Monday, March 30, 2020

St. Francisville in the Time of Covid-19

St. Francisville in the Time of Covid-19

By Anne Butler

So, in this scary time of social distancing and sheltering in place, some of us are using the downtime to reconnect with family and commune with nature, exercising and eating sensibly. Others, not so much…our only exercise is jogging to the icebox and getting lazier by the minute; we’ll be sorry when we have to give up our comfy pants and PJs for clothes with belts or waistbands. And it’s far from funny, but there are times when humor and prayer are our only comforts, and Lord knows there’s some hysterical stuff on social media these days.

We’ve been down this road before. A wonderful fact-filled article by that esteemed historian/author Brian James Costello of Pointe Coupee, just across the Mississippi River from St. Francisville and thus experiencing similar trials and tribulations, examines the historical antecedents of the Covid-19 Pandemic through the early years of constant floods and epidemics which plagued the area. There were 18 major river floods from 1770 through 1927; he reminds us that the disastrous 1882 flooding of the Mississippi River put four feet of water on Main Street in New Roads and five feet in St. Mary’s Cemetery, necessitating that Mrs. Philogene Langlois’ funeral procession proceed by boat and her remains had to be entombed in the uppermost vault). There were also numerous disastrous outbreaks of yellow fever, cholera, typhoid fever and influenza. The 1918 Influenza Pandemic, according to New Orleans and Baton Rouge newspapers of the time, reported 245,000 flu cases throughout Louisiana, resulting in over 5,000 deaths.

Correspondence from author F. Scott Fitzgerald, quarantined in 1920 in the south of France during the Spanish Influenza outbreak, reads as follows: “Dearest Rosemary, It was a limpid dreary day hung as in a basket from a single dull star…Outside I perceive what may be a collection of fallen leaves tussling against a trash can. It rings like jazz to my ears. The streets are that empty. It seems as though the bulk of the city has retreated to their quarters, rightfully so. At this time, it seems very poignant to avoid all public spaces. Even the bars, as I told Hemingway, but to that he punched me in the stomach… The officials have alerted us to ensure we have a month’s worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin, and Lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us.”

And here we are a full century later, sheltering in place with only essential businesses operating (grocery and liquor stores still doing a brisk if carefully controlled business in “Lord, if we need it, brandy” and other staples of ordinary life). There are two big differences, however. In Louisiana, accustomed as we are to hurricanes and ensuing weeks-long power outages, we are grateful to have electricity and air conditioning. And then there is the enormous impact of social media, restoring a sense of community even as we remain homebound for what may seem like a very long time. Elementary school kids are connecting online through Zoom and Instagram and all sorts of sites, doing lessons, touring museums and zoos and parks, listening to celebrities like Oprah read children’s books, chatting with the little friends they miss so much; high schools and colleges have offered online classes. Farflung families are staying in touch, in spite of their next travel destination being from Las Kitchenas to Los Bed or La Rotonda De Sofa. One hairstylist posted pictures of her longhaired long-suffering boyfriend sporting a new hairdo every day, from George Washington to Princess Leia. Ladies are going from no makeup the first week to no bra the next, being reminded what their real hair color is and hearing stylists beg them not to cut their bangs, learning that Baby Wipes are good for more than a baby’s behind and toilet paper is a valuable commodity, and who knew how many times we touch our faces. And boom, it appears that we don’t need Hollywood as much as we need farmers and grocery store stockers and truckers, first responders and all levels of brave medical staff.

So what can you, an individual, do? Isolate, quarantine, shelter in place so as not to spread the disease and to flatten the wave, remembering to appreciate that you’re not stuck at home, you’re safe at home. Go into your yard to listen to the birds and watch the squirrels. Walk your dog; if you don’t have one, foster one, because there’s nothing more soothing than petting a dog or cat. If you live in a highrise, go out onto your balcony and join the chorus of singers or musicians or handclappers showing appreciation for all those laboring in the trenches. If you live in a suburban neighborhood, have a drive-by parade celebrating youngsters’ birthdays with honks and signs and balloons in lieu of in-person parties. Digital books, libraries, concerts, lectures, all of these and more are available online. Listen online to the growing number of out-of-work musicians like David Doucet of the eternally popular Cajun band Beausolail posting webcasts and virtual gigs from courtyards and other improv stages to keep the creative juices flowing and maybe even get a few donations into online tip hats like MusiCares; there are some fabulous syncs of choirs whose members are participating from across the world. Appreciate the community responsibility and generosity of folks like Drew Brees and Ralph Lauren, and if you’re not a millionaire, show your support for restaurants offering take-out meals or purchase gift certificates for later use at B&Bs, which have also lost all business due to event cancellations and home isolation.

And don’t forget to laugh. As Aunty Acid says, “Please don’t mistake my humor about the virus as a lack of seriousness or concern. Laughing through difficult times happens to be how I got through my entire life so far.” And on Facebook, there are some really hilarious postings:

So you’re staying inside, practicing social distancing and cleaning yourself? Congratulations, you’ve become a house cat.

Some of y’all are gonna be beggin’ Jolene to take your man before this quarantine is over.

Pretty is out. Now men want a woman who can catch a chicken.

Girl, I know you hear these kids out here. I’m ‘bout to bite one (picture of legs lounging in bathtub with dog sticking his head around the curtain)

Dog again: Girl, I almost bit you. Where is your wig, eyelashes and makeup?

Getting real tired of babysitting my mom’s grandkids right now (as old folks, considered the most vulnerable, are no longer available to babysit).

I’m stocking up on ice cream, canned fruit, raspberry sauce and sprinkles. I’m planning to self-isolate for a month of Sundaes.

This quarantine has me realizing why my dog gets so excited about something moving outside, going for a walk or car rides. I think I just barked at a squirrel.

I swear my fridge just said, “What the hell do you want NOW?”

After years of wanting to thoroughly clean my house but lacking the time, this week I discovered that wasn’t the reason.

Mona Lisa taking advantage of the closure of the Louvre to take a little time for herself (shown in sun glasses with exposed legs crossed, cigarette in hand, wine glass and guitar nearby).

My body has absorbed so much soap and disinfectant lately that when I pee, it cleans the toilet.

I never thought I’d see the day when weed was easier to get than hand sanitizer and toilet paper.
I ate 11 times and took 5 naps and it’s still today.

I’m from Louisiana. Talk to me in a language I understand. Is the virus a Category 4 or 5?

I don’t think anyone expected that when we changed the clocks earlier this month, we’d go from standard time to the Twilight Zone.

Now you can really dance like no one is watching.

Y’all are about to find out why your great-grandmother washed her aluminum foil and saved her bacon grease.

Mosquitos be waking up from winter like “Where y’all at??”

My mom always told me I wouldn’t accomplish anything by laying in the bed all day. But look at me now, I’m saving the world.

Homeschool Day One: Spankings and prayer about to return to classroom.
Homeschool Day Two: For science, we studied the effects of NyQuil on students.
Homeschool Day Three: If you see my kids locked outside today, mind your own business. We are having a fire drill.
Homeschool Day Four: One of those little bastards called in a bomb threat.
Homeschool Day Five: Science project (image of copper moonshine still).
Homeschool Day Six: And just like that, nobody ever asked why teachers need a fall break, spring break or the entire summer off again.

And then there’s this: In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to. On the 26th day of March, 2020, attention was called to Isaiah 26-20: “Come, my people, enter your chambers and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed.”

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. Several splendidly restored plantation homes are usually 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. At this stage, check locally in this fluid situation; some outdoor spaces are open, but no house tours; restaurants are limited to take out only, and some are closed.

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. Again, check locally for closures.
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).

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Something Old and Something New at St. Francisville’s popular Audubon Pilgrimage

Something Old and Something New at St. Francisville’s popular Audubon Pilgrimage
By Anne Butler

pilgrimageThe forty-ninth annual Audubon Pilgrimage March 20, 21 and 22, 2020, 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 1821 stay as he painted a number of his famous bird studies and tutored the daughter of Oakley Plantation’s Pirrie family, beautiful young Eliza.
Two venerable townhouses in St. Francisville’s National Register-listed downtown Historic District are featured on this year’s pilgrimage. Amidst meandering Royal Street’s significant treasures is Prospect, built in 1809; during Audubon’s tenure it was occupied by Dr. Isaac Smith, early physician, LA State Senate president and great advocate of higher education. Another public-service minded figure, Dr. O.D.Brooks, purchased Prospect in 1879. As a 16-year-old boy he saw Civil War action alongside his father, owned the Royal Hotel, had a pharmacy, and served on the School Board for three decades, facilitating establishment of the parish’s first public school.

royalOn Ferdinand St., the second of downtown’s two main historic streets, Baier House was a simple four-room cottage considerably embellished by former mayor and master carpenter George Baier when he finally moved from flood-prone Bayou Sara up the hill to the safety of St. Francisville’s high-and-dry location. He had nearly drowned in Bayou Sara in the flood of 1920/21, when the Weydert brothers saved him as he held onto ropes trying to keep his house from being washed away. Its steep backyard gives testament to St. Francisville’s description as the little town that’s two miles long and two yards wide.

In the countryside, Spring Grove was built in 1895 on lands carved from Afton Villa Plantation for Barrow descendent Wade Hampton Richardson IV. It was considered an ideal country home supplied with modern conveniences to make rural life agreeable. When his only daughter married at 18, the house was expanded so that she could raise her family there, and in later years it has expanded even more…a bedroom here, a bigger kitchen there…to warmly welcome subsequent generations.

pilgrimageAnother country house is the Lemon-Argue House, fine example of vernacular architecture and a fascinating yeoman farmer’s cottage illustrative of 18th-century timbering techniques with its handhewn logs of blue poplar. Built by Irish immigrant William Lemon around 1801 on a Spanish land grant, it has recently been donated by his descendants to LSU and the Rural Life Museum for use as a classroom, research lab and historic house museum providing hands-on experience for students in many different fields. Minimally furnished for pilgrimage tours, this is a preservation work in progress.

Other popular features of the 2020 Audubon Pilgrimage include Afton Villa Gardens, Audubon (Oakley) and Rosedown State Historic Sites, three 19th-century churches 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 vintage jewelry, an Audubon Bird Exhibit will be shown at Oakley, guided birding opportunities pay tribute to Audubon himself, and other exhibits featuring black history will be at the Old Benevolent Society building.

pilgrimageFriday 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 (7 to 9 p.m.) featuring the pilgrimage’s exquisitely detailed 1820’s evening costumes, nationally recognized for their authenticity.
New this year will be two evening tours on Friday night only. Sainte Reine on Royal Street, its name a reminder of the area’s first tiny fort dating from the 1720s, was built in 1894 by Max Mann, Bayou Sara saloonkeeper and merchant who had the good sense to move up on the St. Francisville bluff high above the river floodwaters that plagued the immigrant merchants below. On Ferdinand St., Hilltop is a wonderful old Acadian-Creole house probably dating from the 1840s. It was moved from Bayou Lafourche to a lot consisting at most of a foot or two of level ground beside the street and then a precipitous drop 40 or 50 feet to the creek below.

Daytime features are open 9:30 to 5; Friday evening activities are scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m.; Saturday soiree, Light Up The Night, features live music and dancing, dinner and drinks, beginning at 7 p.m. Featured homes: Prospect, Baier House, Spring Grove and Lemon-Argue House will only be shown on Friday and Saturday; Sunday the Sullivan barn at Wyoming Plantation hosts a Gospel Brunch, another inviting innovation this year. Open all three days will be the churches, Audubon (Oakley) and Rosedown State Historic Sites, Afton Villa Gardens and the Rural Homestead.

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. Tickets can be purchased at the Historical Society Museum on Ferdinand Street.
Other March activities center around oak-shaded Parker Park in downtown St. Francisville. On Saturday, March 7, A Walk In The Park features music, crafts and art; hours are from 10 to 4, and the local food truck, A Hint Of Lime Tacos, will be there with authentic street tacos with homemade cheese, original salsas and specialty cremas. Then on Saturday, March 28, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., the Tunica Hills Music Festival and Jam features a family-friendly get-together with food vendors and three stages full of continuous performances of many genres of music by the likes of the Bagasse Boyz, Clay Parker and Jody James, traditional gospel choir performances at dusk, and jam circles with attendees encouraged to bring their own instruments and join in the 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. 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 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).

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

St. Francisville’s Celebration of Rural Life Skills

rural homesteadSt. Francisville’s Celebration of Rural Life Skills
By Anne Butler
The forty-ninth annual Audubon Pilgrimage March 20, 21 and 22, 2020, celebrates a southern spring and artist John James Audubon’s productive stay in the area in 1821. On tour will be several venerable townhouses in St. Francisville’s National Register Historic District, two country houses dating from the 1800s, historic gardens and churches, graveyard tours and hymn singing, Friday candlelight tours, Saturday night soiree and Sunday gospel brunch, and of course lots of bird-related activities.

But one of the most popular features, for both adults and children, has proven to be the Rural Homestead, and it has been that way since the mid-1970s. That’s when the directors of the West Feliciana Historical Society, in a prescient attempt to provide a balanced presentation of parish history, decided to recreate a setting suitable for demonstrating rural life with all its requisite skills and homespun crafts while there were still some folks around who remembered how to do them.

HorseBesides the plantation big houses and the quarters for enslaved workers, there were many small yeoman farmers, both black and white, eking out a hardscrabble existence, clearing small landholdings and erecting rough dwellings either on their own or with the help of a small number of slaves. It is that simple way of life that the Rural Homestead celebrates.

The 1977 pilgrimage brochure explained the intent this way: “The Rural Homestead is a major project of the Historical Society which will…tell the story of rural life in this parish. The landscape is changing rapidly and folkways that lent stability and commonality to those in all walks of rural life are vanishing. Not enough is being said today about the daily life of rural folk and their homely skills, some of them dating from pioneer times. Their story is just as much a part of the storied past as are the white pillars of the Old South…More than a nostalgic look backwards, this effort will create a new awareness as a living historical interpretation…”


cedar shavingAnd so began the Rural Homestead, with simple structures built in the traditional manner by carpenters using time-honored practices passed down through the generations, inside which demonstrations of significant 19th-century skills and crafts provide an understanding of early life in the Felicianas. And it is heartwarming to see third and fourth-generation workers of all ages…Daniels, Harveys, Temples, Ritchies, Lindseys, Metzes and more…carrying on the traditions today.

Corn was an all-important crop in the 19th century, providing sustenance for both people and livestock, and the Homestead’s operational gasoline-powered Gristmill with its original stones shows how dried corn was ground to make cornbread and other staples of country life. In the Kitchen, long the heart of rural life and usually detached from the main abode due to the heat and danger of fire, costumed interpreters churn butter and turn the ground corn into delicious cracklin’ cornbread over a woodburning stove. The Kitchen building, called a single pen structure with front and rear porches, was constructed from old materials salvaged locally, some pieces still bearing the marks of the broad ax and the foot adze used for squaring round logs. The framing follows practices carried over from half-timbered buildings, and the carpenter learned his skills from his grandfather.

grindThe Kitchen is roofed with cypress shingles, as were all the early structures in West Feliciana; they were weather resistant, fire resistant, termite resistant. Making these shingles using a froe to peel them from a cypress log is a dying art. It is demonstrated on site by a member of a family long associated with such practice; he’s the only one left to do so, and he uses a treasured century-old draw knife that’s been used by generations.

Inside the dogtrot Quilters’ Cottage, so named for the open passageway separating the two sections of the structure, may be seen quilters, spinners and weavers, as well as hook rug making and perhaps tatting. Farm wives had to cord cotton or twist wool fibers into thread with a drop spindle before sewing or knitting clothing, bedding, curtains and other decorative fabrics. On the porch there will be a display of brown cotton as well as candle making.

The Commissary, which traditionally served the significant function of storing bulk provisions in barrels, croker sacks, demijohns and large stoneware crocks, will feature basket weaving and a doll maker on the porch, with items such as wooden buckets and birdhouses for sale. This structure also houses modern conveniences like restrooms, and a Clementine Hunter-inspired student art show on Saturday below a wonderful wall-sized Hunter mural.

blacksmithThe Blacksmith Shop recalls the early methods of forging and repairing the all-important farming equipment, horseshoes, wagon wheels and other metals over an open fire. Today, hooks and simple fireplace tools are made, and demonstrations of woodburning are given; some of these items may be purchased.
There’s a board-and-batten crib barn, and other tin-roofed sheds shelter typical farm animals. Visitors can observe how ground was broken for planting prior to the advent of modern mechanical miracles like tractors, when it was done by plow behind well-trained mules.

Many different sizes of cast-iron pots were utilized for all sorts of chores, from cane syrup making to cooking and laundry. Cracklin’s are pig skins being cooked in a big iron pot over an open fire near the lye soap makers, both activities utilizing the rendered lard in which fish is also fried.

Water and soft drinks may be purchased from the refreshment wagon, plate lunches are available 11:30 to 1:30 near conveniently placed picnic tables, and old-time music enlivens the happy conviviality that characterized the frolics of an earlier day as Audubon Pilgrims step into the rural past.

LoomAs a 1976 article in the local newspaper said, “Not every door in fabled West Feliciana swung open on silver hinges. Most swung on plain iron hinges, and some even on wooden hinges.” The Rural Homestead was conceived and still is an effort to record vanishing folkways and create a new awareness of the need for preservation and conservation, and it was implemented just in the nick of time to capture the 19th-century practices and skills being passed along by “the collective remnant of the last generation to have known 19th-century rural ways.”

Audubon Pilgrimage tour tickets cover visits to the Rural Homestead, but visitors may purchase a separate ticket just for the Rural Homestead for $3 adults, children 12 and under free. These tickets are only available at the Homestead site. Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 to 5.

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. 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.

dollsThe 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).