Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Popular Audubon Pilgrimage Welcomes Spring To St. Francisville, LA

Popular Audubon Pilgrimage Welcomes Spring To St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler

The forty-fourth annual Audubon Pilgrimage March 20, 21 and 22, 2015, 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 studies and tutored the daughter of Oakley Plantation’s Pirrie family, beautiful young Eliza. This year’s featured homes include three country plantations and one historic townhouse, plus two significant state historic sites.
RetreatOpen this year for the first time is Retreat Plantation, built around 1823 on property of Sarah Bingman and named Soldier’s Retreat by her second husband, Clarence Mulford, a U.S. Army captain at nearby Fort Adams. A 1½-story Anglo-Creole home with handsome architectural details set on a bluff overlooking Little Bayou Sara, it has been restored by present owners C.B. and Mary C. de Laureal Owen, continuing seven generations of Percy family occupancy since 1859.
At the opposite end of the parish is Dogwood, in the Thompson Creek delta on lands initially granted by Spain to Jean Cloccinet as part of a failed resettlement of Acadian exiles. The house was begun in 1803 by George Freeland, an early settler from the Carolinas. His initial hewn-log shed-roof house, two rooms flanking a hallway and topped by a sleeping loft, has been enlarged over the years and is home to the family of Rob and Missy Couhig.
DogwoodAn exuberant Carpenter Gothic Victorian home approached from US Highway 61 via an impressive oak avenue, The Oaks was built in 1888 by Judge Thomas Butler, Confederate veteran, planter and police juror. From his family’s isolated plantation he moved to be nearer St. Francisville’s amenities, embellishing his new house with stained glass, fanciful gingerbread trim, dormers and turrets. When the last of his nine children died, The Oaks became home to the E. I. Daniel III family.
Perched on a hilly lot overlooking St. Francisville’s main thoroughfare, Ferdinand Street, the Levert-Bockel House was constructed in 1918 for Mamie Bockel Levert using materials salvaged from flooded Bayou Sara properties inherited from her father, a prosperous Prussian immigrant sadler. In one of the comfortable bungalow’s rooms, her husband Dr. Eloi Levert practiced medicine. It is now the home of the Tom Tully family.
The OaksOther popular features of the 2015 Audubon Pilgrimage include Audubon (Oakley) and Rosedown State Historic Sites, three 19th-century churches in town and beautiful St. Mary’s in the country, as well as the Rural Homestead with lively demonstrations of the rustic skills of daily pioneer life. An Audubon Play will be performed several times daily on Saturday and Sunday in recently restored Temple Sinai. Daytime features are open 9:30 to 5, Sunday 11 to 4 for tour homes; Friday evening activities are scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m.
The 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 features old-time Hymn Singing at the United Methodist Church, Audubon Play in Temple Sinai, Graveyard Tours at Grace Episcopal cemetery (last tour begins at 8:15 p.m.), and a wine and cheese reception at Bishop Jackson Hall (7 to 9 p.m.) featuring Vintage Dancers and the pilgrimage’s exquisitely detailed 1820’s evening costumes, nationally recognized for their authenticity. Light Up The Night, the enjoyable Saturday evening soiree, features dancing to live music by United We Jam, sensational dinner catered by Heirloom Cuisine and drinks beginning at 7 p.m.
TulleyFor 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. A package including daytime tours and all evening entertainment Friday and Saturday is available. Tickets can be purchased at the Historical Society Museum on Ferdinand 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: 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 www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).