Monday, February 03, 2014

By Anne Butler

As the rest of south Louisiana celebrates Mardi Gras in a burst of fun and frivolity preceding the austerity of Lent, with everything from costumed royalty at masquerade balls to fabulous floats in colorful street parades and even rowdy riders galloping about in pursuit of terrified chickens for the gumbo pot, St. Francisville marches to its own different drum and does what it does best. This quiet little rivertown in English Louisiana, where the primarily Protestant pioneers made no fuss over carnival season, provides a respite from the madness, a peaceful haven for Fat Tuesday escapees and a romantic destination for Valentine lovers.

bb1And whether you’re traveling for escape or romance, whether you’re trying to find yourself or lose yourself, St. Francisville has just the right accommodation for your trip. Bed & Breakfasts run the gamut from historic townhouses to antebellum plantations, from lakeside clubhouses to golf resorts and throw-back thirties’ motor courts. Some are contemporary and some historic, some in the countryside and some right in the midst of St. Francisville’s National Register of Historic Places downtown, and they’re as different as night and day.

Most historic of the in-town B&Bs is the Barrow House-Printer’ Cottage, two structures across the street from each other on beautiful Royal Street. The Barrow House was built around 1809 and during the Civil War was the home of attorney W.W. Leake, Confederate cavalry officer who facilitated the rare moment of civility when Masons in both blue and grey joined in universal brotherhood to bury a Union gunboat commander in the cemetery of nearby Grace Church. Leake’s daughter married Dr. A. Feltus Barrow, country doctor and town mayor who gave the house its name. The Printer’s Cottage across the street is a late 1700’s post-and-beam structure with upstairs evidence of the passage of a cannonball. Between the two structures, there are bedrooms and suites, with exceptionally fine antiques as well as modern conveniences.

The St. Francisville Inn is located in the Wolf-Schlesinger House adjacent to oak-shaded Parker Park and was built in the 1880s by prosperous merchant Morris Wolf, of the Jewish immigrant family so important to the region’s post-war economic survival. The bustling emporium begun across the street by his brother-in-law, J. Freyhan & Co., was taken over by Wolf and his brother Emmanuel and renamed M&E Wolf’s General Store and Cotton Gin. The Victorian house contains the wine parlor and dining area where a sumptuous breakfast buffet is served for the public and for guests staying in rooms across a bricked courtyard.

bb2Shadetree bills itself as magical, and so it is, perched on a wooded hilltop on Royal Street with sloping lawns and a view of the Mississippi River from its rustic decks. An individual cottage plus several suites in the eclectic main structure provide upscale amenities, while the grounds are ideal for birding, bonfires and relaxing.

And then there are the 3-V Tourist Courts, throwbacks to the thirties’ cabin-with-attached-garage motoring days and perfect backdrop for the filming of “Bonnie and Clyde.” Fun little spaces and amazingly well equipped for their size, they are right next to Magnolia CafĂ© in the center of all the activity, especially on Friday nights when the Mag has live music.

There are also modern motel accommodations in town---Best Western and the 100-room Magnuson on the lake---capable of housing entire busloads of visitors, plus apartments at Lamplighter Suites for overnight, weekly or monthly rental. Peaceful Pines Campgrounds and Shelby J’s RV Park have full hookups and facilities for motor homes.

In the countryside surrounding St. Francisville, four historic plantations offer overnight accommodations. Begun in the 1790s by David Bradford of Pennsylvania, leader of the Whiskey Rebellion protesting a tax levied on spirits, The Myrtles has been more famous in recent years for a different variety of spirits, billing itself one of America’s most haunted houses. Stories swirl around the deaths of Bradford’s daughter and several small granddaughters, and there was also a documented Reconstruction-era murder on the long front gallery. Hair-curling candlelight mystery tours on weekends may have some guests preferring to stay in the newly constructed B&B cottages rather than the elaborate rooms in the main house. There is an on-site restaurant as well.

bb3The main house at Butler Greenwood Plantation, also begun in the 1790s by the area’s first physician and later home to the chief justice of the Louisiana’s first Supreme Court, is still occupied by members of the original family, so guests stay in eight well-equipped cottages scattered around the landscaped grounds. Some overlook a pond and others are perched on the edges of steep wooded ravines, all very quiet and peaceful with lots of live oaks and 19th-century gardens.

Another early plantation is The Cottage, 1795 land grant purchased in 1811 by Thomas Butler, the first judge of the Florida Parishes, and remaining in the original family until the 1950s. Andrew Jackson stayed there on his way home from the Battle of New Orleans; his chief of staff was Judge Butler’s brother and there were at least 7 other Butlers in the party, taxing the accommodations of even this commodious home so that the host had to sleep in the pantry. Guests today have a choice of rooms in the main house and attached wing, furnished with fine antiques, or one separate pond-side cottage.

Designed for William Ruffin Barrow in 1830 by noted architect James Hammon Coulter, Greenwood Plantation was considered one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture, 100 feet square and completely surrounded by 28 immense Doric columns of slave-made brick. It was struck by lightning on August 1, 1960, and burned completely to the ground. Only the columns and chimneys were left, but they were enough to inspire the Barnes family to purchase the property and rebuild an exact duplicate. Guests are now welcomed for overnight stays in a separate structure across the reflecting pond.

More contemporary accommodations may be had at Lake Rosemound Inn, lakeside clubhouse situated on the banks of beautiful Lake Rosemound. Rooms and suites have private entrances, guests have access to lakeside beach and fishing, and there is even an ice cream parlor. Hemingbough is an ambitious conference center, elegant setting for large cultural events and receptions, with gardens and an amphitheater and Greek temple beside a large lake. Overnight accommodations here are in a replica of the garconnier at Uncle Sam Plantation, as well as a variety of smaller structures.

bb4The Felicianas’ first golf resort and private residential community, The Bluffs enhances a spectacular 674-acre wooded setting overlooking Thompson Creek with a challenging 18-hole championship course designed by golf great Arnold Palmer to highlight its unique site. The Lodge at The Bluffs has suites, and the Clubhouse features a restaurant and grill, meeting and fitness facilities.
B&B owners can provide personalized recommendations for touring, dining, special seasonal events, recreational activities and everything else that can make overnight stays enjoyable and interesting, whether guests want to have an active visit or want to relax and do nothing at all. There’s something for everyone in St. Francisville. (And for those guests exhibiting withdrawal symptoms of carnival deprivation, right across the Mississippi River is one of the state’s oldest Mardi Gras celebrations in French New Roads, just over the Audubon Bridge!)

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, 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 some weekends to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday). Rosedown has special exhibits and events throughout the month of February in observance of Black History Month.

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, or (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).