By Anne Butler
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.
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.
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).