St. Francisville offers sanctuary in time of COVID-19
By Anne Butler
“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.
Most 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.
Greenwood 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.
Restaurants 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.
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.
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).