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42nd Annual Audubon Pilgrimage: St. Francisville, Louisiana

Audubon Pilgrimage

The staff of StrangeHistory.org found our way to St. Francisville, LA., on the weekend of March 15, 16 & 17, 2013 for the 42nd Annual Audubon Pilgrimage. The Audubon Pilgrimage, founded in 1972, celebrates the 1821 arrival of naturalist and artist, John James Audubon, to St Francisville. While in the area working as an art tutor to the children of James and Lucy Pirrie, at Oakley Plantation, Audubon documented and painted 80 different varieties of Louisiana wildlife. Today, Oakley Plantation is the center of the Audubon State Historical Site and was one of many plantation homes opened to the public during Pilgrimage weekend.

The weekend kicked off on Friday night with a lighting of luminaries along Royal Street and a wine and cheese reception at Bishop Jackson Hall. Next in the line of events and the night’s main presentation, the Cemetery Tour of Grace Episcopal Church, where re-enactors, dressed in 1820’s attire, gave interpretations of the life and times of some of St. Francisville and Bayou Sara’s most colorful and historic characters. While there, StrangeHistory.org's, G.S. Smith and SH.org history consultant and transportation historian, George Cantley, caught up on a few topics including the upcoming SH.org articles about Captain Thomas Leathers, the greatest of all of the river men, and Lieutenant Commander John E. Hart, who is buried in Grace Cemetery.

SH.org founder, G. S. Smith and historian George Cantley dress the part in historic St. Francisville

Saturday brought a new day as SH.org staff rose to the pristine, oak draped, surroundings at Butler Greenwood Plantation Bed & Breakfast. Butler Greenwood stands as one of the oldest St. Francisville plantations, having received a Spanish land Grant in the late 1700’s. Although not on the Audubon Pilgrimage list of open properties this year, Butler Greenwood, which is owned by author Anne Butler, descendent of the original land grant family, is decorated with over two hundred years of her family’s history. The house and grounds at Butler Greenwood have been mentioned and featured in hundreds of magazines and newspapers.

A visit to the West Feliciana Historical Society, where St. Francisville and Bayou Sara’s history has been painstakingly documented, preserved and displayed, found us at the event organizer’s table to purchase tickets to the 42nd Audubon Pilgrimage tour sites which included truly amazing historic plantations with stately and proper names that reflect a “by gone” era. Oakley, Rosedown, Wakefield, Evergreenzine, Beechwood and Catalpa were all featured in this year’s events. SH.org staff ventured to Beechwood and Catalpa Plantations. These two homes are private homes that were opened to the public for Pilgrimage. Beechwood was once the home of Alexander Stirling and was the meeting site for the rebellion against Spain in 1810, which led to the creation of the Republic of West Florida (September 23, 1810). Catalpa is currently owned by Mrs. Mary Fort Thompson, who is also a descendent of original property owners.  Both homes are adorned with amazing antiques and appointments while the grounds of both homes are Eden’s of blooming azaleas and moss covered live oaks, teaming with the sights and sounds of nature.

The StrangeHistory.org staff would like to thank historian, George Cantley, Anne Butler of Butler Greenwood Plantation, the West Feliciana Historical Society and the Town of St. Francisville for welcoming us at the 42nd Annual Audubon Pilgrimage.