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

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Flying Charlie McDermott and St. Francisville’s New Elementary School Suit Each

Flying Charlie McDermott and St. Francisville’s New Elementary School Suit Each Other
By Anne Butler

waverly plantationThe loss of historically significant structures, whether to fire or flood or neglect, is disheartening to say the least. Sometimes, though, these historic homes are replicated. Sometimes, when the home itself is a total loss, the gardens and landscaping can be salvaged. And sometimes, when home and gardens are gone, the property itself can be rejuvenated in unexpectedly appropriate ways. That’s what is going to happen at Waverly Plantation, just north of the attractive campus where all of the St. Francisville area students go to school.
The West Feliciana Parish public school system is considered one of the best in the state, and its newer Lower Elementary and Middle School buildings are top rate as well. Parish residents are so supportive of the system that they recently voted tax funding to provide upgrades to the high school and some of its attached facilities. With student enrollment increasing yearly, the funding also covers an entirely new Upper Elementary building to replace the crowded and dated current structure.
And happily, just to the north of the Middle School complex lay Waverly Plantation. The main house there, built on a 1790s Spanish land grant, was a beautifully austere double-galleried frame structure, its entrance doors enhanced by fanlights and sidelights. It was actually located in the tiny community called Bains after Dr. Henry Bains, and when it burned in 1972 it was the home of another longtime parish physician, Dr. Alfred Gould.
But it was a third physician, the brother-in-law of Dr. Bains, who gained national notoriety for his 19th-century scientific experiments. Because of him, it is entirely appropriate that the Waverly property will find new life as an elementary school on the expanded campus of one of the state’s best public school systems, where STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and other innovative programs encourage exactly the same mindset that inspired the early owner of the property who was known as Flying Charlie McDermott.
McDermott, of Irish descent and an 1828 graduate of the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale University, inherited Waverly and became a respected physician at the encouragement of his brother-in-law. But like creative geniuses and dreamers from the time of Leonardo da Vinci, he was irresistibly drawn to the study of the mechanics of a flying machine, and for forty years was said to be constantly leaping out of the live oaks or dashing pell-mell down the nearest slope with the latest iteration of his invention.
charlie mcdermottBy 1842 he told the Daily Picayune that he had “a kite 110 feet long, 20 feet broad, and tapering to each end like the wings of a fishhawk. Under the center of the kite I have a frame 18 feet high, in which I stand. Under the kite are four wings which operate horizontally like the oars of a boat. They are moved by the muscles of the legs. The blades of the oars are made of a series of valves resembling Venetian blinds so that they open when they move forward and close when the stroke is made.” By 1872 he had been issued Patent Number 133046 from the U.S. Patent Office for “Improvement in Apparatus for Navigating the Air,” but by then he was an old man. He said he probably knew more than any other living soul on the subject of aerostation, adding that “when in the future the air is filled with flying men and women, the wonder will be that a thing so simple was not done long ago.”
Flying Charlie McDermott’s early experiments with human flight preceded the 1903 Wright brothers’ Kitty Hawk ascent by nearly half a century. He was quoted in a newspaper of 1882, “It is mortifying that a stinking buzzard and a stupid goose should fly, and man, the lord of all the earth, should be any longer confined to the land and water. Many sails, one above the other, and a horizontal propulsion, is the secret, which was never known until I discovered it by analysis and synthesis, and which will fill the air with flying men and women.”
He and his brother eventually moved to Arkansas, where he became such an influential citizen that the whole town was named for him (Dermott), although he continued to manage his Louisiana property as well, making arduous trips back and forth. One 1842 letter describes his arrival at Waverly looking “very thin, says he has had nothing to eat since he left, rode 12 miles with a heavy rifle on his shoulder and 12 more with a deer on his horse. And to crown the whole, slept 3 nights in an Arkansas tavern, resting his head on a pillow that had a dead rat in it.”
After the Civil War, he joined Charlie Barrow of West Feliciana in founding colonies in Honduras. And it would not take a big stretch of the imagination to understand his excitement could he but know the use to which his Waverly property will be going, encouraging little minds to think out of the box and let their own imaginations soar.
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).