Monday, November 12, 2018

November Press Release 2018

Winds of Change Blowing Through Beautiful Little St. Francisville
By Anne Butler
St. Francisville, that little Louisiana river town with the well-established sense of place, has done it again. A staple on lists of favorite small towns across Louisiana and even throughout the state, most recently it has been recognized nationally by Architectural Digest as one of the most beautiful small towns across America! This prestigious magazine chose what it called “magnificent microcultures” in the mountains, at the seaside, and all over the country, and its choices reflected history, natural beauty, the arts, architectural treasures, and especially culture. As one old New Orleans state legislator was fond of saying, “If ya ain’t got culcha, ya ain’t got s@#$.” And St. Francisville, with its wonderfully preserved residences and commercial structures, its historic churches, its moss-draped live oaks and colorful azaleas, plus its burgeoning population of artists and writers and musicians and other creative souls, has got “culcha” in spades.
sfi front exteriorBut don’t think this little town is static. The winds of change are blowing all over the place, starting at the only traffic light in the downtown the historic district, where new owners are bringing fresh ideas and new enthusiasm to the vintage St. Francisville Inn. This charming Victorian gem, veteran of nearly four decades of hospitality, was purchased in October by Jim Johnston and Brandon Branch, best known to Bravo fans of the docu-drama Southern Charm Savannah.

Branch, who has roots in Louisiana and Mississippi, was the former creative director for Paula Deen Enterprises and hence will focus on the interior decorating as well as food and cocktails, while Johnston, whose background is in accounting, handles the computer systems and technical aspects of construction. The creative couple is bravely undertaking what they call a “million-dollar multi-year renovation to restore the inn and increase services to become the area’s first four-star inn.” Initial phase of the project, which should be complete by mid-April, involves new landscaping, restoring wood flooring, repainting and redecorating the main house, followed by gutting the overnight rooms, building new owners’ quarters, installing a commercial kitchen and bar, perhaps even increasing the number of guest rooms and adding a conference center. Big plans for these world travelers, and a perfect place to showcase their complementary talents.

Next door, the Lebanese restaurant has expanded with new ownership, redecorated using paint maven Ellen Kennon’s cool colors and enlarged the dining areas both inside and out, with an expanded emphasis on Greek as well as Lebanese cuisine. It is now called Café Petra; an early morning fire on Halloween will unfortunately involve some downtime.

district mecA few blocks down Ferdinand St., the main thoroughfare leading straight downhill to the Mississippi River, in the 1890s German immigrant Morris Burgas established a fine general merchandise store in a rambling wood-frame building. For a century or so, several generations of the same family provided the necessities...everything from planting supplies to household goods, buggies, even coffins stored next door...for the surrounding plantation country. New owners Charlie and Onnie Perdue refreshed and revitalized this same building just in time for August’s late-night shopping extravaganza, Polos and Pearls. They’re calling their operation District Mercantile and following the established tradition of something for everyone...gifts, décor, antiques, artworks, books, collectibles, clothing, old-time candy and games. They even serve coffee and breakfast goodies, hoping to provide a comfortable and relaxing community gathering place.

Across the street are popular ladies’ clothing shops and a fine little indie bookstore that hosts book signings by real live authors, children’s story hours, a new children’s book festival (as well as being involved in several adult literary festivals that draw hundreds of readers and writers to the area).

Another business with a new owner is The Shanty Too, longtime downtown anchor and the first to offer gourmet candies and old-time favorites in its cute little old-fashioned candy shoppe called Mandie’s Candies. The late Fay Daniel, founder and longtime owner, dubbed the shop’s inventory “gifts and fancy goods,” which covered a lot of territory, including large selections of Flax linen clothing, iconic christening gowns, seasonal and decorative items, and much more.

francisChange is not limited to the historic downtown area; out along US Highway 61, The Hotel Francis ‘ interim manager Bob Wilson promises the “very committed” owner is giving his property “a lot of TLC,” from sprucing up the landscape and lovely lake to new flooring in common spaces, exterior painting, and renovating and replacing carpeting room by room in a facility that saw some hard usage by long-term Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

A recent visitor to the area from Canada, who produces a food program on television and was a close friend of Anthony Bourdain, commented that The Francis Southern Table and Bar served some of the best seafood he’d ever eaten, and he was equally impressed with the selection of gourmet cheeses at the Audubon Market across US 61. The market also serves delightful plate lunches, and there are other nice eateries along the way as well: The Francis Smokehouse for specialty meats and barbecue, Mexican specialties at Que Pasa, country cooking at Audubon Café, Chinese at East Dragon.

myrtles restaurantThe Myrtles Plantation has seen some wonderful improvements since young Morgan Moss took over the direction of the property from his parents, with an eye toward community involvement and enhanced entertainment rather than straight history and paranormal activities. Attractive new landscaping, new shotgun B&B cabins, and an enormous new eatery called Restaurant 1796 set to open this winter showcase the new emphasis on hospitality. Executive chef Ben Lewis, Woodville native, was happily cooking in the Virgin Islands at Longboard Coastal Cantina until Hurricane Irma devastated the place. Now he will “bring his expertise to deliver a wood-fired farm-to-table concept with a seasonal menu, revolving around locally sourced produce,” much of it growing right on site. Besides the love of food, he believes cooking is all about the joy it brings to guests, a sentiment that fits right in with The Myrtle’s new focus.

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).

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Fall in the Felicianas—As Colorful As It Gets In South Louisiana

Fall in the Felicianas—As Colorful As It Gets In South Louisiana

By Anne Butler

angola rodeo bull
The first cool breezes of autumn bring folks flocking to the Felicianas, where the hardwood forests provide as close as South Louisiana gets to fall color. Hikers and other nature lovers find that falling leaves reveal vistas not visible in summer’s tangled overgrowth, and the mosquitoes, poison ivy and snakes are no longer nuisances. The public wilderness areas of the Tunica Hills and the waterfalls of nearby Clark Creek Natural Area are especially popular destinations for outdoor recreation enthusiasts based in St. Francisville. Ranging northwest along the Mississippi River, the Tunica Hills are rare land formations found only in a narrow strip from West Feliciana Parish north into Tennessee, where cool, deep shady glades and steep forested hills harbor rarities like wild ginseng, Eastern chipmunks and other flora and fauna found nowhere else in Louisiana. Good news is that the parish road into Cat Island is in the process of being restored after washing out in the 2016 floods, so visitors may soon have access to the national champion bald cypress tree and other scenic areas in this popular national wildlife refuge.rodeo angola

Every Sunday in October the Louisiana State Penitentiary on LA 66 at Angola puts on “The Wildest Show in the South,” with a huge variety of prisoner hobbycraft sales, tons of food, inmate bands, and hair-raising rodeo events unique to this prison setting. Other than the ladies’ barrel racing, all rodeo participants are inmates in this enormous maximum-security penitentiary, and they keep the crowds on the edge of their seats from the moment the black-clad Angola Rough Riders charge into the ring at full gallop, flags flying. The covered arena seats over 10,000 and fills up every Sunday. Grounds open at 9 a.m. for the arts and crafts, and the fascinating state museum at the entrance gate is also open, allowing visitors to make a full day of it. The rodeo starts at 2, and advance tickets are a must. Crowd favorites include the “Bust Out” when six bucking bulls and inmate riders enter the arena simultaneously, and “Guts & Glory” with inmates on foot scrambling to detach a $100 ticket from between the horns of an enraged Brahma bull. Prison website at www.angolarodeo.com provides information and spells out regulations which must be observed on penitentiary grounds; there are a few new rules this year, no cellphones or tablets, only clear bags no larger than 12/6/12, and of course all weapons, ammo, alcohol and drugs must be deposited at the front gate. For information, see www.angolarodeo.com or telephone 225-655-2607.

gardenThe annual Southern Garden Symposium in St. Francisville offers a change of pace, celebrating the area’s great gardening tradition and fostering its continuation by convening horticulture enthusiasts for a weekend of demonstrations, lectures and tours through the area’s glorious antebellum gardens. This year’s 30th annual event, combining prestigious speakers, historic surroundings and engaging social events, takes place Friday, October 19, and Saturday, October 20. Proceeds fund beautification projects, scholarships to LSU’s School of Landscape Architecture, and garden enhancements at state historic sites. For information, visit www.southerngardensymposium.org. This year’s participants receive a coveted Murrell Butler limited edition print of colorful orioles on tulip poplar.
This being the season of witches and goblins, the spooky Myrtles Plantation Mystery Tour scares the pants off visitors every weekend evening throughout October and on Halloween night as they experience what is billed as one of the most haunted homes in the country. For information, www.myrtlesplantation.com, 800-809-0565 or 225-635-6277. Other local observances of the holiday include Trunk or Treat at the parish sports park, and trick or treating in St. Francisville.

In what was an important agricultural area through the 19th century, Luckett Farms is channeling that era by leasing acreage from the state on Rosedown Plantation for what promises to be not only productive but educational as well. Kacie and Derek Luckett, veterans of Red Stick Farmers Market and CSA programs, saw an opportunity to cultivate the fertile plantation lands and preserve the area’s agricultural history by growing more than 50 varieties of fruits and vegetables where they ultimately hope to “grow a few young farmers, too.” Open mid-September through November during Rosedown’s normal visiting hours of 9 to 5 daily, Luckett Farms offers roadside produce stand, educational agricultural experiences, fun games and activities for children, hayrides, covered picnic area, and packages designed for different age groups. The 12-acre Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch add to the excitement, with participants selecting their very own pumpkin to take home. Party and photo packages, school tours, church groups and social events may be scheduled by contacting the Lucketts online at www.luckettfarmstours.com .
bandThe last weekend in October, Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th, the Yellow Leaf Arts Festival draws crowds of art-lovers to oak-shaded Parker Park with its bandstand right in the middle of St. Francisville’s downtown National Register-listed Historic District. A festival called “authentic, genuine and full of small-town charm,” Yellow Leaf from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. showcases the works and talents of more than 50 artists and crafters who offer paintings and pottery, metal and woodwork, fabric art, books, sculpture, glass art, jewelry, carvings and lots more. Featured in the covered gazebo this year is John Lawson, English poet/artist especially noted for his collages and bead works. This outdoor celebration of all things creative also includes art activities for children and local farmers with home-grown sweet potatoes and plenty of barbecue. The Yellow Leaf Festival, they say, really is all about the art---no mass productions, no noisy generators, no train rides, although there are usually a few local kiddies hawking refreshments from little red wagons. There’s also a new “Make and Do” tent and great live music both Saturday and Sunday. For information, telephone 800-715-0510 or access online http://westfelicianaarts.com.

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).

Friday, September 7, 2018

Everybody’s Favorite Small Town: St. Francisville, LA

Everybody’s Favorite Small Town: St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler
lemonadeLittle 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.

jerry and dogsPeople 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.

home royal streetThe 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).