Saturday, August 15, 2020

St. Francisville’s Longtime Mayor Retiring After Half-Century of Public Service

 

Mayor D'Aquilla by D. Chitty

St. Francisville’s Longtime Mayor Retiring After Half-Century of Public Service
By Anne Butler


You wouldn’t think growing up in an isolated little community of a hundred or so occupants would be good training for a career in politics, but for St. Francisville’s longtime mayor it provided exactly what he needed as the basis for his half-century of public service…an appreciation for history and an ability to get along with everybody. Those two must have served him well, for he has been elected and re-elected since he moved to St. Francisville in 1959.

 


cleo fields and mayor billy Mayor Billy D’Aquilla grew up in tiny Fort Adams, Mississippi, at a time when there were three wood-frame stores (two owned by his father and uncle) where trappers sold pelts and hunters or fishermen purchased provisions and all the country folks 

from cotton plantations and small farms piled into wagons to come into town on Saturdays, sitting on the store porches and shooting the breeze. This was after the Mississippi River channel shifted away from town. Originally Fort Adams had been the important US port of entry before the acquisition of New Orleans. A Jesuit mission had been established there around 1700 to bring Christianity to the local Indians, and in 1798 a military post named for President John Adams was established overlooking the river near the international boundary established between Spanish West Florida and the Mississippi Territory. There was a steep one-mile road down to the port at Fort Adams where cotton from across the central part of the state was hauled for shipment on paddlewheelers to factors in New Orleans during much of the 19th century.


 Working in his father’s store for $3 a day, Billy D’Aquilla recalls not having electricity until he was in the third grade, and listening to the Grand Old Opry on Tuesday nights after it had been broadcast on Saturday. When he left home at age 17 to join the National Guard, he’d already learned the skills he would put to use in the first job he got after moving to St. Francisville in 1959, working as a butcher in Vinci’s IGA supermarket and treating everybody the same…behind the counter, in front of the counter, and on the front porch shooting the breeze. After six years there, he opened his own grocery on US Highway 61, along with some rental houses behind the store, before advancing to travelling sales jobs.


town hall Meantime he was elected to the town council in 1972 and served for twelve years, 8 of them as Mayor Pro Tem, before running for mayor himself. He winces as he recalls those early days of raw sewerage running in the streets of St. Francisville. Once elected to that demanding position in 1984, he has been returned to office ever since, 12 terms counting the town council, mostly without opposition. Why? He absolute loves his town and absolutely loves his job. He also serves on numerous boards and commissions like the Capitol Region Planning Commission and the Louisiana Municipal Association for which he has served for years as Vice President At Large for communities of 1,000 to 5,000 residents.


Caboose Proud of the many accomplishments made during his lengthy tenure, he says he has always had great people to work with, helping to implement many progressive improvements, including a new sewage system, 500,000-gallon water tower, new fire trucks, ball fields, enhanced tourism promotion. He’s especially proud of the downtown development plan that facilitated the placement of bricked sidewalks, public restrooms, and a lovely oak-shaded park with bandstand gazebo in the center of town, Parker Park, that hosts a myriad of festivals, marketplaces, and other entertainments. He has worked hard to get millions of dollars in grants to carry out projects in town, as well as lots of capital outlay money through the state legislature. He also convinced the state to turn over those portions of both highways (LA 10 and US 61) running through town, but only after the state overlaid both streets and shared $500,000 in surplus funding.


 “We did a lot for the town,” he says, working with a top-notch Main Street program, historic district commission, planning and zoning commission and different boards to whom he gives a lot of credit, including the Zachary Taylor Parkway commission of which St. Francisville was a charter member, so influential in placement of the new Audubon Bridge across the Mississippi. “We used to have a Class Six fire rating, and improved it to a Class Three, quite an accomplishment with a small mostly volunteer department and a real savings on fire insurance costs. Next up is a new waste-water treatment plant, a $5 million project in a new location safe from the increasingly regular floods on the Mississippi River, to be financed by a half-cent sales tax that will be on the ballot in December.”


 santaTourism has for years been an economic mainstay for the downtown economy, with visitors coming from around the country to admire the small-town heritage and the preservation of its historic structures in a National Register-listed downtown district. As mayor, D’Aquilla certainly has been the head cheerleader and supportive of projects benefitting not only those within the town limits but also the parish as a whole. Steamboat visitors from around the world get off buses at the Town Hall and often stop in for a chat with the mayor, who is always welcoming. Hospitality as well as history keep this little town at or near the top of regional and national lists of Favorite Small Towns, and the patronage of out-of-town visitors means the difference between surviving and thriving for all the little downtown boutique shops and galleries. A spruced up docking facility planned for the steamboats that regularly visit St. Francisville will provide space for three vessels at once, as well as safe and spacious boat launching for recreational fishermen.


 tvAge and back troubles have slowed the mayor, and he needs to spend more time with his family, especially wife Yolanda, whom he married in 1962. But as he approaches retirement, he looks back over his long career with the satisfaction of having made many improvements, with incredible help from his devoted staff and town employees. What is he most proud of? “I have always treated everybody fairly,” he says, “no matter what age, color or status in life. I think I am most proud of that.”


 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; check locally for coronavirus mitigation requirements, please. Several splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation (a National Historic Landmark) 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.

paradeThe nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and 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 in St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.


For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online www.stfrancisville.us, www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, or www.stfrancisville.net (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).
 

Friday, July 3, 2020

St. Francisville offers sanctuary in time of COVID-19

St. Francisville offers sanctuary in time of COVID-19
By Anne Butler

4th of July “And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” That’s what 19th-century Scottish-born American naturalist John Muir said. Author and Sierra Club founder, Muir advocated the preservation of wilderness areas like Yosemite National Park, and his words certainly suit this unsettled and unpredictable time. Nature has such a calming, soothing impact on worried minds, and the St. Francisville area offers the chance to be safe, socially distanced and mask-wearing, while getting away from the stress and uncertainty of the COVID-19 issues.

 A celebration of the Fourth of July, hosted by longtime St. Francisville mayor Billy D’Aquilla, takes place at the West Feliciana Sports Park complex off US 61 at Hardwood, with plenty of outdoor areas for social distancing. Music and refreshments begin at 6; fireworks display starts at dark.

 While the popular waterfalls of Clark Creek Natural Area remain off limits at present, there are alternative hiking areas in the Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area off the Old Tunica Road, as well as the 109-acre Mary Ann Brown Preserve on LA 965. The nearby Audubon State Historic Site has an easy hiking trail and picnic pavilion, while the extensive West Feliciana Sports Park offers paved paths, fishing pond and picnic areas, ballfields and courts, and a challenging wooded hiking trail called The Beast. Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge also has hiking trails, but accessibility depends on the flood stages of the Mississippi River. The old ferry landing location at the foot of Ferdinand St. is the best place to launch boats into the Mississippi River, and many of the area’s creeks have sandy beaches.

 butlergreenwoodMost of the overnight accommodations are functioning, although Shadetree won’t reopen until October, the Barrow House has permanently closed, and The Cottage Plantation will not be open in July. Others offer safe, sanitized lodging. The St. Francisville Inn, The Myrtles, Butler Greenwood, the Bluffs on Thompson Creek and Lake Rosemound B&Bs plus two motels are fully open; Hemingbough offers overnight stays but no breakfast at this point.

greenwoodGreenwood Plantation in Weyanoke is open for B&B but offers house tours by appointment only, while the two state historic sites, Rosedown and Oakley (Audubon), are open daily for spaced tours inside and plenty of beautiful gardens and grounds to stroll through.

Shops are open and most are capable of accommodating all Covid safety requirements including the wearing of face masks. Hours for July are as follows: Backwoods Gallery Tuesday through Sunday 10-5; Harrington Gallery open by appointment (225-635-4214); Temple Design Monday through Friday 9-5, design consultations by appointment (225-635-9454); Patrick’s Fine Jewelry Monday through Friday 9:30 to 5:30, Saturday 10 to 5:30; District Mercantile Monday through Saturday 10-5, Sunday 1-5; Mia Sophia Florist Monday through Friday 9 to 5:30, Saturday 9 to 3; Trends Salon and Boutique Tuesday through Friday 9 to 5, Saturday 9 to 2; Sage Hill Monday through Saturday 10 to 5; Away Down South, normal hours 11 to 4. Other shops are also open with regular hours as well.

PatricksRestaurants are all open except Magnolia Café, which is doing some renovating. They offer a mixture of spaced indoor dining, outside patio dining, and take-out. The tourism map shows not only locations but on the back has phone numbers for each place, so diners can access menus online and call in a take-out order if they desire.

In this unsettled time, when changes seem to occur minute by minute, it is always a good idea to check locally for up-to-date information. St. Francisville has plenty to offer in this time of crisis, and it’s not really necessary to lose your mind, as John Muir suggested, only to rest your mind, clear your mind, relieving it of anxieties and worries by relaxing and enjoying a getaway to the country, soothed by the beauties of Nature as well as the small-town charm of boutique shops and small restaurants and overnight accommodations trying to awaken back to life after several months of shut-downs and isolation.

waterfallLocated 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; check locally for coronavirus mitigation requirements, please. Several splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation (a National Historic Landmark) 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.
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and 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 in St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.

For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online www.stfrancisville.us, www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, or www.stfrancisville.net (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Metz Calls us back to Nature in St. Francisville

Metz Calls us back to Nature in St. Francisville
By Anne Butler; images by Darrell Chitty


 Metz at workJustin Metz has a musical ear and an artistic eye, and he puts both to work crafting his gorgeous duck calls that are in demand all across the country. And he does it all in a little well-equipped workshop in the wooded paradise called the Tunica Hills.
 He had the good fortune to be born into a family that for generations lived close to the land---loggers and hunters, cattlemen and self-sufficient farmers, horticulturists and of course hunters. His favorite memory, back when he started duck hunting as a young teen, was heading out at 3 or 4 a.m. for the simple cottage on the edge of Cat Island swamp; he could hear the television blaring way down the road along Bayou Sara creek, because Uncle Moochie and Uncle Dump were both hearing impaired after years of running chainsaws and heavy machinery. There was always coffee brewing, breakfast on the table even at that hour, and after a brief visit, Justin would be off into the swamp waters, with ducks coming in, the excitement of a brisk north wind in his face, and he felt like he was in heaven. He was hooked.
familyLouisiana, with its abundance of waterways and swamps, is the most important wintering area for over 3 million North American waterfowl every year; Louisiana Wildlife Insider calls the sheer size and diversity of our wetland habitats integral to meeting the life cycle demands of millions of waterfowl migrating up and down the Mississippi Flyway. But Justin Metz was not satisfied with the commercially stamped duck calls available in big box stores, and so in 2011, after years of sitting and listening to ducks from his blind, he knew he could mimic the sounds that convinced them to commit to come in and land.

Duck calls are made with a barrel and insert, a tone board and exhaust. The reed on the tone board vibrates when air passes under it to a channel on the tone board; that’s where the sound comes from, and then the air travels out of the exhaust. It’s the curvature of the tone board and the thickness and length of the reed that gives the variation of sound. The type and density of the wood also affects the sound; the tighter the grain in the wood, the crisper the sound. Consequently Metz Calls uses an assortment of exotic woods like African Blackwood, Cocobola, Osage, as well as local woods like Black Walnut and Cherry and Buckeye Burl. To seal the wood, he soaks his calls in burnt linseed oil, just like all the old callmakers used. Some of his duck calls now are also acrylic.

detailsOnce he had perfected the shape and sound of his duck calls, Metz began adding artistic touches like carvings, many with specific meanings, all hand turned and freehand engraved. He makes his own bands as well, turning out what are essentially working pieces of fine art.

Before he and his wife Misty had children, they travelled to sportsmen’s shows where he would sell thousands; now, as a business owner, raising a family and serving his community as a member of the parish council governing board, he doesn’t travel much, but sells his calls in a number of retail outlets. He estimates that he has sold calls to duck hunters in every state and even in Germany.

One special design shows a carved flying duck, rice fields and a raised state map, with the lettering “Bring Them Back,” a reference to the declining duck presence; the 2018-2019 duck season was called the worst in 50 years. Justin, head of the local Ducks Unlimited chapter, attributes this decline in the number of migrating ducks and geese in this area to a number of factors, including a shift in migration routes westward, much of it due to man’s footprint; also loss of habitat, changes in Midwestern agricultural practices like no-till farming leaving grain spillage on the ground to provide food for ducks between crops, too much rain and high water, mild winters and fewer northern cold fronts.
several duck callsIn south Louisiana, vast flat fields of sugar cane aren’t suitable for ducks, and many rice farmers in southwest Louisiana are now growing GMO rice, a very abrasive grain less desirable as a food source for waterfowl. But the state will always have thousands and thousands of migratory waterfowl and consequently thousands of enthusiastic duck hunters tempting them from blinds in wetlands and swamps, many using one of Justin Metz’ works of art, noted as much for beautiful craftsmanship as for exacting tone.


Contact information: online email metzcalls@yahoo.com or phone 225-721-0580.

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; check locally for coronavirus mitigation requirements, please. Several splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation (a National Historic Landmark) 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.
tunica
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and 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 in St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.

For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 o r 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online www.stfrancisville.us, www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, or www.stfrancisville.net (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Photo credit:
Darrell Chitty
Master Artist
2840 Cypress Village Drive
Benton, LA 71006
318-349-9085