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).

Sunday, July 8, 2018

St. Francisville Welcomes First Artist in Residence

St. Francisville Welcomes First Artist in Residence
By Anne Butler
IMG 1615When Life give you Lemons, you make Lemonade.
Or Collages. When life gave English artist John Lawson lemons, in the form of Katrina floodwaters engulfing his New Orleans studio and soaking over two decades’ worth of original sketches, he pieced together tattered fragments, added other meaningful images, and won such praise from art critics that he’s been working in that medium ever since.
While studying landscape architecture at LSU in the 1980s, Lawson fell in love with Louisiana’s creative culture---its art, its music, its cooking, its lush landscapes and magnificent architectural treasures, its joie de vivre, its Mardi Gras parades that provided bright beads he recycled into gorgeous artworks including covering an entire piano—but after Katrina he left the state. Now he’s back, has just had a well-received showing of colorful collages of iconic blues musicians at Ann Connelly Fine Art, and was tapped to design the official poster for this year’s Baton Rouge Blues Festival.
He’s also going to be in St. Francisville from mid-July through the month of August as the very first Artist in Residence sponsored by the local umbrella arts organization called Arts For All, which is providing lodging for him in downtown’s quirky 3-V Tourist Courts, the little throw-back-thirties automobile-age cabins with garage attached that were used in one of the Bonnie and Clyde documentaries. Arts For All is also providing work space in its studio.

maryTIn return, Lawson will give a public talk at Birdman Coffee on August 2 at 6 p.m. and will teach a collage workshop (pre-registration required) on August 7. In addition, limited opportunities to observe the artist’s creative processes may be available, as he demonstrates his techniques and also explains a bit about his selection of meaningful images---prolific butterflies, for example, representing rebirth, or the cycles of the moon as something always changing but always still there, image of the artist processing the passage of time and loss and recovery. Information on these programs is available at westfelicianaarts.com or birdmancoffee@bellsouth.net, and donations to help with expenses would be welcomed. John Lawson will also be honored as the featured artist at fall’s popular Yellow Leaf Arts Festival in Parker Park, St. Francisville, a great gathering of original artists and crafters, musicians and food vendors.

Birdman Coffee & Books owner and Arts For All guiding light Lynn Wood, an artist and musician herself, along with local musician Nancy Roppolo, attended the April opening of Lawson’s blues series of artworks at Ann Connelly gallery and, says Lynn, “we were blown away, intrigued by his enthusiasm about art, the blues, about working up here in our area, and his ideas about collaboration with us; he went on and on. He is ‘the real deal,’ if you know what I mean, a very creative thinker, a true artist who talks and breathes creativity. He talks about learning about the world and understanding the world and communicating that understanding through his art.”

Birdman has an exhibit of Lawson’s collages hanging, and Lynn says during his residency he will “soak up the atmosphere in our area and then create work!” The St. Francisville area, with its verdant woodlands and picturesque pastoral reaches, has been inspiring artists of every stripe since Audubon painted a number of his famous Birds of America series in the area, and now it is home to a wide assortment of writers, artists, designers, musicians, crafters and other creative souls.

IMG 1617And now it may also inspire one resilient English-born and nationally appreciated fine artist, whose intricately layered collage images create mixed-media representations of his journey through life and his search for its meaning.

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.

IMG 1612The 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).

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

St. Francisville’s Shelter Success Depends on Community Support

posterSt. Francisville’s Shelter Success Depends on Community Support

By Anne Butler

 The promotional poster, designed by Alan Morton, looks like the cover of a steamy romance novel, the male with his shirt unbuttoned to the waist, passionately holding in his arms a scantily clad sexpot gazing adoringly into his eyes. But wait! It’s not Fabio!
Closer inspection reveals big erect ears and protruding snout exposing the masculine heartthrob as a German Shepherd, and the sexpot in his arms really a sultry feline.

Yep! This scintillating poster is announcing the Wags & Whiskers Gala on Saturday, July 21, from 6 to 9:30 p.m. at Hemingbough just south of St. Francisville. Its slogan is “All You Need Is Love,” but bring your cash or credit cards, too, because this is the main fundraiser supporting programs spreading the love to St. Francisville’s lost, injured, abused or abandoned animals.
 This sixth annual gala promises the usual fun carnival-type activities, dancing to music by the popular Delta Drifters, silent auction of an enormous cache of fabulous donated items, spectacular food, kissing booth where attendees can Smooch A Pooch, and lots of costumed cats and dogs parading around and looking for a home. Tickets are $25 and are available from bontemptix.com or at the Bank of St. Francisville.

The gala is sponsored by the non-profit West Feliciana Animal Humane Society, whose dedicated and hard-working members coordinate volunteer and donor efforts for the James L. “Bo” Bryant Shelter in St. Francisville. Before this shelter opened, the dog pound consisted of a few makeshift pens attached to the parish jail, where the four-legged inmates were pretty much on death row. Only a small percentage, 5% to 10%, were adopted out, mostly thanks to the efforts of a retired state trooper turned sheriff’s deputy, the late “Bo” Bryant; the rest met a sadder fate.

The shelter opened in August of 2012, and statistics show an incredible success rate for life-saving adoptions. Since 2014 a total of 1,651 cats and dogs have passed through, and of those, 1,242 have been adopted to permanent safe homes. Some were homeless strays, some were simply lost (over 200 were reunited with their owners), but others had been removed from abusive situations or abandoned because of owner deaths or relocations. In three years, only 87 had to be euthanized due to severe medical issues or aggression; this is very low kill. The shelter also has a Trap-Neuter-Return program in cooperation with local vets that has fixed nearly 300 feral cats. Reasonable adoption fees cover medical exams, shots, deworming, microchip and spaying.

The statistics are staggering, and the success rate is a tribute to shelter personnel and dozens of dedicated volunteers and vets. But those are just numbers. Walk through the shelter’s dog kennels or separate new cat house, and it all gets personal, with shelter staff socializing and loving each dog, cat, pig, horse, bird or snake (yes, there have been all of those in there).

SaraTake, for example, Helen, tiny poodle found wandering down a busy dangerous highway in horrible condition, severely emaciated, hearing loss, nearly blind from cataracts, yeast infection covering her entire body. Now she’s healthy and happy in a foster home, heart-worm free, spayed, and ready for a home of her own through the shelter’s Forever Foster program with all medical bills paid for life. Or Molly, spotted on a roadside by drivers who thought she was a dirty discarded stuffed animal until she moved. It took seven hours to groom her matted fur, she had a leg deformity that made her run with one paw flapping in the air, and she was so tiny that staff feared she could slip through drain openings in the kennels, so she went home with the shelter director, who fell so deeply in love with her that Molly has stayed there ever since.

Or Suzie, the cute black lab mix pup adopted and then returned by a large and noisy family when she proved unable to adjust to the dozens of children and dogs and commotion; the broken-hearted daughter of the family wrote a letter about what a wonderful dog Suzie was, but as an adult black dog, the hardest type to adopt out, she languished at the shelter for ten months with zero interest. Shelter staff gave her special time, made her “Queen for a Day” on ice-cream outings, groomed her and posted photos, but no one wanted her. Determined staff took her to the Angola Rodeo adoption event, and Suzie found new owners who love her.
The stories are endless…Cammie, who came in with two broken legs after being hit by a car; China, who has been in the shelter almost an entire year; Emily, grey and white pit bull obviously used as a bait dog and breeder, covered in scars and bruises, bite marks all over, pregnant, and miraculously sweet and gentle when rescued. Her 14 healthy puppies have gone to loving homes, her heartworm treatment is being paid by the guardian angel program, and she is ready for adoption. Pits are specially vetted, and so are the prospective adoptive homes; actually, all of the adoptions are carefully assessed to assure a good match and safe home situation.

airplaneThe shelter works with Paws4Rescue, an organization rescuing dogs from shelters and transporting them to waiting homes in the Northeast via Rescue Road Trips; twelve shelter dogs have gone to Pennsylvania, Vermont, New York, Connecticut, South Carolina and New Jersey, including a big bloodhound called Scarlet who flew via private plane to Charleston, thanks to two local pilots.

Even horses find new homes through the shelter’s efforts, like Dreamer, registered and of good stock but removed from a neglectful situation where several other horses had already starved to death, then scheduled to be euthanized when the case finally went to court. The shelter provided medical care, grooming and lots of attention, and this horse’s dream came true in a new forever home.

Shelter director Josette Lester and Gala Chairman Valerie Koubek stress the importance of volunteers of all ages and donors year-round, but the springtime explosion of puppies and kittens makes it especially essential that the community join in making a difference. For information on ways to help, call 225-635-5801 or go to www.wfahs.org; there are also a couple of wonderful Facebook page full of photos: West Feliciana Animal Humane Society and West Feliciana Animal Humane Society Friends.

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, May 25, 2018

Exhibits Pay Tribute To Early Black Experience at St. Francisville Museum

Exhibits Pay Tribute To Early Black Experience at St. Francisville Museum
By Anne Butler
leadbellyA couple of recently staged complementary exhibits in the West Feliciana Historical Society Museum pay tribute to the early black experience—and endurance—in the area. Conceived by society president Susie Tully and created by museum curator Cliff Deal, the exhibits may be viewed free of charge daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the museum on Ferdinand Street in St. Francisville.

One presentation focuses on the birth of the blues in the rural South and their ongoing influence on modern music. Originating on rural southern plantations of the 19th century, the blues evolved from spirituals and African chants, work songs and field hollers. Originally sung by slaves and later sharecroppers working in cotton and cane fields as well as by chain-gang prisoners tilling penitentiary fields, blues music “told the rural story of oppression, hard work, broken hearts, misfortune and struggle...From unbridled joy to deep sadness, no form of music communicates more genuine emotion.”

Accompanied only by guitar and moaning harmonica, the important thing about the blues was the song, for it was the song that told the story, and that story was a sad one, deeply rooted in American history and particularly in African American history.

One early blues icon with local ties was Leadbelly, whose given name was Huddie Ledbetter. Born in 1888, he spent his teen years playing music in St. Paul’s Bottoms, notorious Shreveport red-light district. His songs speak to the hard life of saloons and brothels, and he was no stranger to violence, either, serving several sentences in Texas and Louisiana prisons in the 1930’s. It was at the Louisiana State Prison at Angola that he was discovered by folklorists John and Alan Lomax, propelling him to fame in New York and recordings of songs like his well-known Good Night, Irene.

nealPresent-day blues artist Kenny Neal, son of harmonica player Raful Neal in whose band he began playing at age 13, has won worldwide recognition preserving the blues of his native Louisiana. He recently sponsored a Highway 61 Blues Festival at the West Feliciana Parish Sports Park that drew hundreds of appreciative music fans and provided a reminder of the origin of the blues.

Local blues legend Scott Dunbar was the son of an ex-slave, born on Deer Park Plantation near Woodville and a fishing guide on Lake Mary all his life. He made his first guitar from a cigar box, broomstick and wire, and lived in a rustic cabin that he tied to a tree to keep it from floating away every spring as the Mississippi River overflowed into the lake. Simple and basic, repetitive and soulful, Scott’s downhome blues provided the background for generations of celebrations and lawn parties in the Miss-Lou area.

dunbarLike many 19th- and early 20th-century black children, Scott Dunbar had little formal education. Born in 1904, he never went to school; others did, but only until 3rd grade or so. Then they were put to work in the agricultural fields, where they were certainly exposed to the rhythmic field hollers and work chants that provided the basis for the blues music, combined with the spirituals sung in the churches that were the centers of African American life back then and still often are.

So the second exhibit features a beloved black schoolteacher universally called “The Professor,” John Sterling Dawson. While many small black Baptist churches provided rudimentary educational opportunities for the children of their congregations and communities, often located on land donated by plantation owners for that purpose, secondary education for African Americans was slow to develop over the first half of the 20th century in Louisiana. According to exhibit panels, rural black schools only provided these children a seventh grade education at best, and often less. “By 1945, there were 80 black four-year high schools in Louisiana, but 13 parishes were still without approved schools. One of these was West Feliciana Parish.”

This all changed, although not rapidly, in 1890 with the arrival by train of 19-year-old John S. Dawson, encouraged to come by John Jones and C.H. Argue. His venue was the Laurel Hill School, two-story wood frame building also used as a Masonic Hall, the earliest known African American public school in West Feliciana. Some 125 students registered for classes; only 20 could read. As the exhibit explains, “Rural school were isolated and just getting to school was difficult. As most families farmed for a living, children missed school while working during planting and harvest. Rural parish school boards were poor, and the rural black schools were poorer.”

dawsonFor 30 years John S. Dawson taught at Laurel Hill School, then served as principal at Raspberry Baptist Church School and as Senior Deacon and Superintendent of the Sunday School in the church. But his dream was a real school in a real school building, a brand new high school for African Americans. He secured land donated by members of the Barrow-Richardson-Noland families on LA Highway 66 along Bayou Sara, and the high school opened in 1951; an elementary wing was added in 1962, and soon there was a gym, band building, room for home education/industrial arts, and an agricultural shop.

John S. Dawson died in 1950, a year before the school that would be named for him would open, but the legacy of learning continued with two of his sons serving as principal, John M. Dawson from 1951 to 1961, and Thomas Dawson from 1961 to 1969. That was the year the school was closed after a Supreme Court decision mandated school desegregation; all West Feliciana Parish students now go to a single campus recognized as one of the best school systems in the state.

Dawson School was abandoned for years, then functioned as a Council on Aging meal site for some time before it fell into disrepair. Now it is being cleaned up and has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the John S. Dawson Alumni Association and Foundation, led by former students including one of John S. Dawson’s grandsons, Ken Dawson. The hope is to develop the property as a community center and park, a legacy and commemoration of one man, John Sterling Dawson, whose efforts and dedication enhanced and changed so many lives.

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).

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Quail Hunts and Quality of Life

Quail Hunts and Quality of Life as St. Francisville Adapts to Change
By Anne Butler
Mississippi ZevThe March 12, 1964, issue of the True Democrat, back in the days when St. Francisville had a truly local newspaper, contained a column by that wonderful writer and social commentator Ben Garris that was all about a funeral. A funeral for a dog, in fact, and the article was highly entertaining, given that the mourners, respectable grown men all, were known to take a drink and have a good time. The wake was particularly high spirited, with many a Big Orange quaffed to assuage their grief.
The deceased was not just any dog. He was the last of the line of the famous Mississippi Zev, all-time great English setter, winner of the National Field Trials, and as a good hunting companion and shooting dog he certainly deserved a proper send-off.
But the column wasn’t just about a dog’s funeral. It was about change. It was about not only the end of the line for the Mississippi Zev family, but also about the end of an era in the Felicianas.

Historic courthouse“Once this was known as the best quail hunting area in the state, but this is gone now,” the columnist opined. “Now potatoes and cattle are king and queen, and quail don’t exist on improved pasture and bare potato middles. Gone is the share-cropper with his garden patch farming. Gone are the little bushy headlands that gave shelter to the quail. Gone are the corn and pea patches that fed and fattened the greatest game bird in the world. Gone are the row-crop rows left heavy with weed cover after fall harvest, where the quail could fill his little gizzard with prime seed on a cold winter evening. And of course, gone are the quail: gone to the pine hills, the pin oak flats and the honeysuckle draws where they have adapted to these changes in drastically reduced numbers.”

Ch-ch-ch-changes. Now sweet potatoes and cattle have mostly been fazed out as well, replaced in area economics by tourism, paper mills, nuclear facilities, state institutions, and Feliciana residents must be as adaptable to changes as the quail. Just as the paper mill and other industries ushered in a new diversity and progressiveness to this historic area, so St. Francisville enters the 21st century with great resilience and the promise that preservation can go hand-in-hand with progress.

WF HospitalThe area has welcomed such facilities and services as a brand new hospital with greatly expanded capabilities, wonderful new library offering much more than books in this digital age, new restaurants dishing up diverse global cuisine, shops and businesses filling unique niches with one-of-a-kind wares, new (and newly refurbished) overnight accommodations and tours, fabulous new sports park with ballfields and courts and arenas and lots of programs for all ages. St. Francisville has also become a mecca for creative souls---musicians, writers, designers, artists, woodworkers, crafters, quilters, chefs---who have inspired a number of fun festivals celebrating the arts, music, books, and yes, even the history for which this area is universally recognized and deservedly so.

The recreational opportunities in the Tunica Hills provide a constant draw for residents and visitors alike, the hilly terrain ideal for bicycle racing as well as birding, hunting, hiking, nature photography. And the steamboats cruising the Mississippi River provide hop on-hop off bus trips for appreciative passengers throughout St. Francisville’s downtown area, listed in its entirety as a National Register Historic District in recognition of the importance of its preserved structures, which are obliged to follow certain carefully detailed directives. Even homeless or abused animals have been blessed with one of the best-run rescue shelters in the state with an outstanding record of adoptions and lost-pet returns to owners.

WF LibraryOf course there are continual infrastructure needs and budgetary shortages among the constants that must be contended with, but all in all, St. Francisville has done a remarkable job in maintaining its historic sense of place while adapting resiliently to requisite change, as more and more new residents arrive seeking the peace and tranquility of country living without sacrificing the availability of necessary services and facilities.
The quail may be gone, but residents and visitors wholeheartedly endorse the town logo that boasts “We love it here.” Even when change is inevitable. Even when sometimes it’s an improvement.

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.

Historic museumThe 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).

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Music at the Mag
Friday-March 30th – The Delta Drifters
Saturday-March 31st – Jake Gunter
Imahara’s Botanical Garden
Open on Saturdays from 10am-3pm and Sundays from 1pm -3pm beginning February 17th until April 29th, the garden will close to the public thereafter for more information please call 225-635-6001.
HOME BY SPRING - HALLMARK MOVIE
On Saturday March 31st, check out Home by Spring movie on the Hallmark Channel, this was our latest movie shoot in St. Francisville. 
COMMUNITY EGGSTRAVAGANZA -  Saturday March 31, 2018 9am-12pm
Come one, come all! West Feliciana High School Interact Club is hosting a community Easter Eggstravaganza on March 31, 2018 at Parker Park. There will be games for kids of all ages including an Easter egg hunt for kids up to 10 years old. More details and information to follow on community social media sites.

30th Annual Hemingbough’s Easter Sunrise Service – Sunday-April 1
10101 Hwy 965 W in St. Francisville.
Interdenominational Service
Free to the public
Held in the Greek Amphitheater overlooking the lake  (Held indoors in case of rain)
Rev. Chris Andrews
Casual Dress
225-635-6617
Hemingbough10101@gmail.com

Audubon Under the Oaks – Sunday-April 8
An afternoon of living history at Oakley Plantation with John J Audubon & the Strong Women of Oakley
This new event is from 4p-6pm at Oakley Plantation Audubon State Historic Site 11788 Highway 965
Louisiana State Fiddle Champion James Linden Hogg with perform, hors d’oeuvres & Open Bar. Tickets are $50.00 in advance and $55.00 at the door.
Tickets may be purchased at www.bontempstix.com

Angola Museum’s Milestones of Memories- Sunday-April 8
The Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum Foundation invites you to join us for the 20thAnniversary Museum’s Milestones of Memories Celebration at the Museum from 1-4pm.  The event will feature a panel of Angola’s museum directors.  Past and present board members will also attend.  A new exhibit documenting the museum’s history will be on display in the Receiving Center annex.   Tours of the museum will be available and light refreshments will be served.  All activities will take place in the Receiving Center.  The event is free and open to the public.    
Angola Rodeo and Crafts – April 21 and 22
Tunica Hills Music Fest & Jam – Saturday - April 21

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Happenings for Feb. 2018

Music at the Mag
Friday-February 16th-United We Jam
Saturday-February 17th-Frankie Boots
Friday-February 23rd-The Delta Drifters
Imahara’s Botanical Garden
Open on Saturdays from 10am-3pm and Sundays from 1pm -3pm beginning February 17th until April 29th, the garden will close to the public thereafter for more information please call 225-635-6001.
AUDUBON STATE HISTORIC SITE – OAKLEY PLANTATION
Create your own experience in living history during The World of Jane Austen at Audubon State Historic Site on Saturday February 17th from 10AM until 4 PM.
The popular English writer Jane Austen lived in a time of much upheaval. It was a time of the Napoleon and war covered every part of the globe. In the United States the capital was burned and New Orleans saved in a famous battle. Austen’s world was a world of gentility set against the backdrop of violence of war which reflected the early 1800’s in Louisiana.
In Oakley House instead of tours there will be hands on demonstrations of period dancing, etiquette, bath salts, use of the fan, clothing, and more. On the grounds volunteers in reproduction uniforms and clothing of the War of 1812 will host activities that include cannon firing drills, black powder musket drills, and camp life talks.
Audubon State Historic Site is the setting for the 200-year-old Oakley House, temporary home and inspiration to John James Audubon in the 1800s. The park includes a museum, picnic area, pavilion and nature trail. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, the park is open daily Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Admission for Oakley House Tours and Grounds $10.00 Adults, $8.00 Seniors, $6.00 Student, and for Grounds-Only Admission is $5 per person (ages 4 and over) and free for children (age 3 and under). Audubon SHS is located 30 minutes north of Baton Rouge near St. Francisville on La. 965 in West Feliciana Parish. For more information, call 888.677.2838 toll free or 635.3739 in the St. Francisville area.

CELEBRATION OF LITERATURE & ART
Writers & Readers Symposium will be held at Hemingbough on Saturday-February 17th between
8:30am-3:00pm.  Featured Speakers are Catharine Savage Brosman, John R. Kemp, Michael Rubin, Genaro Ky Ly Smith and M.O. Walsh.
Writers Workshop on Sunday-February 18th between 9am-4pm.
For more information please visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com
MARCH EVENTS
A WALK IN THE PARK – SATURDAY MARCH 3RD in Parker Park
Vendors, Art, Food and Music
Check out their facebook event or stfrancisvillefestivals.com
ROUGE ROUBAIX – SATURDAY MARCH 10TH
Annual Bike race through the Parish and finishing downtown at the Courthouse.
47TH ANNUAL AUDUBON PILGRIMAGE-MARCH 16, 17 AND 18TH
This annual event showcases John James Audubon while he was in the Felicianas.
Four private homes open for touring, Gardens, Churches, Cemetery Tours, 1820’s Costumes
For complete event information and tickets please visit www.westfelicianahistory.org or call
225 635 6330.