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The grand front entrance of the Rosedown Plantation, which is part of the Louisiana State Park system. Photso by Kelly Westhoff except as noted.
The grand front entrance of the Rosedown Plantation, which is part of the Louisiana State Park system. Photo by Kelly Westhoff.

St. Francisville, Louisiana:  Spanish Moss and Southern Hospitality

I’m a Yankee girl, born and raised in the Upper Midwest. Images of the Deep South were not relevant to my girlhood mind. I thought about plantation living and the Civil War only when somebody put the concepts directly before me.

There was one Thanksgiving break, in fact, when my mother rented the movie version of Gone With the Wind. She plopped the two-tape video on the kitchen counter, announcing that we (as in she and I) would be watching it after the holiday meal while my dad and brother occupied themselves with football games.

I’m pretty sure I groaned. I probably even rolled my eyes. I was, after all, in middle school. And yet, despite my very own adolescent theatrics, I got all swept up in the drama of Scarlett O’Hara. So much so, that when I was in college, I actually choose, of my own free will, to read the book in my sparse down time.

But that was (gasp!) fifteen years ago, and truth be told, outside of that brief foray into the land of Tara as a coed, I’ve put about as much thought into plantation living during my adult years as I did during my childhood.  

However, when the opportunity arose for me to take a road trip through rural Louisiana touring plantation homes, I paused only briefly before getting on board. And it wasn’t long, once I’d arrived, until I was all caught up in dreams of belles and balls.   

Get your wheels on

In June, the crape myrtle trees are in full bloom throughout St. Francisville and its surrounding plantation homes.
In June, the crape myrtle trees are in full bloom throughout St. Francisville and its surrounding plantation homes.

I headed to West Feliciana Parish and the town of St. Francisville, which is about half an hour north of Baton Rouge. I made my way there from New Orleans, however, and spent about two hours in the car.

Frankly, there’s just no way around renting a car if you want to tour the plantation homes of St. Francisville. By their very definition, plantation homes are surrounded by acres and acres of land, which necessitate the wheels.

But the scenery is pretty — all lush and alive — and for the passenger, it’s almost hypnotic to simply stare out the car window. You quickly loose all sense of time in the passing green.

Ante-bella what?

Pick up any sort of tourism material about St. Francisville and you’re likely to encounter the word “antebellum.” It’s liberally used and tagged to just about everything from homes to gardens to oak trees.

But this Yankee chic had never seen the word before. A check of the dictionary confirmed what I suspected: “Antebellum” describes something that existed before a war, particularly the American Civil War. 

The cemetery of St. Francisville's Grace Episcopal Church feels ancient, sacred and silent.
The cemetery of St. Francisville's Grace Episcopal Church feels ancient, sacred and silent.

The history of St. Francisville and its surrounding area, however, stretches back even further than slavery. This part of Louisiana was controlled by the Spanish, not the French. This territory, therefore, was not included in the Louisiana Purchase.

In order to populate the area, the Spanish crown gave away massive land grants. British settlers took advantage of those deals and established St. Francisville. To this day, the town retains an aura of the English countryside. Manicured gardens are kept and prized. In fact, the town hosts a “garden symposium” each October.

Plus, the local Episcopal congregation is still an active force in town. The historic Grace Church also maintains a large cemetery filled with lichen-covered headstones and broad-trunked trees.

Distinctly Southern

Spanish moss drips from a massive oak outside the entrance to the St. Francisville Public Library.
Spanish moss drips from a massive oak outside the entrance to the St. Francisville Public Library.

Despite its English roots, St. Francisville oozes Southern charm. One of the first things you’ll notice as your car pulls into town is the Spanish Moss. It drips from nearly every tree and shrub around. 

If you’ve never seen it before, which as a Yankee girl I hadn’t outside of movies, the moss is almost eerie. It’s harmless, however, to humans and trees alike. And the longer I spent in St. Francisville, the more I stared to believe that it was the moss, with its dingy gray color, that was responsible for the hush in the air. It seemed to filter the sun’s brightest rays and everything in its presence felt soft and shadowed. 

Yes ma’am

In keeping with the classic notion of Southern hospitality, hardly any time had passed before a local youngster called me ma’am.

“Ma’am?!” I jumped when I heard the word. “Did you just call me ma’am?” I was only 35! Where I came from, that didn’t qualify as ma’am.

“Yes ma’am,” repeated the youth, his cheeks flushing. Why really, he wasn’t that much younger than me! He was a clean-cut cutie, that’s for sure. But he was also a restaurant manager with a college degree. 

“I’m not old enough to be called ma’am,” I instructed, in what I thought was a playful tone.

“I’m just trying to do as my mama said,” he stammered. “She’d be real unhappy if I wasn’t polite.”

John James Audubon lived and worked as a tutor in the Oakley House. Today, the home is part of Louisiana's state park system. Tour it by visiting the Audubon State Historic Site. Submitted photo. Photo courtesy of West Feliciana Parish tourism.
John James Audubon lived and worked as a tutor in the Oakley House. Today, the home is part of Louisiana's state park system. Tour it by visiting the Audubon State Historic Site. Submitted photo. Courtesy of West Feliciana Parish tourism.

I backed off. He hadn’t meant the word as an insult, and as I saw him fluster and blush I realized that I had just insulted him by insinuating that his word choice had offended me. Apparently, I needed to learn some Southern charm.

Audubon Slept Here

And of course, the surrounding plantation estates also contribute to the southern-ness of St. Francisville. One of the plantation homes I visited in the area was Oakley House. It was not what I expected.

I expected white columns and wide verandas, and while the main home did deliver in both respects, it did not fit my Gone With the Wind stereotype. Instead, the home’s architecture has a Caribbean vibe, stemming from the original owner’s years spent living in the West Indies.   

Architecture isn’t the only thing that separates Oakley House from other plantation homes. It also has the distinction of being a state park. This is because John James Audubon, the founding father of modern bird watching, spent time living and working on the plantation.

If you're lucky, Gus the Turkey will accompany you on a tour of the Oakley House and gardens in Audubon State Historic Site.
If you're lucky, Gus the Turkey will accompany you on a tour of the Oakley House and gardens in Audubon State Historic Site.

Audubon was hired as a tutor for one of the family’s daughters, but when he wasn’t schooling the girl in letters, he was tromping through the nearby woods spotting and drawing birds. He finished roughly 80 paintings while living here.

Even though he only spent a small amount of time at Oakley House, Audubon’s spirit lingers. The state park that includes the plantation is officially called the Audubon State Historic Site. 

And Gus, an overly-friendly turkey, greets tourists to the plantation home. So eager to make your acquaintance is he that he’s liable to chase you all the way to the bathroom door.     

Plus, each March, St. Francisville hosts the Audubon Pilgrimage, an event that includes plantation and garden tours, wine tastings and live music. There is also a hummingbird festival each July.

Finding Tara

But I did, finally, find my Tara at the Rosedown Plantation. After a short and winding walk down a flourishing garden path, I found myself standing at the base of the grand front entrance to the main home.

The author poses on the second-story porch of the Rosedown Plantation home with the front gardens in the background.
The author poses on the second-story porch of the Rosedown Plantation home with the front gardens in the background.

The massive, knotted, bulky trunks of arching oaks planted over a hundred years ago swept me back to the era of Southern belles, and for a moment, just a moment, I wished that I were one.

 

Plantation homes in the vicinity of St. Francisville:

[Many of these plantation homes are closed to tourists on major holidays. If touring over a holiday, call ahead.]

Rosedown Plantation
12501 Highway 10; St. Francisville, LA 70775; 225-635-3332
Open daily 9 am – 5 pm
Today, the Rosedown Plantation home and grounds are part of the Louisiana State Park system. A park ranger will take you on a tour of the gardens and main house, pointing out significant trees, flowers, statues and filling you in on the property’s past.

Make sure you keep your ears open when climbing the grand staircase inside the plantation home. You won’t hear nary a squeak or creek even though it’s well over a hundred years old.  

Approaching the main house at Butler Greenwood Plantation. Photo by Henry Cancienne.
Approaching the main house at Butler Greenwood Plantation. Photo by Henry Cancienne.

Oakley House
11788 Highway 965; St. Francisville, LA 70775; 225-635-3739
Open daily 9 am – 5 pm
The Oakley House isn’t a typical plantation home. First of all, it lacks the white columns and classic Greek temple look that so many associate with the era.

Secondly, the home is famous for one of its servants and not for its owners. James Audubon served as a tutor in this house. While living here, he completed about 80 of his bird sketches. Because of this, the Oakley House is part of the Louisiana State Park system and is known as the Audubon State Historic Site. 

Butler Greenwood Plantation
8345 US Highway 61; St. Francisville, LA 70775; 225-635-6312
Open daily for tours 9 am – 5 pm
This plantation has been owned and operated by the same family since it was first constructed in the 1790s. Because of this, it boasts artifacts other area plantation homes can’t offer, like a tour narrated by a family descendant, portraits, clothing, dining ware and original furniture. Linger in the Victorian parlor and stroll through the extensive, formal gardens.

Spanish moss and blooming shrubs soften and hush the front porch of the Butler Greenwood plantation home. Photo by Henry Cancienne.
Spanish moss and blooming shrubs soften and hush the front porch of the Butler Greenwood plantation home. Photo by Henry Cancienne.

Greenwood Plantation
6838 Highland Road; St. Francisville, LA 70775; 225-655-4475
Open daily for tours in spring and summer 9 am – 5 pm; winter 10 am – 4 pm
Featured in movies and miniseries, the main house of Greenwood Plantation is stately and commanding. It has also been fully restored and decorated in epoch-appropriate furnishings after a fire.

The surrounding fields are still in use, although greatly reduced in acreage. Nearby ancient live oaks lend the grounds an air of calm and charm frequently sought by brides.

The Myrtles Plantation
7747 U.S. Highway 61 N.; St. Francisville, LA 70775; 225-635-6277
Open daily for tours 9 am – 5 pm; Fri. & Sat. evenings 6 pm – 9 pm
Touting itself as “one of the most haunted homes in America,” you’ll surely want to schedule a stop at The Myrtles Plantation. The main house is over 200 years old! Plus, if it happens to be a Friday or Saturday, you can opt for the “mystery tour.” There is a full-service restaurant on site so that you can easily make a night of it.

Cottage Plantation
10528 Cottage Ln.; St. Fancisville, LA 70775; 225-635-3674
Open daily for tours 10 am – 4 pm
If you’re a history buff, you’ll want to schedule a stop at Cottage Plantation; the first owner received the land as part of a Spanish land grant in 1795. While the plantation ownership has changed, the acreage has never been split up or sold off, which means the original land grant is still in tact. Tour the main house and several original outer structures.

In the 1800s, when most of St. Francisville's plantations were built, kitchens were deemed too dangerous to house inside the main home. This old kitchen is still standing on the grounds of the Butler Greenwood Plantation. Today it is a B&B cottage. Photo by Henry Cancienne.
In the 1800s, when most of St. Francisville's plantations were built, kitchens were deemed too dangerous to house inside the main home. This old kitchen is still standing on the grounds of the Butler Greenwood Plantation. Today it is a B&B cottage. Photo by Henry Cancienne.

Stay in town:

St. Francisville doesn’t boast a quaint central plaza with straight grid streets. Its roads are winding and leafy and its businesses are pretty scattered. Still, traffic is light and it’s a pleasant place to be. If you want to stay in town, here are some options.

3-V Tourist Court
No web site available
5689 Commence St., St. Francisville, LA 70775; 225-635-5540
Seeking a throw back in time? Reserve one of the tiny cabins at the 3-V. You’ll fall in love with your quarters and might not ever check out. You’ll get a bed, a kitchenette and a bathroom all within your own four snug, cozy walls.

You can practically hop to the Magnolia, a happening social hot spot. And in the morning, you’ll wake to the sound of crunching gravel. The 3-V shares a parking lot with the hottest coffee shop in town.

St. Francisville Inn
5720 Commerce St.; St. Francisville, LA 70775; 225-635-6502
This bed and breakfast is located inside a resorted, historic home in the center of St. Francisville. The private garden includes plenty of shade and a pool for guest use. The front sitting rooms and front porch are open to the public for cocktails and wine. The buffet breakfast is also open to the public.

Shadetree Inn
9704 Royal St.; St. Francisville, LA 70775; 225-635-6116
If you’re looking for solitude, the Shadetree Inn is a good bet. With only three B & B rooms, it’s guaranteed you won’t be overrun by other tourists. From its hilltop perch, you can pass the afternoon staring at the tree tops sloping into the distance, yet you’re still close enough to town to take a walk and explore.  

The front porch of the St. Francisville Inn is a perfect place to unwind with a glass of wine at the end of a sightseeing day.
The front porch of the St. Francisville Inn is a perfect place to unwind with a glass of wine at the end of a sightseeing day.

Stay out of town:

If you’re looking for a place to park your RV, head for the Green Acres Campground.

If you want to stay in a hotel with a recognizable name, there is a Best Western. The St. Francisville version, however, doesn’t resemble the typical airport or highway variety. It sits on sprawling grounds and a lake. 225-635-3821

If you want your stay to include a round of golf, check into a room at The Bluffs Country Club.

If you want the plantation tour theme to carry over into your night’s stay, there are several B & B options hosted on plantation grounds.

Butler Greenwood Plantation Bed and Breakfast
8345 US Highway 61; St. Francisville, LA 70775; 225-635-6312
Looking for privacy? Rent one of the eight cottages scattered about the grounds of the Butler Greenwood Plantation, which is still owned and operated by the original family. Some of the cottages are historic, others are new construction. All are luxurious.

Lush green gardens, tree tops and lawns abound in St. Francisville.
Lush green gardens, tree tops and lawns abound in St. Francisville.

Greenwood Plantation Bed and Breakfast
6838 Highland Road; St. Francisville, LA 70775; 225-655-4475
The rooms at Greenwood Plantation are removed from the main home and its tourist and located instead in newly constructed buildings clustered together with pond views. The breakfast is guaranteed to be hearty.     
 
The Myrtles Plantation Bed and Breakfast
7747 U.S. Highway 61 N.; St. Francisville, LA 70775; 225-635-6277
If you’re brave, perhaps you’ll take a room at The Myrtles Plantation, which claims to be one of America’s most haunted houses. If you do stay the night, you’ll get a full tour of the plantation home and breakfast the next morning.  

Cottage Plantation Bed and Breakfast
10528 Cottage Ln.; St. Fancisville, LA 70775; 225-635-3674
It’s such a chore to get out of bed and get dressed in order to go and get a cup of coffee. If you take a room at the Cottage, however, the wait staff will bring your morning coffee straight to you. Once you’re fully caffeinated, you can go for dip in the pool. 

For More Information

St. Francisville is located in West Feliciana Parish. The tourist commission’s web site is comprehensive and well-maintained. It lists hotels, restaurants, attractions and more. www.stfrancisville.us

St. Francisville may be a quiet, country town, but it knows how to throw a party. Its annual calendar is littered with all types of festivals. There are events for gardeners, hummingbird enthusiasts and musicians. The St. Francisville Festivals web site provides all sorts of details. www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com
 

 

Kelly Westhoff

 

 

 Kelly Westhoff is a traveler, teacher and writer from Minneapolis. See more of her work at kellywesthoff.com.

 

 

 

 

A door and flowers in Mexico Visit our Kelly Westhoff Page with links to all her stories

 

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