Friday, April 26, 2019

Wedding Bells Ring in St. Francisville, La.

Wedding Bells Ring in St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler


weddingDreaming of a destination wedding? There’s no need to travel too far away; St. Francisville offers all the conveniences of home, but guarantees you’ll feel a million miles away.
Back in the day, weddings were mostly formal affairs, held in churches with elaborate floral arrangements and guests dressed fit to kill, the bride wearing white and her attendants in outfits that would never come out of the closet again. That was then.

This is now: Many ceremonies these days are second (or maybe even third) weddings, the couples having been there and done that formally the first time. It’s not their first rodeo, and they want something casual, more relaxed, hopefully even enjoyable this time around.

Destination weddings at the beach or on a mountaintop in Colorado, the bride barefoot in the sand in a billowing maxi dress or wearing hiking boots clutching a bouquet of wildflowers, have become the “in” thing, and St. Francisville has become one of the state’s most popular wedding destinations.
 The area can provide the perfect place to fulfill any bride’s heart’s desires, be it her first wedding or (heaven forbid) her fourth, from glorious garden settings to charming chapels, from lakeside amphitheaters to oak-shaded plantation properties and pastoral pastures. And yes, there are beautiful historic churches as well. Not only does St. Francisville offer the ideal site; there are also professional services available locally…caterers, officiants, florists, wedding coordinators, photographers, musicians, rental tents and tables, romantic overnight accommodations for honeymooners and wedding guests as well.
butterSeveral of the historic plantations host only small weddings. Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site offers beautiful backdrops in the 28-acre formal gardens or oak allee for 15 or 20 guests, only before dark, with hourly rates and requirements for the private purchase of liability insurance; nothing is permitted inside the 1830s home (phone 225-635-3332). Butler Greenwood, an even earlier plantation, does not have parking or restroom facilities to accommodate large groups, but does offer beautiful moss-draped oak trees and a lane of 19th-century cast-iron urns leading to a vine-covered pergola complete with hitching post (a favorite spot of the local Justice of the Peace). Only wedding parties of 15 or fewer are permitted and only on the grounds, but very reasonably priced and with romantic private cottages for honeymooners (phone 225-635-6312). Other plantations like The Cottage and The Myrtles provide honeymoon accommodations but do not currently host weddings, though the new restaurant at The Myrtles has all sorts of possibilities for rehearsal dinners and receptions.

Afton Villa Gardens offers glorious 19th-century garden settings in spite of the elaborate plantation house having burned in the 1960s, with lengthy oak alley, terraced grounds, formal parterres, marble statuary and a ruins garden room filled with blooms in season (phone 225-635-6773; for bridal photos 225-721-2269; for weddings 703-508-5073).

Greenwood Plantation also provides a spectacular site for weddings of all sizes, with all-inclusive wedding packages that can include the first floor of the 1830s mansion, the grounds with majestic live oaks and reflecting pond, bricked patio and outside kitchen building, even a small chapel that seats 50 and was constructed as the overseer’s house during the filming of a movie. Also available are dressing rooms for bride and groom, overnight B&B stay, setup and cleanup, plus bridal portraits, rehearsal dinners, caterers and vendors for receptions, bridal luncheons and showers…this is the full scope of wedding services, priced accordingly, and wedding coordinators work with bridal couples to ensure complete satisfaction (phone 225-655-4475).

hemingbouhAnother popular setting that can accommodate large weddings both indoors and out is Hemingbough, and its new Marketing and Events Director can work with couples to customize the perfect package plan. Breathtakingly beautiful ceremonies are held in the Greek amphitheater that seats hundreds overlooking Audubon Lake (setting for an annual Easter sunrise service), while indoor spaces include a memorial chapel with beautiful stained glass windows and pipe organ. On-site catering is available, as are overnight accommodations in the 8-room Guest House replica of Uncle Sam Plantation’s garconnier. For receptions, the ballroom at Hemstead Hall holds large groups, while the stately Audubon Room is ideal for smaller parties (phone 225-635-6617 or 225-978-7557).

Noted for its elegant simplicity is the small chapel available for weddings at The Bluffs on Thompson Creek, resort complete with spectacular Arnold Palmer-designed golf course, overnight accommodations in one- and two-bedroom suites in The Lodge and several restaurant options (phone 225-634-6400 or 634-5222).

churchIn St. Francisville’s National Register-listed historic district is Temple Sinai, turn-of-the-century Jewish temple overlooking the Mississippi River, recently restored by the non-profit Freyhan Foundation as a non-denominational event center and indoor site for weddings. It can accommodate up to 100 guests, with restroom facilities and small kitchenette, plus perfect acoustics, stained glass windows and rows of comfortable pews. Reasonably priced with damage deposit required; reservations may be made through the West Feliciana Historical Society’s director at 225-635-6330, who can also furnish information on reserving 1819 Audubon Market Hall, another historic indoor venue downtown with a capacity of 40-50 guests.

Just down Royal Street, Shadetree Inn hosts small outdoor weddings on its picturesque hilltop setting and provides three eclectic suites for honeymoon overnights (phone 225-635-6116).
gazebo next to the innAlso in the historic district next to Parker Memorial Park is the St. Francisville Inn, which recently underwent an ambitious renovation and now offers craft cocktails in The Saint bar, a catering kitchen (elegant breakfast/brunch daily, plus group lunches and dinners by reservation), and small weddings of fewer than 25 guests on the front lawn or in the bricked courtyard; for larger groups, rental of all 11 guest rooms is required. If the new owners of this boutique property can pull off an outside tented sit-down dinner for 180 guests in the midst of wild winds and tornado warnings mere days after opening as handily as they did, our hats are off to them! Phone 225-635-6502.

Local caterers include popular Heirloom Cuisine for elegant refreshments (225-784-0535) and Tip’s Catering Connection (from Black Tie to Backyard Barbeque plus rental tables, chairs, tents, fans and heaters) (225-921-7785). Temple Design offers creative custom services for wedding invitations and other print materials (225-635-9454), while Tara Marie Photography takes excellent photos (225-634-7229) as does Lilly Belle Photo (225-721-3636); Stacey Foretich Photography does not shoot weddings but does amazing engagement photos (225-505-7906). Mia Sophia Florist, whose head designer/owner has three decades of experience, provides fresh flowers from growers across the United States, custom bouquets, tablescapes, rental plants, arches and backdrops (phone 225-635-3339). To contact retired Justice of the Peace Kevin Dreher regarding officiating, phone 225-721-1120. Information on all of these services may be found online at www.stfrancisville.us.

On May 5 from 7 to 10 p.m., Temple Sinai is the setting for an Arts For All concert featuring acclaimed guitarist Arnold Cardon, plus Nancy Roppolo with harmonica virtuoso husband Joe and Susan Aysen.

Besides weddings and concerts, fans of fine literature flock to St. Francisville in May for two popular festivals, the West Feliciana Children’s Book Festival in Parker Park on May 4th, and the Walker Percy Weekend May 31 through June 2nd. “Reading Gives You Wings” is the theme of the third annual children’s literary festival, featuring storytelling tent, crafts, sidewalk chalk art contests, and authors of children’s, middle and young adult books performing, reading and discussing their works. It’s fun, and it’s free, and it goes on from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Friday, May 31, the Walker Percy Weekend kicks off with a reception and cocktails under the majestic oaks. This will be followed on Saturday, June 1, by lectures and panel discussions as experts expound on themes in Percy’s fiction, much of it set in south Louisiana as the author explored “the search for meaning in an increasingly materialistic society via masterfully wrought tales delivered with a poetic Southern sensibility and informed by the author’s deep Catholic faith.” Saturday afternoon highlight is the Progressive Front Porch Tour and Bourbon Tasting, and the evening culminates with the popular crawfish boil and craft beer celebration. Among the acclaimed speakers are New York Times columnist/author David Brooks, Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance, and Walter Isaacson, noted for his astute biographies of Leonardo da Vinci, Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. This popular event benefits the sponsoring non-profit Julius Freyhan Foundation. For additional information and tickets, see www.walkerpercyweekend.org.

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 (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season and is spectacular. 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 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 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.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Monday, April 8, 2019

Carl the Roving Ram Cuts Up in St. Francisville, LA

Carl the Roving Ram Cuts Up in St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler
carl
Sometimes in the country you’ve got to make your own fun, and little St. Francisville, full as it is of creative souls, sure knows how to do that.

Take Carl. Poor Carl. He was a regal Dall Sheep, inhabitant of the alpine ridges and steep slopes of the frozen Yukon Territory and Alaska, cavorting among the rocky crags in death-defying feats of agility. Carl had thick curling horns and must have presented a tempting target for the trophy hunter who apparently took him down and then took him to a taxidermist to be stuffed. A fine trophy, indeed.

So how did Carl end up climbing mountains of junk instead of Northwest Territory mountainsides? Even Bubba, the proprietor of the popular flea market on Commerce St. in St. Francisville, can’t remember where Carl came from or who brought him in, although you’d think he’d have made an impression (not every day do you get a stuffed goat). But Bubba has such a passion for used treasures that his wares overflow his crowded house and spill out into the yard; he can’t possibly remember everything.

carl lightsSo Carl happened to be out there sunning in full view of passersby, and that’s when he entered the twilight zone known as the Court of Three Sisters. Sister One sped by one morning and spotted Carl. Sister One immediately saw possibilities and called Sister Two, who enthusiastically hired the local plant nursery’s van to pick up Carl, who was too big to fit in her car. Sister Two remembers paying Bubba $15 to relieve him of something he never thought he’d sell. And poor Sister Three, the more serious and particular one of the family, soon freaked out to find Carl in her front yard on Ferdinand Street for all the world to see, decked out in a big red velvet bow and magically transformed into Carl the Christmas Ram.

That third sister, the practical one, not wanting Carl to greet guests at her own house forever, hung a list of instructions around Carl’s neck regarding length of stay (just a night), location (in town, or close by), and the requirement to post images, and then she quickly deposited him in someone else’s front yard. And thus Carl acquired a life of his own, honored guest at Christmas parties and family reunions and all manner of gatherings.

carl houseSometimes he was decorated with shining Christmas lights, sometimes with a glowing red nose like Rudolph. There were Mardi Gras beads and mistletoe. At one home he wore red plaid flannel pajamas, and when it rained he often had an umbrella to protect him from the downpour, although he seemed to have less of his own hair after every soaking. And that wet-dog smell every pet owner knows and loves…imagine wet mountain goat!

 One image shows Carl stretched out on the local veterinarian’s examining table, the vet sorrowfully declaring there was no help for Carl. A modest hostess even suggested knitting a pouch to hold Carl’s family jewels, the ram being what vets call “intact” and hardly a Hallmark moment.

Everybody in St. Francisville delighted in being able to boast, “We’ve been rammed!” And it was fun. Carl the Christmas Ram confined his perambulations to the period around the Christmas holidays; now he awaits his next appearance in that third sister’s storage unit.

magnolia pigThere had been precedents, of course, and not so seasonally dependent. Magnolia CafĂ©, everybody’s favorite little local casual place, has for years had a lifesize painted pig, named Gustav for the hurricane, greeting folks dropping by for pita-bread sandwiches and homemade soups and sensation salads. Periodically Gustav the pig would wander. This was not on its own, of course, being made of aluminum; there were nefarious kidnappers who carted him off to different locations, not only private homes but even the Louisiana Marathon. He has also been known to ride atop a float in St. Francisville’s popular Christmas parade.

grannyAnd then there was grey-haired Granny Francis, resurrected from a garbage pile a few years back. Some three feet tall and plump with a winsome grandmotherly grin, Granny Francis was a real social butterfly. She visited around to all the local stores and tourist attractions, properly attired and escorted by town employees or Main Street staff, played the drums with the local dance band, participated in popular events like the Audubon Pilgrimage and Polos & Pearls (yes, she wore pearls and was pictured beforehand in spa robe getting a beauty treatment with debatable success), went Trick-or-Treating in her witch costume, and attended the local elementary school where she was confined mostly to the principal’s office. Granny Francis was a favorite both in person and on Facebook during her active social life, but now she seems to have retired to a spot in the town mayor’s office where she can try to keep him in line.

drumsObviously St. Francisville, which is a Main Street community as well as a National Register Historic District, has a well-established sense of place, preserving significant elements of its 19th-century history and architecture along its two main streets that run down to the Mississippi River; they call it the little town that’s two miles long and two yards wide, without much exaggeration. It is full of restored tour homes and gardens, great restaurants and shops, beautiful historic churches, great B&Bs, and unsurpassed recreation in the surrounding Tunica Hills. Tourists love to visit. But St. Francisville residents love living there as well, for the little town also has an appreciation for creative characters and a well-honed sense of fun.

April of course brings the ever-popular annual Angola Prison Spring Rodeo on April 27 and 28, pitting determined inmates against ferocious Brahman bulls and bucking broncos; grounds open at 9 a.m. for the Craft Show and rodeo starts at 2. For tickets and information, telephone 225-655-2060 or www.angolaprisonrodeo.com. Also on April 27 the LSU Ag Center sponsors its fascinating Spring Stroll Garden Tour (for information, contact jhoover@agcenter.lsu.edu).

Earlier in the month, on April 13, Audubon State Historic Site presents a fun and educational return to the Regency Period, with dance and etiquette lessons, a duel and an explanation of the intricate language of fans, plus a glimpse into the life of a soldier in the War of 1812 (225-635-3739 or 888-677-2838).

boy with grannyLocated 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 (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season and is spectacular. 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 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 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.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Colorful Azaleas and Costumes of the 1820s Welcome Spring in St. Francisville, LA

Colorful Azaleas and Costumes of the 1820s Welcome Spring in St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler

Pilgrimage 17 61The forty-eighth annual Audubon Pilgrimage March 15, 16 and 17, 2019, celebrates a southern spring in St. Francisville, the glorious garden spot of Louisiana’s English Plantation Country. For nearly half a century 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. A year’s worth of planning and preparation precedes each pilgrimage, and with nearly half a century of experience under their belt, society members put on one of the South’s most professional and enjoyable pilgrimage presentations.

Featured this year are three historic plantation homes in the countryside and two townhouses, plus lots of extras.

Sunnyside, built in 1838 in Pointe Coupee Parish, was disassembled, trucked across the Mississippi River bridge in 1997, then meticulously reassembled on the Tunica Trace, retaining its original footprint. A fine example of vernacular architecture, its bluffland design is eminently suite to the historic Weyanoke community and its period landscaping anchors house to site as if it’s been there for centuries. Historian David Floyd and wife Marla have raised two children there.

Brasseaux House 2Laurel Hill Plantation was purchased in the 1830s by Judge Edward McGehee, founder of the early standard-gauge West Feliciana Railroad that hauled cotton through this plantation country to the Mississippi River port at Bayou Sara. In the 1870s daughter Caroline and her husband Duncan Stewart enlarged the original small Carolina-I structure to accommodate their growing family. Beautifully restored, it is now the property of Jimmy and Mary Farrar Hatchette.

Puente Largo, built in the 1850s in Tangipahoa Parish and moved to West Feliciana in 1997, is a handsome raised Creole cottage with four large rooms and spacious hallway on the upper premier etage, above what had been an unfinished ground-floor storage for wagons and buggies but is now closed in. Broad front stairs access the upper gallery. Used as a field hospital during the Civil War, Puente Largo has been beautifully furnished and landscaped by owners Mike and Krista Dumas.

In St. Francisville’s downtown National Register-listed Historic District is the Brasseaux House, quintessentially charming cottage complete with Victorian gallery trim, picket fence and climbing roses. It was built in 1895 by Albert Sydney Brasseaux, who was named for his father’s commanding general in the Civil War. Its architectural style is called southern dogtrot, and its extensive sloping back yard shows why St. Francisville is called the little town that’s two miles long and two yards wide. It is now home to a vibrant young family, the Magruder Hazlips.

Coffin House sideAnd then there’s the Coffin House, tiny stepped-roof structure built around 1903 right on St. Francisville’s main thoroughfare, proving history is nothing if not dynamic and showing the amazing adaptability of even the most unassuming of historic structures. Previously used for strictly utilitarian purposes including the storage of coffins, it is now a delightfully cozy pied-a-terre for visiting doting grandparents, Don and Harriet Ayres.
In addition to the featured homes, pilgrimage visitors are also welcomed to Afton Villa Gardens, Audubon (Oakley) and Rosedown State Historic Sites, three 19th-century churches and Temple Sinai in town and beautiful St. John’s and St. Mary’s in the country, plus the Rural Homestead with lively demonstrations of the rustic skills of daily pioneer life.

Audubon Market Hall hosts an exhibit of the West Feliciana works of the late Charles Reinike (1906-1983), one of New Orleans’ most respected landscape artists. Passionately in love with South Louisiana from New Orleans through the wetlands and the hills of rural plantation country, Reinike and wife Vera opened an art school in the French Quarter in the 1930s-1940s and brought their students to summer art camp on their West Feliciana property where their daughter lives today. Reinike’s paintings are nostalgic but not saccharine, his son Charles III explains; “he liked the grittier side of things...depicting rural Louisiana and chronicling the early African-American cabins and lifestyle for their honesty and simplicity, as well as the residential and industrial scenes of New Orleans and the Mississippi River, and the beauty of the bayous and shrimp boats.”
Pilgrimage 17An impressive exhibit of Audubon’s Birds of Feliciana hangs at Oakley Plantation (Audubon State Historic Site). Other special events called Exploring Nature and Birding remind of continued ties to the birdlife so beloved by the artist: Friday bird walk is led by local artist Murrell Butler at his Oak Hill property; Saturday the Wildlife Hospital of Louisiana offers a glimpse of live-and-in-person rehab survivors (Red-Winged Scarlett, Red-Tailed Hawk, Mississippi Kite, Broad Winged Hawk, Eastern Screech Owl); Sunday’s bird walk is led by LSU avian vet Dr. Tom Tully at Oakley.
Daytime features are open 9:30 to 5; Friday evening activities are scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m., Saturday soiree begins at 7 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, Graveyard Tours at Grace Episcopal cemetery (last tour begins at 8:15 p.m.), and a wine and cheese reception at the newly restored St. Francisville Inn showing off the exquisitely detailed 1820’s evening costumes, nationally recognized for their authenticity. Light Up The Night, the fun Saturday evening soiree, features live music and dancing, dinner and drinks.

Village PilgrimageFor 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 . New this year is a package including daytime tours, all evening entertainment Friday and Saturday, and a Saturday picnic lunch. Tickets can be purchased at the Historical Society Museum on Ferdinand Street. For information on St. Francisville overnight accommodations, shops, restaurants, and recreation in the Tunica Hills, see www.stfrancisville.us, www.stfrancisville.net, or www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com.

Beautiful oak-shaded Parker Park in the midst of St. Francisville’s National Register-listed Historic District is the scene for two other special activities in March. A Walk In The Park on Saturday, March 2nd, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. will feature live music plus vendors offering varied crafts, art and culinary specialties, while March 30th from 10 to 10 the Tunica Hills Music Festival and Jam has professional musicians performing on stages but also dispersed throughout the park to encourage pop-up jams everywhere. Visitors are encouraged to bring their own instruments and join in the free fun.

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 (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season and is spectacular. 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 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 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.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).