From Peaceful Pines RV Park – St. Francisville, LA
Today we visited the West Feliciana Historical Society Museum which is housed in a restored 1895 hardware store located in the historical district of St. Francisville. For those wondering as I did, West Feliciana is a portion of the once larger Feliciana Parish formed in 1810 and then divided into East Feliciana and West Feliciana Parishes in 1824. Today St. Francisville is the only incorporated city in West Feliciana Parish and as such is the seat of government for the parish. For a small bit of history leading up to the division of the parish into East and West I offer the following.
In 1763, at the end of the French and Indian War, Spain ceded Florida to England and France ceded Louisiana to Spain. The area that is now East and West Feliciana were claimed by England as part of the Florida Territory and this is how this area of Louisiana became known as West Florida.
However this area known as West Florida soon fell under Spanish rule until 1800 when Spain was compelled to cede Louisiana back to France. Three years later Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States in what was known in history as the Louisiana Purchase. West Florida however was not included due to the vague defining of Louisiana’s eastern boundary.
President Jefferson insisted that West Florida was American but the Spanish denied this and continued to occupy this area. Feliciana settlers unhappy under the Spanish rule revolted in 1810 and established the short-lived Republic of West Florida of which St. Francisville was the capitol city. Later that same year President Madison was petitioned to annex the area and this request was honored in October 1810 and West Florida was declared part of the Louisiana Purchase and an American possession on December 10, 1810. Then in 1812, Louisiana was admitted to the Union with the parish of Feliciana included.
While in the museum we learned of “Bayou Sara”. In late 1700s it began as a place of safe anchorage when the Mississippi River was opened to Americans. From these meager beginnings grew a rowdy port town incorporated by the legislature in 1842 that lay just on the river’s edge from St. Francisville.
For the majority of the next 40 years the town flourished as a mile-long riverfront with warehouses, dwellings of townsfolk living behind a levee and served as the port area of St. Francisville. Bayou Sara was held in time and place by the river which flowed past it. This river brought it the world and made it the busiest river port between New Orleans and Natchez, MS.
However in 1880 the decline and fall of this port town began with a devastating fire. This was followed in 1890 with flooding that year and another flood in 1893. A second major fire followed these floods in 1895. The town once again experienced major flooding in 1912 and 1922. Amongst all these tragic events, the boll weevil appeared in 1907. It was then in 1926 when the Louisiana legislature revoked the town charter that many Bayou Sara structures were removed to St. Francisville on top of the hill and new businesses began to appear in the upper part of that town. One final flood in 1927 saw Bayou Sara’s demise and as a quote in the museum states……”Bayou Sara has gone to earth, not even its ghost can be raised on the barren river bank. It ends as it began more than 200 years ago, a boat landing”.
Audubon State Historic Site home of Oakley Plantation was next on our agenda. Oakley was a very large and wealthy cotton plantation which at the height of its wealth had 3200 acres of land and some 250 slaves. The 17-room house was built in 1806 by James Pirrie for his wife Lucretia however four generations have called Oakley Plantation home.
The Pirrie’s were wealthy enough to hire tutors to come to their home and teach their children and it was in 1821 they hired artist/naturalist John James Audubon to come and tutor their 16-year old daughter Eliza.
While living and working at Oakley Plantation Audubon drew and painted 32 of his “Birds of America” which he encountered during his short 3 ½ month stay. It is still the lush natural setting with a large variety of birds singing throughout the 100-acre forest that today inspires visitors in the way it did John Audubon in 1821.
In addition to the plantation main house this historical site also has a small museum with the plantation history as well as a short video history of the plantation. Several outbuildings including an outside kitchen, slave cabins, a barn complete with a variety of feathered foul, formal and kitchen gardens and several nature trails for visitors to walk and enjoy the surroundings. It was in 1946 the State of Louisiana purchased Oakley House and 100-acres of land and has preserved them in their state parks program for many more generations to learn of the history and enjoy.