Audubon Pilgrimage 2019
The forty-eighth annual Audubon Pilgrimage March 15, 16 and 17, 2019, 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 48 years of experience under their belt, society members put on one of the South’s most professional and enjoyable pilgrimage presentations.
Featured this year are three historic plantation homes in the countryside and two townhouses, plus lots of extras.
Sunnyside, built in 1838 in Pointe Coupee Parish, was disassembled, trucked across the Mississippi River bridge in 1997, then meticulously reassembled on the Tunica Trace, retaining its original footprint. A fine example of vernacular architecture, its bluffland design is eminently suite to the historic Weyanoke community and its period landscaping anchors house to site as if it’s been there for centuries. Historian David Floyd and wife Marla have raised two children there.
Laurel Hill Plantation was purchased in the 1830s by Judge Edward McGehee, founder of the early standard-gauge West Feliciana Railroad that hauled cotton through this plantation country to the Mississippi River port at Bayou Sara. In the 1870s daughter Caroline and her husband Duncan Stewart enlarged the original small Carolina-I structure to accommodate their growing family. Beautifully restored, it is now the property of Jimmy and Mary Farrar Hatchette.
Puente Largo, built in the 1850s in Tangipahoa Parish and moved to West Feliciana in 1997, is a harndsome raised Creole cottage with four large rooms and spacious hallway on the upper premier etage, above what had been an unfinished ground-floor storage for wagons and buggies but is now closed in. Broad front stairs access the upper gallery. Used as a field hospital during the Civil War, Puente Largo has been beautifully furnished and landscaped by owners Mike and Krista Dumas.
In St. Francisville’s downtown National Register-listed Historic District is the Brasseaux House, quintessentially charming cottage complete with Victorian gallery trim, picket fence and climbing roses. It was built in 1895 by Albert Sydney Brasseaux, who was named for his father’s commanding general in the Civil War. Its architectural style is called southern dogtrot, and its extensive sloping back yard shows why St. Francisville is called the little town that’s two miles long and two yards wide. It is not home to a vibrant young family, the Magruder Hazlips.
And then there’s the Coffin House, tiny stepped-roof structure built around 1903 right on St. Francisville’s main thoroughfare, proving history is nothing if not dynamic and showing the amazing adaptability of even the most unassuming of historic structures. Previously used for strictly utilitarian purposes including the storage of coffins, it is now a delightfully cozy pied-a-terre for visiting doting grandparents, Don and Harriet Ayres.
In addition to the featured homes, pilgrimage visitors are also welcomed to Afton Villa Gardens, Audubon (Oakley) and Rosedown State Historic Sites, three 19th-century churches and Temple Sinai in town and beautiful St. John’s and St. Mary’s in the country, plus the Rural Homestead with lively demonstrations of the rustic skills of daily pioneer life.
Audubon Market Hall hosts an exhibit of the works of the late Charles Reinike (1906-1983), one of New Orleans’ most respected landscape artists. Passionately in love with South Louisiana from New Orleans through the wetlands and the hills of rural plantation country, Reinike opened an art school in the French Quarter in the 1930s and brought his students to summer art camp on property he owned in West Feliciana, where his daughter lives today. Reinike’s paintings are nostalgic but not saccharine, his son Charles III explains; “he liked the grittier side of things...depicting rural Louisiana and chronicling the early African-American cabins and lifestyle for their honesty and simplicity, as well as the residential and industrial scenes of New Orleans and the Mississippi River, and the beauty of the bayous and shrimp boats.”
Daytime features are open 9:30 to 5; 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 (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 Up The 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 www.westfelicianahistory.org. New this year is a package including daytime tours, all evening entertainment Friday and Saturday, and a Saturday picnic lunch. Tickets can be purchased at the Historical Society Museum on Ferdinand Street. For information on St. Francisville overnight accommodations, shops, restaurants, and recreation in the Tunica Hills, see www.stfrancisville.us, www.stfrancisville.net, or www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com