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Nov/Dec 2012 Issue

Country Christmas

Holiday celebrations in St. Francisville, La.,
offer a sleighful of treats for visitors.
By Elaine Warner

First claimed by the French, ceded to the English, and seized by Spain, the area around St. Francisville, La., has flown many flags. Settlers, mainly of English heritage, chafed under Spanish domination and revolted twice. The second rebellion (1810) was successful, creating the independent Republic of West Florida with its capital in St. Francisville. Annexed by the United States 74 days later, it became part of the state upon Louisiana’s admission to the Union in 1812.

Santa on porch

Above: Santa talking to a boy about his wish list on the porch of Rosedown Plantation. Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism photo

Below: The stately main house on the Butler Greenwood Plantation framed by Spanish moss. Elaine Warner photo

plantation

While its history may be a bit fragmented, today’s visitor to West Feliciana Parish near Baton Rouge will enjoy a charming getaway that combines beautiful plantations, inns, gardens, and year-round events.

Southern holiday traditions

The hardy English settlers cleared woodlands to plant vast fields of cotton, indigo, and sugar. As they prospered, they built beautiful country homes that today attract many visitors to the area.

Meanwhile, St. Francisville, perched on a bluff above the Mississippi River, developed into a center of religious and commercial activity. Today, the town boasts a large collection of 19th-century buildings, many of which are in a designated historical district and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

During the holiday season, St. Francisville glimmers with approximately 1 million lights. Historical buildings feature facades trimmed with tiny white bulbs, while the gingerbread embellishments on cozy cottages sparkle like raindrop-spangled cobwebs.

The town’s traditional holiday celebration, Christmas in the Country, runs from Nov. 30–Dec. 2. Activities include a tree lighting ceremony, children’s choirs, fireworks, and a concert by the Baton Rouge Symphony on Friday night.

Saturday starts with breakfast and photos with Santa, music, crafts, and food vendors. The highlight is a Christmas parade with marching bands, floats, and St. Nicholas, who rides in an elegant sleigh pulled by sleigh-bell-bedecked Percherons. That evening, the fun goes on with a community sing-along and a live nativity scene. The weekend winds down on Sunday with a tour of homes.

Plethora of Plantations

West Feliciana Parish is paradise for plantation lovers. Many are open for regularly scheduled tours, but seasonal decorations and activities make them even more special.

A Pennsylvania doctor with a Spanish land grant started the Butler Greenwood Plantation in the 1790s. Today, the property remains in the family. Located on U.S. Highway 61, the English cottage-style house, embellished with Victorian details that were later added, is surrounded by towering centuries-old live oaks and more than 150 camellia bushes.

“For Christmas,” owner Anne Butler says, “we use lots of natural materials just as they would have done in the past. This includes evergreen wreaths and a 12-foot tree–usually a Leyland cypress.”

She often trims the tree with bird ornaments–another nod to nature and to the Audubon heritage of the area. Bed-and-breakfast facilities at Butler Greenwood include the historical 1796 kitchen and several other cottages.

The Cottage Plantation, too, originated with a land grant. The original portion of the house dates to the late 1700s. A number of late 18th- and early 19th-century items– including the parlor wallpaper with 14-karat gold leaf and an 1810 secretary desk–still grace the home.

The plantation, located on Highway 61, has all its original outbuildings that give visitors a better idea of antebellum plantation life. The Cottage Plantation also offers B&B accommodations.

Owner Mary Brown says, “For the holidays, we always have a tree in the dining room, although that would not have been typical in the 1790s, and we decorate with real greenery.” She also adds a Christmas touch to her traditional Southern breakfasts.

The 1830 Greek Revival mansion at Greenwood Plantation, with its two-story Doric columns and a wrap-around porch, looks like everyone’s idea of a plantation home. It is located on Highland Road just off Louisiana Highway 66. Taking a more modern approach to holiday decorating, owner Carolyn Barnes’ décor includes her collection of 300 Santa Claus figures and a 12-foot cedar tree cut from the property.

The 1796 Myrtles Plantation on Highway 61 goes the historical route with evergreen and magnolia leaf garlands and wreaths. The house underwent additions and renovations and is now restored to its 1850 appearance. Open for daily historical tours and weekend mystery tours, the Myrtles is said to host a dozen ghosts.

Oakley Plantation, which dates to 1806, is the centerpiece of the Audubon State Historic Site off Highway 61 on state Route 965. Artist and naturalist John James Audubon served as a tutor here in 1821. Even after his tenure as a teacher ended, Audubon spent time in the area working on his bird studies.

The emphasis at this home is on the Federal Period (1803–24), and this is where you’ll learn more about the 1810 West Florida Rebellion. On Dec. 1, Oakley Plantation hosts a Colonial Christmas event and welcomes the community with candlelight tours, costumed interpreters, period music, decorations, and hot wassail.

The 1835 main house at Rosedown Plantation on state Route 10 at the end of an allée of moss-draped oaks is surrounded by grand gardens. During December, the house is decorated in 19th-century style with greenery, fruit, nuts, and red ribbons. A tabletop tree reflects the custom introduced in England by Queen Victoria in the mid-1800s.

On Dec. 15 and 16, the Christmas at Rosedown event includes period musicians and dancers, hayrides, Santa, and quilting demonstrations. Interpreters will be dressed in period attire.

Necessities and Niceties

St. Francisville offers a variety of accommodations in addition to those mentioned above. The lovely Lake Rosemound Inn B&B (AAA Two Diamonds) once was the clubhouse for a private development on the lake. The Best Western St. Francisville on Highway 61 offers AAA discounts. Perhaps the funkiest spot in town is the 3V Tourist Court, a classic 1930s motor court listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Bluffs Country Club and Resort provides upscale accommodations, access to an 18-hole Arnold Palmer golf course, and a restaurant called the 19th Hole. The Carriage House at The Myrtles is another favorite for fine dining. For live music, check out the Magnolia Café next to the 3V Tourist Court.

St. Francisville is a popular spot to visit in any season, but during the holidays, its charm really shines as bright as any Christmas tree’s trimming.

Elaine Warner is a contributor from Edmond, Okla.

Jefferson, Texas

BEFORE YOU GO

For more details, contact the West Feliciana Parish Tourist Commission, (800) 789-4221, www.stfrancisville.us.

To visit St. Francisville, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Louisiana through the Free Travel Information Card, found online.


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