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Archive for the ‘Louisana’ Category

It seems every cross-country trip I make, I end up finding one particular town, usually by accident, that just wins me over. This time that town was St. Francisville, Louisiana.

I came into this hamlet, which hovers on a bluff above the Mississippi River, by complete chance. I’d taken some back roads north out of Breaux Bridge, then east out of…well, I don’t even know where – some gas station/café/convenience store on a four-way-stop corner, surrounded by farms and fields. Here I was given home-spun directions: go a ways down this road, pass the bridge, turn left, keep going past the red farmhouse until the road comes to a “T”, turn left again, go about ten miles, up a hill, down a hill, and then you’ll come to the river. And sure enough, I did, in the town of New Roads.

Now, I meant to stop and explore at this point, but somehow missed the center of town and ended up in line for a ferry.

Well, why not? It wasn’t dark yet, I needed to continue east anyway, which is where the ferry was headed. So I waited in the short line and drove right on, probably seeming like I knew what I was doing. There were a couple employees aboard, though no one ever came around to collect a fee. Maybe this was a free direction, with payment always taken the other way? (We do this in San Francisco, so that was my guess).

Anyway, it was in this manner that I found myself in St. Francisville, which just somehow struck me as a very cool place to look around. I would find out after some nosing around that St. Francisville was originally a burial ground for the Spanish Capuchin monks across the river, who chose the high bluffs, safe from floodwaters, for their graveyard and named it after their patron, St. Francis.

A different town, now essentially vanished, existed below the bluffs. Bayou Sara was a busy town during the mid-1800’s, at one time having the fame of being the largest port between New Orleans and Natchez. Between fires, floods, The Civil War and other factors, this town basically disappeared, while St. Francisville grew and flourished.

I found this information at the West Feliciana Historical Society, a visitor center not far from the ferry landing. I picked up some brochures for my ever-growing collection, talked to the helpful woman at the front desk and looked around at displays of local culture and history. I then went out to explore the town.

I started off in meager adherence to a printed walking tour of historic buildings, but lost track of that when I stumbled upon Grandmother’s Buttons, a gift shop and antique button museum housed in the town’s old bank building. Not only was the architecture of the building wonderful, but the selection of merchandise diverse and the museum itself, located in the old bank vault, fascinating. I guess it seems logical that buttons would vary in shape and size over the years, but lined up on the walls in displays really showed off the variety. I was torn between the museum display and browsing the shop areas and finally came upon a case of original jewelry pieces, made with bits and pieces of old buttons and findings. It turns out they have a factory upstairs and produce these themselves. Some of these creations can be seen on their website.

From there I headed over to a cluster of buildings in the center of town, just past the town’s one and only stop sign. Here, toward the back of the parking lot, I found Birdman Coffee and Books. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be the catch that drew me into the town to linger.

Birdman has been open for a little over a year it turns out, and is run by Lynn Wood and her husband. They make a mean vanilla latte and the best homemade nutmeg tea cakes I’ve ever tasted. I was instantly addicted, as well as drawn in by Lynn’s warm, welcoming demeanor. They carry new and used books and showcase paintings by Lynn, pottery by her husband and exquisite carved birds by her father. I was especially taken by a painting of a wonderfully plush yellow chair surrounded by soothing blues, a creation of Lynn’s and used for her logo.

In summer months they serve homemade ice cream, a special contribution by Lynn’s husband. Since I happened upon this cozy establishment during winter months, it wasn’t available to taste, but I was told the fresh peach version was delicious. They’ll be making it again in the spring.

I lingered a long time at Birdman Coffee and Books, even walking next door with Lynn to take a look at The Backwoods Gallery and meet the owner. From there we wandered over to the office of the area’s local monthly magazine for a chat with the editor, ending up back at Birdman again. It was just one of those places that felt magically like “home”, so I decided to spend the night.

No, not at Birdman, though I would have gladly done so. With Lynn’s help, I found a very cool place just down the road.

Now, I’m not the first person to stumble into this town and not want to leave. The wide selection of inns and bed and breakfast establishments is proof of that. I was tempted by some 1920-30’s era cottages on the same property as Birdman, which look very plain and funky on the outside, but are absolutely wonderful inside. But they don’t have phones (plus they may be changing to monthly rentals, so I can’t be sure of being able to recommend them as overnight lodging) so Lynn suggested I might try the St. Francisville Inn, across the street and about a half a block down.

It was an excellent suggestion. Housed in an 1880 Victorian Gothic house known as the Wolf-Schlesinger House and furnished with period antiques, they offered phones in extremely spacious rooms and even clued me in that there was local access through Baton Rouge.

I checked in, checked email and then checked out the Magnolia Café, back across the street in (of course) the same complex as Birdman. Continuing my tradition of eating my way across the country, I relaxed into a small, corner booth and inhaled a Stir-Fry Chicken sandwich, served on a “Po-Boy” roll and smothered in veggies, pepper cheese and honey-mustard. It was delicious.

The Magnolia Café (which turns out to be owned by Lynn’s sister) is a very fun place, straight out of a movie, right down to the black and white linoleum tiles. The walls are painted a brick/watermelon color (ceiling fans painted to match) and display a variety of metal art and stained glass. One sturdy vase held an arrangement of huge, green tropical leaves. I see from my notes that at least one beehive hairdo passed by my table.

Breakfast at the inn was just as delicious as dinner had been, a full buffet of hot dishes, fresh fruit, delicious, crunchy fried potatoes and assorted muffins, served in the main house. (My room was in a quiet upstairs location in a back building). A giant pig chef statue was a centerpiece. I thought it was adorable, but I do seem to have a thing about pigs, don’t I?

After endless sunny days while crossing other states, I did wake up here to pouring rain. It was the first weather challenge I’d faced since leaving Los Angeles. It was very, VERY tempting to stay an extra night, but I managed to drag myself out..

There are a gazillion reasons to return to this town, from the many plantations in the area to the Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge to the Audubon State Historic Site. John James Audubon loved this area, painting 80 of his folios here. In his memory, the 32nd Annual Audubon Pilgrimage will be held March 21-23 of this year.

Of course, a visit to Birdman for another latte and a few more of Lynn’s tea cakes is enough to lure me back. I think it’s safe to say you’ll see me here again.

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