West Feliciana’s New Tourism Director Actually An Old Hand
By Anne Butler
St. Francisville moves optimistically into the new decade with the hiring of a new Director of Tourism who’s actually an old hand in the industry, having spent over four decades directing some of the state’s iconic attractions.
David Floyd began his lifelong interest in history and preservation as a student at LSU’s Rural Life Museum, then headed up the staff at Kent House in Alexandria, went to Oakley Plantation of the Audubon State Historic Site for some 9 years, ran Vermilionville in Lafayette, and returned to LA State Parks in administration. Then in 1994 he was lured by his revered mentor Steele Burden to serve as director of the Rural Life Museum on property the Burden family had donated to LSU to pay tribute to vintage vernacular architecture and preserve touches of the simple life of early Louisiana.
Besides 41 years guiding and directing museums and historic tour houses, Floyd also poured his heart and soul into resurrecting his own home, found languishing in a Lettsworth cottonfield and moved painstakingly piece by piece (its lumbering trip across the Mississippi River to West Feliciana made the television news more than once) to be reconstructed in Weyanoke and rooted to the site with dependencies and landscaping that would make the late Mr. Burden beam with pride.
It was time for a new chapter; that drive from upper West Feliciana to lower East Baton Rouge was getting longer and longer. Floyd’s wife Marla called his attention to a search underway for a new director of tourism and encouraged him to apply, and so he did.
Laurie Walsh, who had served admirably in that capacity for a number of years, had just resigned to concentrate on her demanding position as St. Francisville’s Main Street director, leaving at a time when the atmosphere was finally becoming conducive to positive growth in tourism, both politically and economically.
Floyd, who began his new part-time job the first of the year, said he was looking forward to working closely with Walsh and the Town of St. Francisville. “She and the Tourist Commission did such a fabulous job,” he commented, "growing that budget from $90,000 to $200,000,” and the town itself is always very generous in promoting the entire parish. St. Francisville continues to have such a healthy combination of residential and commercial structures that give the town a 24-hour presence; young families move in for the good school system and sense of community, and older retirees appreciate the little town’s walkability and easy sense of place, while visitors from far away appreciate the small-town historic charm. With wonderful new restaurants, reinvigorated shops and B&Bs, great new hospital and library, plus lots of fun festivals and creative inspirations, it’s no wonder the local logo is “We Love It Here.”
How, Floyd surmises, do you build on that? The demographics of tourism have shifted over the years, and ecotourism is the big passion today. Younger visitors are interested in gardening, but not necessarily estate gardening. They’re interested in farm-to-table operations, birding, hiking, primitive camping, biking on rural byways. And West Feliciana has all that to offer, and more, with the Tunica Hills and Cat Island and hopefully at some point the projected Tunica Preservation Area.
Besides, Floyd says, tourism is without borders. Take what West Feliciana has and combine it, say, with Clark Creek waterfalls in Mississippi, or the Jackson/Clinton area, or the New Roads community thanks to the increasingly utilized Audubon Bridge. And perhaps have some anchors of tourism in the hinterlands, maybe in three different directions to augment town shops and restaurants and attractions: the Tunica/Weyanoke area with its unique terrain and recreational opportunities, historic plantations, Angola museum; the Oakley, Mary Ann Brown Preserve, Bluffs area with prospects of a walking/biking interpretive trail, maybe even from the river like the artist Audubon travelled in 1821; and the Laurel Hill area, with the newly donated Lemon House, St. John’s Episcopal, the old Dawson School, a state visitor center, the 24-hour truck stop casino and the old favorite South of the Border restaurant.
Tourism, he says is a wonderful combination of factors, and it certainly is considered economic development, having been the mainstay of the area’s economy for many decades after the waning of agriculture. Parish president Kenny Havard is supportive, seeing the trickle-down impact visitor spending can have on just about every business in the parish. As David Floyd sees it, tourism benefits everybody, and if you do it the right way, “you can have pleasant company and a good quality of life.” What more could you ask...
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).