Wednesday, March 23, 2011

St. Francisville Louisianna - On the Banks of The Mississippi River

So, let's see, where were we?  In my last post I had just crossed the Mississippi River by ferry and found myself in the beautiful town of St. Francisville, LA.  My first stop was at the welcome center run by West Feliciana Historic Society.  I spent a few minutes walking through the on-site museum and asking directions to the nearest place to find a good lunch.  I was directed to a little diner named 'Eight Sisters' where I enjoyed some delicious 'soul food' prepared and served by a couple of the 8 sisters who own and run it.  While eating I looked over the little phampelet I had picked up and decided that due to my time constraints I would have to settle for a walk through the grounds of Grace Episcopal Church and save the many mansions and plantation homes for another day.

St. Francisville is the second oldest incorporated town in Louisiana and began as a burial grounds for the Spanish Capuchin Monks who had established a church in the 1730's on the other side of the Mississippi River in Pointe Coupee Parish.  Because flooding in the area often made burial impossible they began carrying their dead across the river to the dry highland bluffs for burial.  Soon a settlement sprung up around their graveyard and was appropriately named for their order's gentle patron, St. Francis...and so the town of St. Francisville was established.  It was futher dignified by charter and 'plot plan' around 1807.
Grace Episcopal Church was organized on March 15, 1827 and is the 2nd oldest Episcopal Church in Louisiana.  The present Gothic stucture was built 1858 - 1860 with it's cornerstone laid by Leonidas Polk, the Fighting Bishop of the Confederacy.  I spent about an hour walking through the graveyard and church property...below are a few of the photographs from my time there. 

I hope to one day return to St. Francisville to tour some of the beautiful, historic and often haunted manions and plantations located in the town and surrounding countryside.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Crossing The Mississippi...New Roads to St. Francisville by Ferry

On day 4 of my journey I headed back to Jackson Mississippi along a route suggested by my son, a graduate of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.  He sent me off  the beaten path to explore the beautiful historic towns of New Roads and St. Francisville Louisianna and take a ferry ride across the Mississippi River which seperates them.  I only wish I had had more time to explore each of these charming towns as I discovered there is much there to do and see.  I definatly hope to return one day soon...meanwhile, let me share with you here those things that I did see and experience.
With my limited time in mind I chose to do a quick driving tour through the town of New Roads and move on to St. Francisville in hopes of touring one of the many plantation homes located there.  As I drove through town I snapped a few photos of a couple of the beautiful homes located there (photo on left and below), and a couple of an enchanting courtyard in the business district (above and below).

From downtown I drove north to find the ferry crossing.  I arrived just as the ferry was pulling away.  My first thought was that I had missed it and would have to back-track to find another way to cross, but my fears were soon put to rest as others began to arrive and form a line waiting for the next ferry.  I used my 30 minutes to snap a few photos of the river and surrounding area...
And then I was off on my ferry ride across the mighty Mississippi River and on to the enchanting town of St. Francisville Louisianna....

After dis-embarking from the ferry I continued on my jouney, making my way to the charming, historical town of St. Francisville where my first stop was for tourist information from The Museum of the West Feliciana Historical Society.  And that is a story for another day.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Windsor Ruins

With my trip now 2 weeks behind, and still many photos to catalogue, I want to begin sharing some of the things I saw along the way...those things that called for more than just a fleeting mention as I moved from place to place...places where I spent some extra time.

The first of those places is The Windsor Ruins, all that remains of a Mississippi treasure built between 1859 and 1861.  Located just  off a winding rural Mississippi highway in Clairborn County about 10 miles southwest of Port Gibson and Alcorn State University, this was by far the most 'off the beaten path' of any place I visited on this trip. 

Built by Smith Coffee Danial III (1826-1861) it was the largest antebellum Greek Revival mansion built in the state of Mississippi.  Designed by David Shroder and built primarily by slave labor, the mansion consisted of 29 forty-five foot tall columns supporting the projecting roof line with it's plain, broad frieze and molded cornice providing protection for the galleries which encompassed the house on the 2nd and 3rd levels. 

The first floor (or above ground basement) housed the family's own commissary, doctor's office, school and dairy along with the kitchen and storage area.  On the second floor were 2 parlors, a library, the dinning room and something unusual for that time...a 'master bedroom' with private bath and study.  The third floor consisted of 8 bedrooms and a bath.  And on a smaller 4th floor was a never completed ballroom and a roof top observatory from which Mark Twain is said to have observed the Mississippi River.  A water tank in the attic provided water to the bathrooms and each room had a fireplace for heat.  There was also a dumb waiter connecting the kitchen and dinning room.
Part of the sad legacy of this beautiful mansion is the fact that Smith Daniel only lived in the house for a few short weeks after it's completion, passing away at the age of 34 in 1961.  His family - wife and 3 children - continued to live there and it is said that many cultural events were hosted at their home.  Windsor was used as an observation point by the Confederates during the War Between the States and as a Union hospital after the Battle of Port Gibson in May of 1863.  It is also said to have been visited by several famous people including Mark Twain.

On February 18, 2011 I stood amongst all that remains of what was once the grandest of all of Mississippi's mansions...the 23 columns standing starkly against the February sky.  I learned only later how this once grand mansion had burned to the ground on February 17, 1890!  It is said the fire was started by a lighted cigar left laying on a upstairs balcony, or tossed carelessly in a pile of debris, by a guest.  The fire burned from top to bottom making it impossible to extinguish. All was lost including plans, drawings and any pictures of the house. 

The drawing to the right is said to have been made by a Union soldier while traveling through the Windsor area during the Civil War.  Discovered years later it is the only known depiction of what Windsor actually looked like when complete.

Below are several of the photos I took that day as I strolled beneath the remaining columns 121 years and 1 day after the destructive fire.  I am in awe of the construction of these columns that still stand after all this time.  I imagined the things that may have taken place here, the history that was made, the people who loved, laughed, cried, danced and otherwise lived their lives in this beautiful place.  I smiled at the sun and blue skies over head that day and imagined the beauty of this once grand home. 

In closing let me say that if you are ever in the Port Gibson, MS area it would be well worth the time to go 'off the beaten path' to visit the Ruins of Windsor.