By Anne Butler
Dreaming of a destination wedding? There’s no need to travel too far away; St. Francisville offers all the conveniences of home, but guarantees you’ll feel a million miles away.
Back in the day, weddings were mostly formal affairs, held in churches with elaborate floral arrangements and guests dressed fit to kill, the bride wearing white and her attendants in outfits that would never come out of the closet again. That was then.
This is now: Many ceremonies these days are second (or maybe even third) weddings, the couples having been there and done that formally the first time. It’s not their first rodeo, and they want something casual, more relaxed, hopefully even enjoyable this time around.
Destination weddings at the beach or on a mountaintop in Colorado, the bride barefoot in the sand in a billowing maxi dress or wearing hiking boots clutching a bouquet of wildflowers, have become the “in” thing, and St. Francisville has become one of the state’s most popular wedding destinations.
The area can provide the perfect place to fulfill any bride’s heart’s desires, be it her first wedding or (heaven forbid) her fourth, from glorious garden settings to charming chapels, from lakeside amphitheaters to oak-shaded plantation properties and pastoral pastures. And yes, there are beautiful historic churches as well. Not only does St. Francisville offer the ideal site; there are also professional services available locally…caterers, officiants, florists, wedding coordinators, photographers, musicians, rental tents and tables, romantic overnight accommodations for honeymooners and wedding guests as well.
Several of the historic plantations host only small weddings. Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site offers beautiful backdrops in the 28-acre formal gardens or oak allee for 15 or 20 guests, only before dark, with hourly rates and requirements for the private purchase of liability insurance; nothing is permitted inside the 1830s home (phone 225-635-3332). Butler Greenwood, an even earlier plantation, does not have parking or restroom facilities to accommodate large groups, but does offer beautiful moss-draped oak trees and a lane of 19th-century cast-iron urns leading to a vine-covered pergola complete with hitching post (a favorite spot of the local Justice of the Peace). Only wedding parties of 15 or fewer are permitted and only on the grounds, but very reasonably priced and with romantic private cottages for honeymooners (phone 225-635-6312). Other plantations like The Cottage and The Myrtles provide honeymoon accommodations but do not currently host weddings, though the new restaurant at The Myrtles has all sorts of possibilities for rehearsal dinners and receptions.
Afton Villa Gardens offers glorious 19th-century garden settings in spite of the elaborate plantation house having burned in the 1960s, with lengthy oak alley, terraced grounds, formal parterres, marble statuary and a ruins garden room filled with blooms in season (phone 225-635-6773; for bridal photos 225-721-2269; for weddings 703-508-5073).
Greenwood Plantation also provides a spectacular site for weddings of all sizes, with all-inclusive wedding packages that can include the first floor of the 1830s mansion, the grounds with majestic live oaks and reflecting pond, bricked patio and outside kitchen building, even a small chapel that seats 50 and was constructed as the overseer’s house during the filming of a movie. Also available are dressing rooms for bride and groom, overnight B&B stay, setup and cleanup, plus bridal portraits, rehearsal dinners, caterers and vendors for receptions, bridal luncheons and showers…this is the full scope of wedding services, priced accordingly, and wedding coordinators work with bridal couples to ensure complete satisfaction (phone 225-655-4475).
Another popular setting that can accommodate large weddings both indoors and out is Hemingbough, and its new Marketing and Events Director can work with couples to customize the perfect package plan. Breathtakingly beautiful ceremonies are held in the Greek amphitheater that seats hundreds overlooking Audubon Lake (setting for an annual Easter sunrise service), while indoor spaces include a memorial chapel with beautiful stained glass windows and pipe organ. On-site catering is available, as are overnight accommodations in the 8-room Guest House replica of Uncle Sam Plantation’s garconnier. For receptions, the ballroom at Hemstead Hall holds large groups, while the stately Audubon Room is ideal for smaller parties (phone 225-635-6617 or 225-978-7557).
Noted for its elegant simplicity is the small chapel available for weddings at The Bluffs on Thompson Creek, resort complete with spectacular Arnold Palmer-designed golf course, overnight accommodations in one- and two-bedroom suites in The Lodge and several restaurant options (phone 225-634-6400 or 634-5222).
In St. Francisville’s National Register-listed historic district is Temple Sinai, turn-of-the-century Jewish temple overlooking the Mississippi River, recently restored by the non-profit Freyhan Foundation as a non-denominational event center and indoor site for weddings. It can accommodate up to 100 guests, with restroom facilities and small kitchenette, plus perfect acoustics, stained glass windows and rows of comfortable pews. Reasonably priced with damage deposit required; reservations may be made through the West Feliciana Historical Society’s director at 225-635-6330, who can also furnish information on reserving 1819 Audubon Market Hall, another historic indoor venue downtown with a capacity of 40-50 guests.
Just down Royal Street, Shadetree Inn hosts small outdoor weddings on its picturesque hilltop setting and provides three eclectic suites for honeymoon overnights (phone 225-635-6116).
Also in the historic district next to Parker Memorial Park is the St. Francisville Inn, which recently underwent an ambitious renovation and now offers craft cocktails in The Saint bar, a catering kitchen (elegant breakfast/brunch daily, plus group lunches and dinners by reservation), and small weddings of fewer than 25 guests on the front lawn or in the bricked courtyard; for larger groups, rental of all 11 guest rooms is required. If the new owners of this boutique property can pull off an outside tented sit-down dinner for 180 guests in the midst of wild winds and tornado warnings mere days after opening as handily as they did, our hats are off to them! Phone 225-635-6502.
Local caterers include popular Heirloom Cuisine for elegant refreshments (225-784-0535) and Tip’s Catering Connection (from Black Tie to Backyard Barbeque plus rental tables, chairs, tents, fans and heaters) (225-921-7785). Temple Design offers creative custom services for wedding invitations and other print materials (225-635-9454), while Tara Marie Photography takes excellent photos (225-634-7229) as does Lilly Belle Photo (225-721-3636); Stacey Foretich Photography does not shoot weddings but does amazing engagement photos (225-505-7906). Mia Sophia Florist, whose head designer/owner has three decades of experience, provides fresh flowers from growers across the United States, custom bouquets, tablescapes, rental plants, arches and backdrops (phone 225-635-3339). To contact retired Justice of the Peace Kevin Dreher regarding officiating, phone 225-721-1120. Information on all of these services may be found online at www.stfrancisville.us.
On May 5 from 7 to 10 p.m., Temple Sinai is the setting for an Arts For All concert featuring acclaimed guitarist Arnold Cardon, plus Nancy Roppolo with harmonica virtuoso husband Joe and Susan Aysen.
Besides weddings and concerts, fans of fine literature flock to St. Francisville in May for two popular festivals, the West Feliciana Children’s Book Festival in Parker Park on May 4th, and the Walker Percy Weekend May 31 through June 2nd. “Reading Gives You Wings” is the theme of the third annual children’s literary festival, featuring storytelling tent, crafts, sidewalk chalk art contests, and authors of children’s, middle and young adult books performing, reading and discussing their works. It’s fun, and it’s free, and it goes on from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Friday, May 31, the Walker Percy Weekend kicks off with a reception and cocktails under the majestic oaks. This will be followed on Saturday, June 1, by lectures and panel discussions as experts expound on themes in Percy’s fiction, much of it set in south Louisiana as the author explored “the search for meaning in an increasingly materialistic society via masterfully wrought tales delivered with a poetic Southern sensibility and informed by the author’s deep Catholic faith.” Saturday afternoon highlight is the Progressive Front Porch Tour and Bourbon Tasting, and the evening culminates with the popular crawfish boil and craft beer celebration. Among the acclaimed speakers are New York Times columnist/author David Brooks, Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance, and Walter Isaacson, noted for his astute biographies of Leonardo da Vinci, Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. This popular event benefits the sponsoring non-profit Julius Freyhan Foundation. For additional information and tickets, see www.walkerpercyweekend.org.
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).