Black History Month 2018
The Historical Society is pleased to present a special exhibit for Black History Month: Louisiana Blues - A Century of African American Influence. The exhibit features the fascinating stories of sixteen Louisiana bluesmen, several of whom with ties to the Felicianas. West Feliciana Parish is proud to be home to Lil Jimmy Reed. Born Leon Atkins and raised in a small shack in Hardwood, Lil Jimmy earned his moniker after filling in for bluesman, Jimmy Reed. And so began his long career as an authentic Louisiana bluesman. His photograph was the perfect inspiration for our publicity flier - you can almost hear his music come off the page. Blues music told the rural story of oppression, hard work, broken hearts, misfortune, and struggle. Early blues musicians usually played guitar and harmonica. Some used percussion. The important thing was that the song told the story. Most songs were passed along orally; few were written down or recorded until the early 1900s. Songs that resembled the blues music we know today were played in the late 19th and early 20th century and some called them “ditties.” The exhibit explores the impact Louisiana bluesman had on the local, national and international music scene. In many cases, their music was far more appreciated in other countries than in the America. Nonetheless, the influence their music had on other genres was, and continues to be far reaching. Recording artists from Eric Clapton to Kurt Cobain often touted the inspiration of these gritty and soulful musicians on their own music. The exhibit, which was carefully researched and curated by Cliff Deal, opens on Thursday, February 22, 2018 at 6:30pm.
47th Annual Audubon Pilgrimage By Anne Butler
The forty-seventh annual Audubon Pilgrimage March 16, 17 and 18, 2018, celebrates a southern spring in St. Francisville, the glorious garden spot of Louisiana’s English Plantation Country. For nearly half a century the sponsoring West Feliciana Historical Society has thrown open the doors of significant historic structures to commemorate artist-naturalist John James Audubon’s stay as he painted a number of his famous bird studies and tutored the daughter of Oakley Plantation’s Pirrie family, beautiful young Eliza. A year’s worth of planning and preparation precedes each pilgrimage, and with 47 years of experience under their belt, society members put on one of the South’s most professional and enjoyable pilgrimage presentations. This year’s breath of fresh air comes from never-before-shown properties and enthusiastic new owners of old houses.One of this year’s featured country plantations is a remarkable house called Woodland, a story of unexpected twists and turns, intergenerational connections and a fascinating trip all the way across the Mighty Mississippi to the ancestral lands of the present owner in West Feliciana, a journey across hundreds of miles and two centuries. A grand Greek Revival house, Woodland was built in the mid-1800s on a sugar plantation near the steamboat town of Washington, but had been abandoned for years and was facing demolition when Cammie and David Norwood saved it. It took a year to prepare the old structure to be hauled circuitously along 375 miles of back roads and another several years to put it back together. Now the Woodland house has been returned to its original glory, filled with fine family furnishings and anchored to its pastoral site by well-planned landscaping, looking as if it has been there forever.Another country plantation home with a remarkable history is glorious Greek Revival Greenwood, which has enjoyed more than its fair share of miraculous resurrections. Its story began in 1798, when widowed Olivia Ruffin Barrow journeyed by covered wagon from North Carolina to Spanish Feliciana. One of her grandsons would elope with vivacious young Eliza Pirrie of Oakley Plantation, Audubon’s pupil. In 1830 Olivia’s son William Ruffin Barrow engaged prominent architect James Coulter to build a fine home on family property that would grow to 12,000 acres for the cultivation of cotton and sugarcane.Nearly 100 feet square, the Greenwood house was completely surrounded by 28 huge Doric columns of brick. Inside, a 70-foot central hallway was flanked by large rooms with 14-foot ceilings; a third-floor attic was topped by a rooftop belvedere from which Barrow could survey his fields and look out as far as the Mississippi River several miles away.The Civil War brought tragedy, but in 1915 Greenwood Plantation was purchased by Frank and Naomi Fisher Percy, who restored the house and opened it to the public. Featured in magazines, visited by adoring tourists and beloved by Hollywood, it was called by National Geographic the finest example of Greek Revival architecture in the South. And then on the night of August 1, 1960, tragedy struck again. Lightning started a fire; within three hours, there was nothing left but 28 Doric columns and some free-standing chimneys. In 1968 these tragic ruins touched the hearts of Walton Barnes and his son Richard, who purchased the house site and 278 acres and began the enormous effort of rebuilding as close to the original as possible. In July 2016, along came new owners Julie and Hal Pilcher, recently retired empty-nesters with the energy and enthusiasm to undertake significant improvements, furnishing the home with an interesting mixture of Barrow, Percy, Barnes and Hollywood pieces to ready it for its first pilgrimage appearance.An earlier country home also featured for the first time on the Audubon Pilgrimage this year is The Cedars, its design and first cash crop—tobacco—bespeaking the Virginia background of original owner Simon Hearty, for whom the property was surveyed beginning in 1790. The house was built between 1793 and 1795, and it was said that the artist John James Audubon sketched the birdlife on Cedars Lane and visited with the family there. After Thomas Butler purchased the property from his mother-in-law in 1879, his two daughters, Mamie and Sarah, who stayed in New Orleans after graduating from Newcomb, returned as spinsters to spend weekends in a house enlarged with two-story octagonal additions; subsequent owners, the Fred Kings, raised a family in a home they too improved.Today The Cedars is the home of a vibrant young family, the Andrew Grezaffis, who have filled it beautifully with an eclectic mixture of furnishings imparting the feel of having been lived in by generations of the same family, as all old homes should feel, although the Grezaffis and their five small children have been in residence only a few years.In historic downtown St. Francisville are a couple of featured cottages across from the parish courthouse. Miss Lise’s Cottage was originally built in Bayou Sara, the flood-prone port city on the banks of the Mississippi River. In the late 1800s it was hauled up the hill into St. Francisville, safe from the floodwaters, its two rooms home for the first “telephone girl” whose early switchboard was on the second floor of the nearby bank.Until recently a conveniently located attorney’s office, now it puts the WOW factor in this year’s pilgrimage and shows how adaptable these old structures can be in the right hands. The exterior facade retains the traditional Creole cottage character. but oh, that unexpected interior-- all black and white and simply stunning, showing what happens when you turn loose a gifted career architect and a frustrated designer of equal talent on a charming little historic cottage, where the juxtaposition of antique and contemporary is striking and a carefully curated collection of modern art strikes a happy balance with treasured family antiques.Some of the best-loved pieces descend from Jim Dart’s grandfather, an engineer and attorney whose law office next door to Miss Lise’s Cottage is now home to Kora, Grezaffi and Levasseur Capital Management (yes, the same Grezaffi whose home The Cedars is another pilgrimage feature). Built in 1842, it has housed such notable barristers as Uriah B. Phillips who was blown up in a mid-1800s steamboat explosion, and Louisiana’s last antebellum governor Robert C. Wickliffe.Besides these featured historic structures, pilgrimage visitors are welcomed at Afton Villa Gardens, Rosedown and Audubon State Historic Sites, three 19th-century churches in town and beautiful St. Mary’s in the country, as well as the Rural Homestead with lively demonstrations of the rustic skills of daily pioneer life. Audubon Market Hall hosts an impressive exhibit of more than sixty of Audubon’s Birds of America done in the Felicianas, Audubon State Historic Site features morning explorations of nature and birding programs, and this year the hills are alive with the sound of music, with varied special performances scheduled for each featured home and throughout historic downtown St. Francisville as a tribute to the late father of this year’s chairman. Daytime features are open 9:30 to 5, Sunday 11 to 4 for tour homes; Friday evening activities are scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m., Saturday soiree begins at 7 p.m.The Historic District around Royal Street is filled during the day with the happy sounds of costumed children singing and dancing the Maypole; in the evening as candles flicker and fireflies flit among the ancient moss-draped live oaks, there is no place more inviting for a leisurely stroll. Friday evening features old-time Hymn Singing at the United Methodist Church, Graveyard Tours at Grace Episcopal cemetery (last tour begins at 8:15 p.m.), and a wine and cheese reception at Bishop Jackson Hall (7 to 9 p.m.) featuring Vintage Dancers and young ladies modeling the pilgrimage’s exquisitely detailed 1820’s evening costumes, nationally recognized for their authenticity. Light UpThe Night, the Saturday evening soiree, features live music and dancing, dinner and drinks beginning at 7 p.m.For tickets and tour information, contact West Feliciana Historical Society, Box 338, St. Francisville, LA 70775; phone 225-635-6330 or 225-635-4224; online , email firstname.lastname@example.org. A package including daytime tours and all evening entertainment Friday and Saturday is available. Tickets can also be purchased at the Historical Society Museum on Ferdinand Street.
Audubon Pilgrimage Costume Workshop
Announcing 2018 Audubon PIlgrimage Chair - Willia Lemoine Parkerson
Willia Lemoine Parkerson, niece of West Feliciana HIstorical Society founding member and past chair, Lucille Leake, to lead the 2018 Audubon Pilgrimage.
St. Francisville, Louisiana
By ANNE BUTLER and NORMAN FERACHI- Situated where the rugged Tunica Hills skirt the Mississippi River, St. Francisville began as a part of Spanish West Florida in the early 1800s. The first settlers were adventurous Anglos who rebelled against Spain, established a short-lived independent republic, stopped the Civil War to bury a Union officer, and planted vast acres of indigo, cotton, and cane.In the 1900s, St. Francisville became the cultural and commercial center of the surrounding plantation country.Today, overlooking the river from atop a high, narrow ridge "two miles long and two yards wide," it remains the West Feliciana parish seat. Tourists visit its picturesque downtown, a lively Main Street Community and National Register Historic District.Antebellum plantations and gardens draw tourists year-round, and the unique hilly terrain provides unsurpassed recreational opportunities for hiking, bicycling, birding, hunting, and nature studies.Ever since John James Audubon painted dozens of birds in West Felicianain 1821, artists, writers, and other visitors have found inspiration in this scenic,unspoiled spot.In St. Francisville today, moss-draped live oaks overhang roadways and many of the early buildings have been restored in a downtown district that is listed in its entirety in the National Register of Historic Places.This is also a Main Street community participating in the National Trust program designed to encourage and support the preservation of significant commercial centers that were once the hearts and souls of early communities and the repositories of residents' collective memories. St. Francisville's downtown remains the viable center of life today, its mixture of commercial and residential structures giving it a 24-hour presence, with shops and art galleries, restaurants, town and parish government offices, a museum and tourist information center, bed-and-breakfasts, and beautiful old churches. These establishments stand side by side with beloved historic townhouses and little Victorian cottages dripping with ginger- bread trim, surrounded by well-tended gardens full of blossoming azaleas and camellias. While other strictly commercial downtown districts fold up the sidewalks once the businesses close for the day, here, as dusk falls, downtown is alive with dog-walkers and joggers and strollers conversing with neighbors across picket fences.No wonder St. Francisville has become a year-round tourist destination. In the surrounding countryside, there are a number of antebellum plantation homes and 19th-century gardens open for tours. The Tunica Hills offer unmatched recreational opportunities, including hiking, bicycling, hunting, and nature studies. TheLouisiana Office of State Parks has exciting plans for treetop interpretive centers and river bluff outlooks, maximizing environmentally safe enjoyment of this incredible area. The rugged terrain of the Tunica Hills is unique in the state, with steep ravines left from the Ice Age harboring flora and fauna found nowhere else in Louisiana. Also unique is the cyclical flooding along this, the only un-leveed stretch of the lower Mississippi River, where Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge preserves the country's largest bald cypress tree and harbors large seasonal populations of migratory water-fowl. Both migratory and resident birdlife remain as plentiful as in the 1820s, when the artist John James Audubon was spell-bound by the richness of the natural bounties: he painted dozens of his famous bird studies while tutoring the daughter of Oakley Plantation, one of several significant properties in the parish now preserved as state historic sites.The West Feliciana Historical Society for decades has instilled an appreciation for history and spearheaded preservation efforts. In the 1970s, the West Feliciana Historical Society began the Audubon Pilgrimage, a spring tour of historic homes and gardens with docents in authentic, award-winning 1820s costumes. This proved not only a means of sharing important treasures with visitors while raising funds for preservation projects, but also a way of instilling pride and an enduring sense of community in local residents. The Historical Society also was the catalyst for a separate foundation that works to restore the beautiful brick Julius Freyhan school building and adjacent Temple Sinai as community cultural centers in tribute to the early Jewish immigrants whose mercantile and financial acumen proved vital in this agrarian society's postwar economic recovery.Other special events throughout the year include festivals paying tribute to birds and glorious gardens, prison rodeos and craft shows, gatherings of regional artists and writers, and even a Civil War reenactment celebrating the universality of a Masonic brotherhood and a moment of civility in the midst of a bloody conflict.So, yes, Virginia, there is life in Louisiana outside of New Orleans and Cajun Country. Here in English Plantation Country, and in St. Francisville, where the population is still just under 2,000, residents revel in their uniqueness and welcome visitors to share an appreciation of it.