Saturday, July 25, 2015

St. Francisville’s Beautiful Oak-Shaded Parker Park

St. Francisville’s Beautiful Oak-Shaded Parker Park
By Anne Butler
Parker Park HomeFew of the folks who enjoy community festivals and get-togethers on the landscaped grounds of beautiful Parker Park in historic downtown St. Francisville stop to think of the history of that particular property, but if these oaks could talk!
In 1870 Sara Mulholland Flower sold her 40-arpent property called Magnolia Glen, located right in the heart of town where the well-travelled roads leading from Woodville, Baton Rouge and Bayou Sara converged. The buyer was a young dentist from New York, Dennison Stocking, who had moved to Pointe Coupee as a 22-year-old, served four years in the Confederate army, then moved across the river to St. Francisville. There he set up his dental chair in one room of the old Magnolia Glen house and advertised that he would attend all calls on the coast (meaning the Mississippi River) from New Orleans to Natchez, as well as “the back country when accessible with a buggy.”
St. Francisville InnAs he prospered, his family grew to include a wife and three daughters named Eliska, Eugenie and Mehitable, the latter known as Hetty. In 1876 plans for a suitable estate were drawn, including a handsome grove and circular drive, plus stables in the back and 6 ½ acres labeled as “park.” The enormous Victorian Gothic house he built had a broad front gallery and three steep pointed gables across the front. By the 1880s the Wolf brothers, who took over Julius Freyhan’s huge dry-goods emporium and cotton gin just across the street, would build matching homes of similar style next door, one still standing as the St. Francisville Inn.
Dr. Stocking died in 1887, and the house burned in 1937. Two of the daughters, Eugenie and Mehitable, demolished the old Royal Hotel and used the bricks to erect cottages on the old house site for travelling tourists of the new automobile age, calling it Stocking Court.
During the Depression, Eugenie’s talented daughter Eloise hit the road for Hollywood in a Model-T Ford and used her musical skills to build a successful business empire that included a klieg lighting business and a fancy hostelry patronized by the rich and famous. During World War II she delighted in entertaining the “local” boys stationed in California, showing them a real good time, and she scandalized the local ladies when she made periodic trips back home to St. Francisville in a big pink Cadillac chauffeured by muscle-bound California beachboys, accompanied by a foul-mouthed minah bird.
Gazebo in Parker parkIn the 1990s the widow of her son, James Munroe Parker, graduate of Annapolis and great-grandson of Dr. Dennison Stocking, donated the property to the Town of St. Francisville, and it now contains a veteran’s memorial, Victorian bandstand, paved walkways and well-maintained shaded grounds. Parker Park is the site of the popular fall Yellow Leaf Arts Festival, community market days, movies in the park, and numerous other activities, and advance scheduling of activities must be done through town officials.
The colorful Eloise Parker will be one of the local characters resurrected for a new fundraising event called Night At The Museum the second Saturday in August. This benefits the West Feliciana Historical Society, with costumed presenters entertaining the crowd, plus fine refreshments at the Ferdinand Street headquarters/museum/tourist information center (call 225-635-4224 for details). The museum, in an 1880s hardware store, has fascinating exhibits recently professionally redesigned to show off the society’s extensive collection of artifacts. Proceeds benefit ongoing preservation projects and maintenance on restored historic structures.
And on August 22 the popular annual Polos and Pearls evening event puts the sizzle into summer shopping and entices customers to St. Francisville’s National Register downtown historic district and outskirts beginning at 5 p.m. All the interesting little shops (and there are some wonderful new ones to complement the more established outlets) and galleries offer lots of extras---refreshments provided by local restaurants or caterers, live music or other entertainment, and plenty of bargains, making shopping after dark just plain fun. Visitors can drive or hop on the trolley to visit participating stores throughout the downtown area.
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 and are both 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 periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Monday and Tuesday).
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, 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).