Photos from Ava Barrett
And so a little shantytown sprang up and took its name from the creek, and it soon grew into one of the most significant ports along the Lower Mississippi, with extensive commercial and residential districts, its wharves crowded with steamboats and packets. The creek Bayou Sara was navigable for several miles to the north of St. Francisville, allowing plantation owners along the waterway the luxury of shipping their produce to the river from their own docks, at least through most of the 19th century.
Alas, the port of Bayou Sara was situated right on the river’s banks below St. Francisville, which had the sense to develop on a high ridge. Washed by floodwaters most springs, devastated by fires that destroyed dozens of woodframe structures in the business district, shelled during the Civil War, by 1909 the port city had seen better days. A newspaper report of that year gives an amusing account of a scheduled visit by the battleship Mississippi. The chairman of the local Bayou Sara reception committee, chagrined at accounts of elaborate banquets and balls given the ship’s officers and crew at New Orleans and Baton Rouge, wired its captain, “This is a hell of a place to receive anybody, but we will do the best we can.” And when a newspaper correspondent, tongue in cheek, wired back inquiring whether civilians should dress in high silk hats and frock coats during Bayou Sara’s welcome ceremony, the response was a hospitable “Not necessary to wear anything at all. Come ahead!”
But by the late 1920s, particularly after the devastating flood of 1927 that displaced millions of people along the Mississippi River corridor, most of Bayou Sara port city’s occupants had moved their residences and businesses up the hill to St. Francisville, and what was left was abandoned to the river’s current. Even the creek called Bayou Sara declined, silt filling its deep swimming holes, no longer navigable by most boats except during flood times when river waters backed up into it.
Now, nearly a century later, the beautiful creek called Bayou Sara is once again coming into its own, thanks to a new business called Bayou Sara Kayak Rental, brainchild of avid fisherman Andy Green and his fiancée Ava Barrett (who admitted to preferring to pass the time on the water with a good book until she too caught the fishing bug). Since they started last fall, they have had enthusiastic support from not only tourists, who revel in the unspoiled bayou scenery and unusual wildlife, but also from locals who gain a whole different perspective from water level, not to mention a good physical workout.
Clear swift-running waters at its upper end near its mouth pass sandy beaches and clay bluffs, while the creek widens as it approaches the river and its turbid waters fill with alligators, otters, beavers and plenty of waterbirds—egrets and herons, roseate spoonbills, woodpeckers and the occasional eagle. The fishing is fine and Andy always manages a good catch for customers, whether fishing the fall run of white and striped bass, reeling in enormous catfish, or simply enjoying birdwatching and exploring flooded forested wetlands. Cat Island is accessible through the ditch when water levels are right and Andy also offers guided fishing trips to the Gulf Coast.
Reasonable rates are $35 for two-hour guided kayak trips, $50 for four hours. All day non-guided rate is $35 per single kayak, $50 per tandem (two-person) kayak. The Pelican kayaks (sit on, not in) are built for stability; no experience is required, and the two-person tandem kayaks are perfect for trips with children. Guided Gulf fishing trips are $75, with full service provision—rods, lures, life vests, dry storage for valuables. Andy and Ava plan on expanding by adding more kayaks, sponsoring a Bayou Sara Cleanup community project and maybe a catfish rodeo, coordinating youth kayak lessons with the parish sports park and possibly even a summer camp.
“Bayou Sara is such a pretty waterway and it’s not fully appreciated locally. It’s one of only two tributaries that enter the Mississippi River in Louisiana from the east, and kayaking Bayou Sara provides a glimpse of the state’s natural beauty that you will never forget,” says Andy Green. Give him a ring at 225-202-8822 to schedule a trip.
One location along Bayou Sara is featured on the popular annual Hummingbird Celebration on Saturday, September 12, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Hummingbird biologists Nancy Newfield and Linda Beale capture, study and band these amazing little birds, giving onlookers a chance to get up-close-and-personal. Admission is free to the two banding locations: artist Murrell Butler’s property along Bayou Sara at 9485 Oak Hill Road just north of St. Francisville, and Carlisle Rogillio’s Wild Bird Sanctuary at 15736 Tunica Trace (LA 66) near Angola.
Sunday, September 13, from 3 to 5 p.m. at Hemingbough, A Celebration of Literature and Art presents an afternoon of words and song called Watermelon Wine and the Poetry of Southern Music. Frye Gaillard, journalist and author, will read from his classic book on country music, Watermelon Wine, and rising country music star Anne DeChant performs her favorite tunes, including some composed in collaboration with Gaillard. The performers will converse with the audience prior to the event, from 1 to 2:30. Tickets are available at www.brownpapertickets.com; CLA members $10, non-members $20 for both events.
Another September event attracting visitors to St. Francisville is the LAVetsFest at the West Feliciana Sports Park on September 27, promising all sorts of sporting events, live music (big names like the Lost Bayou Ramblers), runs and bike races, fishing tournament and rodeo, car show, auction and jambalaya cook-off, all in tribute to veterans of all military branches. Proceeds from concessions benefit the Veterans Foundation.
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 www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).