For More Details
For more information on Louisiana’s Happy Lands, contact the Feliciana Chamber of Commerce in Jackson at (225) 634-7155 or visit the Web site www.felicianatourism.org
West Feliciana Parish Tourist Commission, (225) 635-6330 or visit online, www.stfrancisville.org

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Louisiana's Happy Lands
Louisiana's Feliciana Parishes entice travelers with stately antebellum landmarks and lush gardens

A tour of Europe in 1828 gave the original owners of Rosedown ideas for creating formal gardens and plantings around the beautiful house, including azaleas, camellias and Oriental trees and shrubs. /Carolyn Thornton photo
By Carolyn Thornton
Published: May/Jun 2001


When the Spanish captured West Florida from the English in 1779 they named it “Feliciana,” or “Happy Land.” Located 30 minutes north of Baton Rouge, East and West Feliciana Parishes still live up to the name more than two centuries later, offering drivers lazy roads through a lush Louisiana landscape dotted with historic sites. Like coquettish maidens hiding behind fans of greenery, plantation homes welcome tours or bed-and-breakfast guests. Visitors get a glimpse of the lavish lifestyle experienced more than 150 years ago.
In Audubon’s footsteps

When he visited this area in 1821, artist-naturalist John James Audubon was so taken with the magnolias, holly, beech, yellow poplar and birds of St. Francisville that he sent his carriage driver ahead and walked the final five miles to his destination. The Pirrie family of Oakley Plantation hired Audubon to tutor their daughter, Eliza. Today, the tiny room where he stayed looks as if he has momentarily stepped away. A bureau desk holds a quill pen, eggs, bird’s nest and sketches that might have been collected while roaming the woods. Audubon only spent four months at Oakley Plantation, but it was long enough to complete 80 of his bird paintings.

The Audubon State Commemorative Area has hiking trails and a picnic pavilion in addition to the West Indian-influenced house. A detached kitchen and formal gardens represent the 19th-century residents’ desire to create formal beauty in the midst of wilderness. Two slave cabins are reminders of the laborers’ lifestyle. To get to the area from St. Francisville, take U.S. Highway 61 south to state Route 965 and follow the signs.

History walk

Maps, photographs and artifacts in the West Feliciana Historical Society Museum on Ferdinand Street suggest the rich history of St. Francisville. Take “A Walk through History” with a free, self-guided tour brochure. Stroll past houses crowned with a widow’s walk or gables and hear humming tugboats on the Mississippi River. Shrouds of Spanish moss drift like tattered curtains from ancient live oaks in the churchyard of Grace Episcopal Church. The hill of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church overlooks a small pedestrian park where the town of Bayou Sara once thrived. Sidewalks and rocking chairs on porches testify to St. Francisville’s neighborliness.

Several buildings in St. Francisville have been used in multiple ways. Lucy Audubon shopped at a store on the first floor of a graceful home, Propinquity, now a private residence. According to legend, bodies were held prior to burial in the Printer’s Cottage, now an adjunct to the Barrow House B&B. Antique buttons dating to the 1760s line the vault of a Romanesque bank building, now used as Grandmother’s Buttons gift shop. Audubon Hall, restored to its 1819 appearance, has served the town as an open-air market, Masonic Lodge, theater, library and town hall.

The fertile soil of the Felicianas grew cotton, indigo and tobacco, turning 19th-century planters into millionaires. In spite of remote locations, they designed plantation mansions with multiple bedrooms to accommodate large families and traveling guests. Today’s visitors are still being entertained in these elaborately detailed ballrooms and parlors.

Ghostly guests

A bedroom in the Myrtles mansion, a portion of which was built in 1796. The bed-and-breakfast inn is said to be one of America’s most haunted houses (above). A statue in the 28 acres of gardens that surround Rosedown mansion (below). /Louisiana Office of Tourism photos
A portion of the Myrtles was built around 1796, making it one of the oldest homes in the area. Home to bed-and-breakfast guests, the Myrtles is said to be America’s most haunted house. Some say ghostly occurrences are seasonal. Guests have reported hearing the swish of ball gowns and ethereal music in the spring and fall. A chip in the marble mantle of the gentleman’s parlor resulted from bullets that killed the plantation’s tutor during the Civil War. Reportedly, the eyes of a portrait follow viewers as they cross the room.

Farther along U.S. Highway 61, Afton Villa Gardens blooms amid the ruins of a villa that burned in 1963. Stairways lead nowhere, and moss-covered bricks serve as a backdrop for seasonal plantings. A boxwood maze shelters roses, and tangled beards of Spanish moss shade statuary. In spring, the grounds burst into life with azaleas and daffodils.

Ancestral anecdotes

Across the highway, Catalpa stands at the end of the only elliptical live oak avenue in Louisiana. The great-great-granddaughter of Eliza Pirrie has furnished the home with family heirlooms from four generations. This tour is one of the most personal of home tours. A short distance north, The Cottage hosted Andrew Jackson on his return home from the Battle of New Orleans. Today, the home is a bed-and-breakfast.

Backtrack on U.S. Highway 61 south to state Route 66 and follow the signs to Greenwood Plantation, a grand Greek Revival replica of the original mansion, which burned in 1960 during a lightning storm. The reconstruction was a 16-year labor of love using clues from photographs, family memories and even a movie that had been filmed there.

Returning south to St. Francisville, follow state Route 10 east. The entrance to Rosedown is located at this junction. A tour of Europe in 1828 gave the original owners ideas for creating formal gardens and plantings on 28 acres near the house. Diaries by owner Martha Turnbull allow present-day visitors to enjoy the gardens as she envisioned them, with an oak alley planted around 1835 and azaleas, camellias and imported Oriental trees and shrubs.

Republic of West Florida

Jackson (about 20 miles east) was renamed to honor Andrew Jackson, who camped with his troops nearby. Its original name, Bear Corners, is still used in a downtown restaurant. Several locations supply tourist information and free brochures to identify landmarks. More than 100 are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The Old Bank Building,” Milbank, now welcomes bed-and-breakfast guests. Centenary College dates from 1825. The tiny 1816 Feliciana Courthouse has been a residence. And the silver-domed town hall was a bank.

Additionally, Jackson offers several surprises with weekend steam train rides on the Old Hickory Railroad. Located behind the Republic of West Florida Museum, Old Hickory Village includes a cane mill, a resident sculptor, exhibits and the depot. The train runs through town, passing the tasting room of the Feliciana Cellars Winery and Vineyards. The mission style building is one more reminder of the area’s Spanish heritage in this “Happy Land.”

Carolyn Thornton is a contributor from Purvis, Miss.

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