Thursday, January 22, 2015

Andrew Jackson Slept Here: Romantic GetAways

Andrew Jackson Slept Here: Romantic GetAways in St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler

Cottage PlantationAs the rest of Louisiana and the country celebrate the bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans, that iconic mismatch of 11,000 veteran redcoats against an outnumbered ragtag band of pirates, militiamen, Kaintuck sharpshooters, Creole aristocrats and a troop of Feliciana Horse, St. Francisville remembers its own connections to this pivotal fight. Because after the 1815 battle that would save New Orleans from the British and give Americans a sense of national identity for the first time, after demonstrating the brilliant leadership that led to his election as the seventh president of the United States, General Andrew Jackson spent the night at The Cottage Plantation in St. Francisville. And you can, too.

The Cottage was the home of Judge Thomas Butler, and on Jackson’s staff were a number of Judge Butler’s relatives, two brothers who were married to nieces of the general’s wife Rachel and a sister married to her nephew Stokely Hay(e)s. The Jackson entourage, returning to Tennessee after the Battle of New Orleans, supposedly was large enough to tax the facilities at The Cottage to the extent that the host had to sleep in the pantry, if stories can be believed.

shade treeToday this early plantation hosts Bed & Breakfast guests in six antique-filled rooms in the main house and one individual pond-side cottage. A full breakfast is served in the formal dining room of a house little changed since General Jackson’s visit. This is only one of St. Francisville’s overnight accommodations that are so charmingly varied in style that at least one will be perfect for that romantic getaway for Valentine’s weekend or that quiet escape from Mardi Gras madness.

Several other area plantation Bed & Breakfasts offer similar stays steeped in historic ambience and redolent with romance. The Myrtles, dating from the late 1790s, has eleven rooms in the main house, plus five cottages, an on-site restaurant and an aura of mystery promising unforgettable out-of-this-world experiences for the daring. Greenwood Plantation has a dozen rooms in a structure across the reflecting pond from the grand Greek Revival house painstakingly replicated after the original burned in 1960. Historic Butler Greenwood Plantation offers accommodations in eight well-equipped private cottages on plantation grounds; the main house has been occupied by members of the original family since the 1790s.

St. Francisville itself boasts so many structures of architectural significance that the entire downtown area is listed on the National Register as a Historic District. Included in the district are several fine townhouses that provide overnight accommodations. The St. Francisville Inn, next to oak-shaded Parker Park and dripping with Victorian trim, has ten rooms, a European style courtyard, and popular breakfast buffet. Barrow House and Printer’s Cottage, among the oldest structures in town, face each other across picturesque Royal Street and offer seven rooms/suites filled with fine antiques. Shadetree, also on Royal, has an eclectic collection of suites on a hilltop overlooking the Mississippi River, and the fun little 3-V Tourist Courts, featured in the television docudrama about Bonnie and Clyde, are reminiscent of the thirties’ automobile age when overnight accommodations came with an attached garage.

HemingboughMore contemporary accommodations offering romantic getaways in the St. Francisville area include The Lodge at The Bluffs, 32 room/suites with access to spectacular golf course and other fitness facilities, plus restaurants and chapel. Lake Rosemound Inn has four rooms on the banks of a beautiful large lake, and Hemingbough has 8 rooms and several suites on the landscaped grounds of a large conference center/events venue with lovely lakeside amphitheater. Besides several RV parks, the St. Francisville area also has two full-service motels, the Best Western and the Magnuson, capable of accommodating large bus groups as well as individual travelers; Lamplighter Suites is suitable for longterm rentals as well as overnights.

Winter is a wonderful time to visit St. Francisville. The woodlands invite hikers and birders to enjoy scenic vistas no longer obscured by prolific summertime foliage, and bicyclists enjoy the respite from the oppressive summer heat. Nineteenth-century gardens are filled with colorful camellia blooms, and nice restaurants and shops (several of them newly opened) attract patrons to St. Francisville’s historic downtown. Bed & Breakfasts book up a bit ahead for special holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras, so be sure to make reservations.

February is Black History Month at Rosedown State Historic Site, with special focus exhibits and demonstrations of Afro-Caribbean culinary influences.

Lake Rosemound InnFebruary is also enlivened by A Celebration of Literature and Art’s Writers and Readers Symposium at Hemingbough on February 21, allowing area readers the rare opportunity to interact in person with published authors; this year’s event features mystery writer Abigail Padgett, New Orleans novelist Moira Crone, Louisiana Poet Laureate Ava Haymon, and gifted photographer Richard Sexton ( ).

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: the Cottage Plantation, 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 periodic living-history demonstrations 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, or (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).