Quail Hunts and Quality of Life as St. Francisville Adapts to Change
By Anne Butler
The 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.
“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.
The 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.
Of 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.
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).