, mathematics, French, complicated multi-strand hair plaiting (the artist called it “some trifling acquirement”), and music.
Audubon’s sojourn in the St. Francisville area would last a scant four months, cut short by a bitter disagreement over money. After he left, his beloved Feliciana birdsong would be accompanied throughout the 19th century by mostly indigenous music---soulful gospel songs wafting from little country churches, sturdy field chants of slaves or prisoners, sprightly piano or harp playing in plantation parlors.
Lately, there has been mostly just the live music every Friday night drawing folks to the little local casual cafe familiarly called The Mag. Though there are a handful of wonderful resident musicians, some homegrown and some transplants, this is, after all,  English Louisiana, lacking the French joie de vivre that elsewhere erupts so joyfully in song and dance, and so recently the Feliciana hills have not exactly been alive with the sound of music.
That’s all about to change, thanks to two festivals coming to St. Francisville the second weekend in November.
The LA Vets Fest, an annual event held on Veterans Day weekend at the spacious West Feliciana Parish Sports Park, is sponsored by the Louisiana Veterans Foundation, a non-profit organization whose goals include providing support for veterans or active military personnel and their families whose needs are not being met by community or private resources. Along with fun activities for the whole family, employment assistance is provided for veterans, along with recognition and appreciation for their service.
The Louisiana National Guard provides military equipment---tank, helicopter, personnel carrier---plus soldiers to explain the performances of these vital big machines. There will be fund-raising auctions, children’s activities, hotly contested cook-offs (Friday gumbo, Saturday BBQ and jambalaya), classic cars and motorcycles. The LA Vets Fest takes place at the Sports Park on Friday afternoon, Nov. 8, and all day Saturday, Nov. 9; on Sunday a guided bus tour to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans will depart from St. Francisville (tour tickets of $74, aged 65 or older $70, include museum admission and supper at Boutin’s in Baton Rouge on the return trip).
Headliner performance is by Tennessee singer-songwriter Craig Morgan on Friday, Nov. 8, at 7 p.m.; tickets, $20 plus handling, can be purchased in advance (www.lavetsfest.org).  Morgan is a country music star, competitive dirt-bike racer and award-winning host of an outdoor adventures television show. Inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, Morgan has had a number of hits, including “Almost Home,” “Redneck Yacht Club,” “This Ole Boy,” “That’s What I Love About Sunday,” and “Wake Up Lovin’ You” from his new CD “The Journey.” He also spent ten years on active duty in the Army’s 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions and nine years in the Reserves, and remains an avid supporter of America’s military. In 2006 he received the USO Merit Award.
Other musical performers at the LA Vets Fest include talented young Julia DeJean singing the National Anthem to open the festival both days, the Alaina Richard Band Friday, and on Saturday the Richard Family, West Feliciana High School Band, Angola Prison Band, A. Scott Clement, and blues singer-guitarist Josh Garrett, plus the US Marine Corps Band.
Another exciting musical extravaganza scheduled for this same weekend in St. Francisville is the Modern South Music Fest, set for Sunday, November 10, at Hemingbough, just off US 61 south of St. Francisville. Sponsor Anchorline Events, Nashville-based professional festival promoter,  promises a mix of music, food, fashion and culture in a series of tents and stages, with hopes the event will attract some 7,000 attendees from early afternoon to 9:30 p.m. Tickets may be purchased online (www.modernsouthmusicfest.com ); general admission is $39.50, reserved seating $49.50,  and varying levels of sponsorship are available.
Featured musicians are the Avett Brothers, Texas country-Red Dirt singer Wade Bowen and Mississippi native Charlie Worsham, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and Nashville session player whose debut album, “Rubberband,” was released this year by Warner Bros. Records.
Formed in 2001 by North Carolina brothers Scott (banjo) and Seth (guitar), the Avett Brothers have released a number of albums, so popular they landed high on the Billboard Top 200 and received outstanding reviews from music critics across the country. Touring tirelessly, they have also performed on TV shows including “Austin City Limits,” “Late Show with David Letterman” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” San Francisco Chronicle critic Dirk Richardson describes the band’s combination of bluegrass, country, punk, pop, folk, rock and roll, honkytonk and ragtime as producing a sound having “the heavy sadness of Townes Van Zandt, the light pop concision of Buddy Holly, the tuneful jangle of the Beatles, and the raw energy of the Ramones.” That’s a lot to live up to!
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination.  A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours daily: the Cottage Plantation, Butler Greenwood Plantation, the Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer fascinating living-history demonstrations most weekends 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, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities, including the Farmers Markets on Thursday mornings).
La Vets FestCraig Morgan





Avett

Avett Brothers





Bowden

Wade Bowen





Charlie Worsham

Charlie Worsham





Josh Garrett

Josh Garrett



Tuesday, July 30, 2013

ST. FRANCISVILLE HAS ALWAYS CELEBRATED READERS AND WRITERS



BY Anne Butler



Old Market Hall in St. Francisville, La.
Audubon Market Hall
When the West Feliciana Parish Police Jury in mid-July approved a bid of $2.7 million to construct a new parish library on a wonderfully hilly wooded lot, oldtimers considered it a natural progression in an area that has traditionally been devoted to the literary arts. Indeed, St. Francisville, today the refuge for several published authors and retired university literature professors, had one of the state’s earliest public libraries. Historian Elisabeth Dart wrote that the state’s second oldest library was established in St. Francisville by 1812, and the Silver Anniversary Edition of the local newspaper, the True Democrat, commended the town for its public library as early as 1828.



The early plantations, of course, had extensive private libraries of their own, for the planter families were cultured and well travelled, with wide-ranging interests; their home libraries provided the resources for the education of the younger children, who often were taught by live-in tutors until they went away to colleges Up East. The book collection at The Cottage Plantation, donated to LSU in the fifties, numbered in the thousands, as might be expected for the home of an early contributor of scholarly writings to state historical quarterlies. The library at Butler Greenwood Plantation still contains nearly 3,000 vintage volumes, including such rarities as an 1807 Life of George Washington, the 1814 printing of the journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Malte-Brun’s 1831 geographies of the world, Gibbon’s History of Rome, and works by Hugo, Dickens, Fielding, Balzac, Robert Louis Stevenson, Hawthorne and others in French, Spanish, German and Latin as well as English. And one of the most poignant scenes in the Civil War novel So Red The Rose, written by Stark Young at Laurel Hill in upper West Feliciana, depicts the elderly Judge Edward McGehee distraught as he helplessly watches his home, Bowling Green, along with its library full of priceless treasures, burned to the ground by marauding soldiers.



Historic brick Audubon Market Hall on Royal Street in St. Francisville, built in 1819 as an open-air produce market, was later closed in and housed the Drama-Library League formed in honor of the artist Audubon, its members staging tableaux among the arched stalls where vendors once parked their produce wagons on market days. The library itself moved often as it grew to meet local needs. After Market Hall, where it remained through the thirties, it shared space on Ferdinand St. in an 1896 hardware store restored in the 1970s by the West Feliciana Historical Society as headquarters and museum. As the library outgrew that space, it moved into the former post office building down the street, a structure also purchased by the historical society in 1997.



WFP Historical Society Museum
WFP Historical Society Museum
Bursting at the seams once again, the library won approval in a bond issue election last year that allowed planning for a new parish library that can live up to its guiding principle: “Preserving our past, preparing for our future.” The library (website http://wfplibrary.org) is full of digital offerings, e-books, interlibrary loan offerings, computers and databases, and special activities geared to all ages and interests. And yes, there is even a card catalog bursting with good old books.



Besides looking forward to the spacious new library, today’s booklovers anticipate with great relish the revival of a special event dubbed A Gathering of Writers and Readers, begun in 2007 by the Friends of the Library and now under the auspices of Arts For All, the non-profit umbrella agency for all arts in West Feliciana. The celebration brings together published authors with readers who might not otherwise have the opportunity to hear writers read from and discuss their work. Scheduled for Saturday, February 22, 2014, at Hemingbough just south of St. Francisville, the all-day event will be moderated by SLU professor and former bookstore owner Charles Elliott, himself a writer, film director and noted character. Four professional authors will be featured, as well as repeat guest Ernest Gaines who will be honored for his extraordinary literary contributions, and featured writers from previous years are invited to “gather” again.



Dr. Wiley Cash, nationally acclaimed award-winning fiction author, had his first novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, selected as a New York Times Notable Book. A North Carolina native, Cash earned his PhD at UL Lafayette and studied under writer-in-residence emeritus Ernest J. Gaines; it was there that he began the book NPR called “great Gothic Southern fiction filled with whiskey, guns and snake-handling.” Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and author of nonfiction books including Poor Man’s Provence—Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana about time spent in Henderson in the Atchafalaya Basin. Dr. Julie Kane, Northwestern State University professor and Louisiana’s past Poet Laureate, has published five volumes of poetry and her poems have appeared in dozens of anthologies and journals.. Anne Butler writes nonfiction books preserving Louisiana history and culture. Both Cash and Kane are experienced university professors, and Johnson has been on the short list for a Pulitzer for journalism; her popular folksy columns appear in The Advocate. These diverse authors have been specifically chosen to give the audience a well-balanced appreciation for the art of literature---poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, nonfiction, all with great appeal to Louisiana readers. They will share their creative processes and works; participants, including several students on scholarships, are encouraged to ask questions and will have an opportunity to interact with the authors. Online information http://artsforall.uniquelyfeliciana.com or committee chair olivapass@bellsouth.net.



Walker Percy
Author Walker Percy
A few months later, in May 2014, another exciting literary event is being planned for St. Francisville, this one to honor acclaimed author Walker Percy, many of whose novels have local connections as did he himself; he called Feliciana “a happy land of decent fok and droll folkways and quiet backwaters, the whole suffused by gentle Epsicopal rectitude.” Country Roads magazine cites the “unique combination of existential questioning, Southern sensibility and deep Catholic faith” of Percy’s novels, books that “plumbed the depths of family history and the world around him to explore the dislocation of man in the modern age.”



The foundation established to restore the historic Freyhan School in St. Francisville as a cultural center/museum benefits from this fundraiser the weekend of May 9, 10 and 11. Organizers promise the Walker Percy Weekend will feature not just lectures and panel discussions but also tours of area locations important in Percy’s works, and maybe even some stargazing and bourbon tasting, the latter a tip of the hat (or clink of the glass) to Percy’s memorable essay from Signposts in a Strange Land. Bourbon, Percy said, “does for me what a piece of cake did for Proust,” and he meant the aesthetic of bourbon drinking, “the use of Bourbon to warm the heart, to reduce the anomie of the late twentieth century, to cut the cold phlegm of Wednesday afternoons…”



With a new library rising and several literary celebrations in the works, St. Francisville can indeed claim its place as a genuine cultural tourism destination within a state rightfully celebrated throughout the centuries for all of its arts. And with the summer heat making this the ideal time to curl up in the A/C or shade with a good book, readers now have advance notice and can be well prepared to participate in Q&A sessions with and about these wonderful writers.



Mark Lester
 Speaker Mark Lester
There are other end-of-summer activities in St. Francisville to be enjoyed as well. The West Feliciana Historical Society joins the Julius Freyhan Foundation to present “Remember Oleszyce: The Story of Eva Galler” on Sunday, August 18th, at 2 p.m. in recently restored Temple Sinai on Prosperity St. in St. Francisville. Featured speaker is Mark Lester, Social Studies teacher at West Feliciana High School and Holocaust Teaching Fellow. A passionate Holocaust researcher who participated in the first Fellowship program of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane, Lester will present the experiences of Eva Galler, born in eastern Poland in Oleszyce. Three thousand Jews lived there at the time Germany attacked Poland in 1939; twenty survived. The program is free and open to the public; for information, telephone 225-635-6330 or email wfhist@bellsouth.net.



On Saturday, August 24, beginning at 5 p.m., a fun evening extravaganza called Polos & Pearls puts a little after-hours sizzle into summer by enticing the community into historic downtown St. Francisville’s Main Street community for bargain shopping, food, art and lively music, with participants invited to stroll along the bricked sidewalks or hop aboard a trolley to enjoy the little town’s unique boutique shops, art galleries and antiques emporiums, each enhancing the shopping experience with fine food provided by area restaurants and live music. For information, telephone 225-635-3873 or online www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com.



Musicians at Polo and Pearls
Musicians at Polo & Pearls
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours daily: the Cottage Plantation, Butler Greenwood Plantation, the Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer fascinating living-history demonstrations most weekends 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, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.



For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities, including the twice-weekly Farmers Markets on Thursdays and Saturdays).


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Hollywood in the Hills

St. Francisville: Hollywood in the Hills
By Anne Butler
dead man walkingAs Louisiana has become the country’s third busiest state for movie and television production, just behind California and New York according to figures cited by writer Timothy Boone, so St. Francisville has become one of the film industry’s most popular locations. Hollywood, in other words, has discovered what residents have known for a long time: the St. Francisville area has something for everyone.
From the Mississippi River to the sandy creeks and unspoiled wilderness areas of the rugged Tunica Hills, from sand pits that look like desserts and deeply sunken roadbeds to architectural treasures like antebellum plantations and rude rustic cabins, from country lanes overhung with moss-draped trees and weathered barns to the quaint little rivertown of St. Francisville and even the state’s enormous maximum security penitentiary, location scouts excited about the area’s potential have directed a number of productions to West Feliciana in recent years---Jonah Hex, GI Joe II, Oblivion starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman, Beautiful Creatures, Whiskey Bay, Maze Runner, Battle Los Angeles, Everybody’s All American, Dead Man Walking, Out Of Sight, North & South. Filming for The Reaping, with Hilary Swank, was interrupted by Hurricane Katrina.
Bonnie and Clyde For the just completed docudrama Bonnie and Clyde, a large number of locations in St.Francisville were used in the filming, including the courthouse, recently restored Temple Sinai for funeral scene, Magnolia CafĂ©, and Birdman Books and Coffee, plus other locales in the surrounding countryside. The town of St. Francisville was perfect for this production, according to tourist director Laurie Walsh, because “it steps back in time so naturally.” Cover the streets around the courthouse square with sand, bring in some vintage cars and actors in period costumes, and St. Francisville is transformed into an ideal 1930s setting, especially with still-used structures like the 3-V Tourist Courts, tiny overnight cabins with attached garages that were so typical of the era.
Productions like Bonnie and Clyde, so visible and accessible, involve the entire community, according to Walsh, and townsfolk are very supportive, with lots of locals experiencing the excitement of working as extras, not to mention the thrill of sharing a latte with the likes of William Hurt in the local coffeehouse. The exposure for St. Francisville and West Feliciana is great, Walsh explains, and the productions generate income for all segments of the community, not only for tourist services like accommodations and restaurants but also for cleaners (costumes often need cleaning), gas stations, hardware stores, locations for base camps, law enforcement agencies for providing extra security, crowd control and traffic diversions. Thanks to Walsh and an active local location scout, owners of properties used in filming are paid, often quite well.
In addition to serving as the Main Street Manager and Tourist Commission Director, Walsh is also the Film and Video Liaison for both town and parish, charged with overseeing film productions. A required no-fee permit includes practicalities like insurance indemnity and providing advance notification to local authorities on filming sites and shooting schedules, and Walsh very capably assists production crews locating whatever they need.
The town works closely with the Baton Rouge Film Commission, which has just launched a new website, www.filmbatonrouge.com, with St. Francisville area settings like Tunica Hills and Cat Island prominently displayed on the very first page of suggested filming locations. Additional information is available on St. Francisville town and tourist commission websites. According to figures from Louisiana Entertainment, statewide economic impact from the film industry in 2012 was $1.7 billion, generating 14,000 jobs, thanks in part to the state’s film tax credit program. With industry productions having such a huge impact on the state economy, St. Francisville is well positioned to take advantage of continuing interest in movie and television productions that can be enormously beneficial to the entire area.
But it’s not necessary to be a movie star to enjoy the area. Summertime special events in St. Francisville include the popular annual Feliciana Hummingbird Celebration, sponsored by the Feliciana Nature Society in this area where the artist Audubon found inspiration for many of his famous bird studies in the 1820s. It will be held Friday and Saturday, July 26 and 27. The Friday evening kick-off event begins at 6 p.m. at Rosedown State Historic Site, with a wine and cheese reception featuring LSU professor Catherine Fontenot speaking on hummingbirds and the plants that attract them to landscapes. Saturday the banding of birds by biologists Nancy Newfield and Linda Beale gives visitors the opportunity to observe the hummingbirds being captured, weighed and banded from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. at two locations, Murrell Butler’s home and artist’s studio at 9485 Oak Hill Road, and Carlyle Rogillio’s home at 15736 Tunica Trace. Online visit www.audubonbirdfest.com.
Also on Saturday, July 27, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church’s Jackson Hall on Ferdinand Street in St. Francisville, the West Feliciana Animal Humane Society celebrates its first successful year of operations with a “Take a Chance on Me” Anniversary Gala, featuring food and drink, wine bar, live music by the popular local group Delta Drifters, fashion show and silent auction. Tickets of $25 benefit the WFAHS and the James L. “Bo” Bryant Animal Shelter, and they may be purchased in advance by mailing checks (payable to WFAHS) to Box 2032, St. Francisville, LA. For additional information online see http://wfahs.thebonnieblue.net. Thanks to the dedication of hardworking volunteers, this animal shelter has an incredibly high adoption rate; donations and volunteers are always welcome.
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination.  A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours daily: the Cottage Plantation, Butler Greenwood Plantation, the Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer fascinating living-history demonstrations most weekends 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, hunting. 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 ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities, including the lively monthly third Saturday morning Community Market Day in Parker Park and the twice-weekend Farmers Markets on Thursdays and Saturdays).

Saturday, April 27, 2013

St. Francisville, May 2013

Every Southern Porch Needs a Dog, and St. Francisville’s Bo Bryant Shelter Has Just The Right One For You

By Anne Butler

Hershey's reunionPrior to 2012, the dog pound in St. Francisville consisted of a few makeshift pens attached to the parish jail, where the two-legged inmates had sentences considerably shorter than the four-legged ones who were pretty much on death row. A mere 5%-10% of the impounded animals were adopted out, most of those thanks to the efforts of a retired state trooper turned sheriff’s deputy, the late Bo Bryant; the rest met a sadder fate.

Help for homeless animals has come a long way since then. Just ask Hershey.
Hershey is a lab, a chocolate one, naturally, given the name. When he arrived not long ago at the new animal shelter in St. Francisville, the one named for Bryant and opened in 2012 as a collaboration between the parish police jury and sheriff’s department, Hershey was in terrible shape, heartworms, malnourished, even an old gunshot wound. Fortunately, a microchip scanner had been donated by local veterinarian Dr. Glenn Dupree; through Hershey’s chip, his owners could be identified. Baker residents who were on vacation in Oklahoma when contacted, they immediately returned to pick up the dog, who had been missing for three years! A joyous reunion ensued, Hershey leaping for joy to recognize his family and not a dry eye in the shelter, especially among the dedicated volunteers.

The Wolf DogThe story was repeated with a husky running loose in St. Francisville and getting in the way of a movie crew. Taken to the shelter, he too was found to have a microchip, permitting the staff to locate his family hours away in Waveland, Mississippi, from which he had been missing for several months. Miraculous reunions like these are complemented by a remarkable number of adoptions to new families. The James L. “Bo” Bryant Shelter now adopts out at reasonable fees some 90% of rescue cats and dogs, once they have been vetted, vaccinated and spayed at cut-rate cost by local veterinarians. This is a wonderful testament to the hard work of volunteers who foster, groom, tame, exercise, socialize and then transport animals wearing irresistible bright-colored vests pleading “Adopt Me” to public gatherings like St. Francisville’s monthly Community Market or the Angola Rodeo. Since the new shelter opened in August 2012, more than 143 adoptions have been arranged—dogs, cats, and even a horse. Not all of the shelter occupants are strays; some have arrived due to owner illness, death or relocation.
Volunteer and donor efforts are coordinated by the non-profit West Feliciana Animal Humane Society, whose 15 or so active civilian volunteers are supported by several volunteer inmates from the nearby parish work-release facility. Of course there is always a need for more—more volunteers to keep the facility open three days a week, care for the animals and oversee the adoptions; more foster homes for animals, especially those too young to stay in the shelter; more money and supplies like collars and leashes, pet carriers, cat litter, old towels, pet food; and more families willing to adopt. Kennels and cages are located in a large metal shed off the West Feliciana Parkway going toward the sports park, with exercise yards, holding pens and corrals that were built by Angola inmates. Adoption days are Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 9 to 2.

dogs and othersThe humane society has a wonderful website and a Facebook page full of heartwarming images, and prospective volunteers can contact the sheriff’s office for information. The animal control officer for St. Francisville and West Feliciana Parish, on the job for more than a decade dealing with loose livestock and animal cruelty cases as well as strays and nuisance complaints, says the volunteers of the WFAHS have made his job so much easier with their professionalism and compassion.

The next West Feliciana Animal Humane Society Pet Adoption Day will be at the public library on Ferdinand Street in St. Francisville on Saturday, May 18, from 9:30 to 1:30, with lovable adoptable dogs looking for a home and the humane society benefitting from a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Porch Dogs, new book by author-photographer Nell Dickerson who will be on hand to sign copies from 11 to 1 at this event co-sponsored by the Friends of the West Book Porch DogsFeliciana Parish Library and the West Feliciana Animal Humane Society. Mississippi native Dickerson, passionate about historic preservation, celebrates the southern tradition of the porch as every home’s most important living-gathering-socializing space, back in the days before air conditioning shut everyone inside and incommunicado. And just as every welcoming gallery had its rockers and porch swings and hammocks full of chatters and storytellers and pea-shellers, so every porch had its family dog. If your porch is missing one, this is your opportunity to complete the picture.

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours daily: the Cottage Plantation, Butler Greenwood Plantation, the Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer fascinating living-history demonstrations most weekends to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs.

Happy dogsThe nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, hunting. 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 ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.

For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-635-4224, online at www.stfrancisville.us or www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities, including the lively monthly third Saturday morning Community Market Day in Parker Park and the twice-weekly Farmers Markets).

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

ST. FRANCISVILLE COMMEMORATES CIVIL WAR SESQUICENTENNIAL IN A DIFFERENT WAY

By Anne Butler

Rarick at Day the War StoppedAs communities across the country mark the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the observance in the quaint little rivertown of St. Francisville, LA, will not celebrate a victory in battle or commemorate a heart-wrenching defeat. Rather, St. Francisville’s observation of events 150 years past preserves a moment of civility in the midst of a bloody war, and the bonds of brotherhood that proved stronger even than the divisiveness of a bitter civil conflict pitting brother against brother. St. Francisville’s observance June 7, 8 and 9th is called The Day The War Stopped, and that is exactly what happened, at least for a little while.

In June 1863, the bloody 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.

The Albatross was patrolling the Mississippi River off the port city of Bayou Sara just below St. Francisville when a single shot rang out from the captain’s stateroom. It was 4:15 p.m. on June 11, and the vessel’s commander, John Elliot Hart of Schenectady, New York, lay mortally wounded on the floor, his pistol beside his body and a note detailing his despondency over his sufferings from dyspepsia. Attempts to find a metal coffin in which to ship his body home proved futile, and so the ship’s surgeon went ashore in hopes of making arrangements for burial on land.

day the war stoppedHe was a Mason; Commander Hart was also a Mason. Living near the river he found several helpful brothers named White who were also Masons, and in St. Francisville was the second oldest Masonic Lodge in the state, its senior warden a Confederate cavalry officer who happened to be at home on furlough. It would be his duty, this Confederate officer felt, to afford a decent burial to a fellow Mason and fellow military officer, regardless of politics. And so the war stopped, if only for a few mournful moments.

The commemorative events begin on Friday, June 7, at 7 p.m. in St. Francisville, with graveside histories in the peaceful oak-shaded cemetery at historic Grace Episcopal Church, where several participants in the original event lie buried---the grave of the Albatross’ commander John E. Hart, whose burial stopped the war and united fellow Masons in both blue and grey, is marked by a marble slab and monument “in loving tribute to the universality of Free Masonry,” while nearby lie the Reverend Dr. Daniel Lewis, Episcopal rector who presided at the burial, and W.W. Leake, the local Masonic leader and Confederate cavalry officer who expedited Hart’s burial. An Open House and presentation of lodge history at the double-galleried Masonic Lodge just across Ferdinand St. from the graveyard follows at 8 p.m. Friday evening.

Funeral - Day the War StoppedAt 10 on Saturday morning, June 8, a lively parade processes through St. Francisville’s downtown Historic District, after which lunch is served from 11:30 to 12:30.

Visitors will be pleasantly transported back in time during the afternoon at Grace Church’s Bishop Jackson Hall from 11:30 to 1:30 as a concert of antebellum period music is followed by a graceful demonstration of vintage dancing. At 1:30 commences the 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 burial of Hart in Grace Church cemetery, with re-enactors in the dignified rites clad in Union and Confederate Civil War uniforms accurate down to the last button and worn brogan. A representative of Commander Hart’s New York Masonic lodge travels south every year to participate in the re-enactment with local Masons, and some years there are actually descendants of the original participants involved.

Funeral in St. Francisville, La.On Saturday evening from 6 to 8:30 p.m., at Oakley Plantation (Audubon State Historic Site), brilliantly costumed vintage dancers will perform stylish dances popular during the Civil War period in the museum theater, encouraging participants to join in and learn the steps. Oakley House, which is never lovelier than by candlelight, opens for special evening tours from 6 to 8 p.m., with all three floors filled with costumed living historians demonstrating what life was like during the trying Civil War years for civilians and soldiers on both sides of the conflict. A picket will greet guests at the entrance in full military uniform. In the dining room the discussion will be about wartime shortages of foodstuffs as ladies converse over their ersatz coffee made from okra, and other ladies will be attending to their mending in the hallway as they make sure the solders’ uniforms have all the buttons sewed on. Convalescent soldiers are cared for in the office, and the little drummer boy waits anxiously in the bedroom to go off to war. In another bedroom, as his anxious wife looks on, a gentleman dons his uniform and packs his gear into a haversack. Confederate headquarters in the library will be the scene of discussions of the nearby bloody Siege of Port Hudson, while in Audubon’s room foraging soldiers confiscate civilian goods for the military, candles, for example, and much-needed food.

Union SoldierOn Sunday, June 9, 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. 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.

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours daily: the Cottage Plantation, Butler Greenwood Plantation, the Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer fascinating living-history demonstrations most weekends 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, hunting. 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 ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.

For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-635-4224; online visit www.daythewarstopped.com, www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities, including the lively monthly third Saturday morning Community Market Day in Parker Park and the twice weekly Farmers Markets on Thurdays and Saturdays) or www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com.


Monday, January 21, 2013

St. Francisville Celebrates Spring with Audubon Pilgrimage

By Anne Butler

Evergreenzine
Evergreenzine
The forty-second annual Audubon Pilgrimage March 15, 16 and 17, 2013, celebrates a southern spring in St. Francisville, the glorious garden spot of Louisiana’s English Plantation Country. For over four decades the sponsoring West Feliciana Historical Society has thrown open the doors of significant historic structures to commemorate artist-naturalist John James Audubon’s stay as he painted a number of his famous bird folios and tutored young Eliza Pirrie of Oakley.

Features of the 2013 Audubon Pilgrimage include one historic townhouse (Evergreenzine) and three country plantations (Wakefield, Beechwood and Catalpa), plus Audubon (Oakley) and Rosedown State Historic Sites, Afton Villa Gardens, three 19th-century churches and the Rural Homestead with lively demonstrations of the rustic skills of daily pioneer life. Tour houses are open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Wakefield Plantation
Wakefield Plantation
This year’s carefully selected features vividly illustrate how many early families were closely related by blood or marriage, thus intertwining their heritage and homes in the fascinating fabric of Feliciana history. Martha Barrow Turnbull of Rosedown Plantation had a daughter named Sarah who would marry the son of Oakley’s Eliza Pirrie, whose first husband was Martha’s brother and whose second husband was the Reverend William R. Bowman of Grace Church. Wakefield Plantation and Beechwood were both part of early settler Alexander Stirling’s immense landgrant holdings, and Stirling is buried in the Beechwood cemetery beside his wife Ann Alston, her sister Lucretia Alston Pirrie of Oakley, and Lucretia’s daughter Eliza Pirrie. Catalpa Plantation was the home of Willie Fort, who was so taken with Eliza’s beautiful Bowman granddaughters that he married not one but two of them.

All of these early plantations—Oakley whose three-storied double-galleried house whispers of West Indies influence, Rosedown and Wakefield with their grand 1830s Greek Revival structures, plus Catalpa and Beechwood with later but exceedingly pleasant Victorian cottages--were furnished with supplies from the drygoods mercantiles operated in St. Francisville mostly by industrious Jewish immigrants like the builder of the historic townhouse called Evergreenzine.

Beechwood Plantation
Beechwood Plantation
The National Register Historic District around Royal Street is filled during the day with the happy sounds of costumed children singing and dancing the Maypole; in the evening as candles flicker and fireflies flit among the ancient moss-draped live oaks, there is no place more inviting for a leisurely stroll. Friday evening entertainment features a play called “An Audubon Spring Sketch” with middle-school actors at 5:30 p.m. in Audubon Market Hall, old-time Hymn Singing at the United Methodist Church (6 to 7 p.m.), art exhibit at the recently restored Temple Sinai (6 to 9 p.m., and also open during the day Saturday and Sunday 9 to 5:30), dramatic Graveyard Tours at Grace Episcopal cemetery (6 to 9, last tour begins at 8:30 p.m.), and a wine and cheese reception at Bishop Jackson Hall (7 to 9:30 p.m.) featuring a casual style show of the pilgrimage’s exquisitely detailed 1820’s costumes, nationally recognized for their authenticity. The Audubon play will also be presented on Saturday at 10 and 2, and Sunday at 2 p.m. in Market Hall. Light Up The Night, the Saturday evening soiree, features live music and dancing, dinner and drinks beginning at 7 p.m.

Catalpa Plantation
Catalpa Plantation
For tickets and tour information, contact West Feliciana Historical Society, Box 338, St. Francisville, LA 70775; phone 225-635-6330 or 225-635-4224; online www.audubonpilgrimage.info, email sf@audubonpilgrimage.info. Tickets can be purchased at the Historical Society Museum on Ferdinand Street.

Throughout springtime, the gardens of St. Francisville are spectacular, with some of the state’s finest antebellum plantings showing what a felicitous climate, rich soil, horticultural know-how and unlimited labor could produce in the mid-1900s. Rosedown Plantation’s 27 acres of formal plantings of heirloom specimens and Afton Villa’s landscaped terraces and oak allee underplanted with Pride of Afton azaleas have recently been joined by a contemporary garden, Imahara’s Botanical, where one of the state’s outstanding horticulturists has created a blooming hillside oasis from an old cypress swamp and overgrown gullies (open weekends).

St. Francisville is 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. Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Gardens are open 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 offer unmatched recreational activities in unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, all especially enjoyable in the cool weather. 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 ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.

For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-635-4224; online visit www.stfrancisville.us or www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities like the twice-weekly farmers’ market).