Everybody’s Favorite Small Town: St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler
Little St. Francisville in West Feliciana in recent years has made it to the top of various favorite small town lists, not only statewide but also nationally, and it’s no surprise to those who live there. Residents have a tremendous sense of place and an abiding appreciation of the little rivertown’s history and charm. It takes a lot of hard work and planning to preserve these attributes, but that’s exactly what townspeople love about the place and what leads harried urbanites to move there. One set of big city grandparents, restoring a tiny structure in St. Francisville as a delightful pied-a-terre so they can visit with the grandkids, cited the wonderful small town feel and the ability to actually walk, rather than drive, to the park, the café and coffee house, the museum, the library, the shops and churches.
This is also representative of a trend sweeping America as folks move from suburbs into walkable downtowns with access to amenities close at hand. Where once young adults couldn’t wait to leave behind their country or small town roots, now they’re returning in droves, according to an article in BBC News on the resurgence of small towns. Author Tom Geoghegan’s piece, entitled “The Untold Good News Story of America Today,” asserts that the current trend is a reversal of the decades-long exodus to large urban centers and outlying suburbs. He also finds that returnees are armed with new ideas and a spirit of cooperation (for the most part) for problem solving on a local level impossible on a national scope.
People in small towns are happier than those living in large cities, according to studies quoted by author Derren Brown. His book called Happy City explains this by asserting that in small towns, people know their neighbors and rely on them, feel connected and empowered to solve shared problems. Those who have strong social relationships are happier, as evolutionary evidence proves individuals joined in groups or tribes function better than those who are (or feel) isolated.
Advances in technology are additional factors making it possible for small town residents to perform work tasks even while living at a distance from their employer, and companies consider “quality of life” issues as important factors when considering relocating or expanding, often giving smaller towns an advantage. The unique charm of small towns, where not every store is a big box and not everything looks and feels the same, contributes to changing attitudes and shifting population. The article asserts that smaller communities with creative residents who are connected, as in St. Francisville which has become a magnet for all manner of creative residents thriving in its inspiring atmosphere, can be the laboratory for solving larger worldwide problems, because creativity, change and innovation can often occur more quickly and more easily at the local level.
St. Francisville’s entire downtown area is a National Register-listed Historic District and its zoning regulations are carefully considered and enforced to emphasize the preservation of its historic character. Riverboats disembark appreciative passengers from around the country to enjoy downtown hop on-hop off bus tours, never failing to comment on the charm and welcoming small town feel. The town’s streets are lined with a number of 19th and early 20th-century cottages whose galleries boast fanciful Victorian trim, plus stepped-front storefronts and shops full of one-of-a-kind treasures; the history museum has fascinating exhibits, beautiful historic churches welcome visitors, and there’s often a little lemonade stand staffed by industrious local children beneath drooping crepe myrtle branches along the bricked sidewalks.
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).