Rosedown Plantation features an impressive avenue of live oak trees.*
Traveling St. Francisville's Plantation Trail
By Lorry Heverly
A tiny pocket of Louisiana known as English Plantation Country was the hub of prosperous cotton and indigo plantations during the antebellum period. Sprinkled throughout the gently rolling woodlands surrounding St. Francisville (800-789-4221 or www.stfrancisville.us), eight resplendent plantations and gardens transport visitors to an era when cotton was king.
The journey to Afton Villa Gardens (225-635-6773 or www.aftonvillagardens.com), 9247 U.S. Hwy. 61, begins at the stunning Gothic gatehouse with a drive through a never-ending canopy of live oaks and azaleas. A 20-acre estate of gardens and pleasure grounds grace the ruins of an 1849 Gothic mansion.
Lovingly restored to their former glory are lawn terraces, boxwood-bordered parterres and formal gardens, accented in hauntingly beautiful marble statuary. Hedges surround the family cemetery, a secret garden of sweet olive and camellia trees. In spring, thousands of vibrant daffodils blanket the ravine, and hearty white azaleas abound.
Azaleas in bloom at Afton Villa Gardens.*
The gardens are opened seasonally, March 1 to June 30 and Oct. 1 to Nov. 30. Admission is $5; children under 12 are free.
The garden of Versailles, France as viewed on an 1800s-era “Grand Tour of Europe”' was the inspiration for the palatial landscapes of Rosedown Plantation (225-635-3332 or www.lastateparks.com), 12501 LA Hwy. 10. Azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas and exotic Asian flora embellish 28 acres of formal gardens.
Built in 1835, Rosewood Plantation is a fusion of Federal, Classical and Revival styles. Opulent accents include 1820s vintage French scenic wallpaper in the entry hall, Rococo Revival furniture in the library and many original pieces in the home. General admission is $10, $4 for children 5 to17. Gardens-only rate is $5.
Don’t be surprised if you get goose bumps when stepping into the Myrtles Plantation (800-809-0565 or www.myrtlesplantation.com), 7747 U.S. Hwy. 61. Yes, this home is haunted. Documented by filmmakers and photographers, ghostly images and bizarre happenings abound. Intriguing tales come from visitors on the house tour or those who spend the night.
Glen DeVillier, manager at the Myrtles, says that he receives 10 to 15 evidence photos or e-mails from guests each week. Just point and shoot your camera, especially at places your guide suggests are paranormally active. Strange images, not seen with the naked eye, often show up in photos.
Tragic events surround the home. Often seen are the ghosts of Chloe, a servant girl, and the two young children she poisoned. The trio is joined by the ghost of William Winter, the owner in the late 1800s. He was shot and died on the staircase. If you dare, guests can overnight at the Myrtles. Rooms range from $175 to $230 per night, including breakfast and a home tour.
New at the Myrtles is Varnedoe’s Restaurant. Featuring casual yet upscale “Down South” cuisine, it is perfect for lunch or dinner after the tour.
The Movie Connection
In production, the movie "Dream Boy" just wrapped filming at the Greenwood Plantation (800-259-4475 or www.greenwoodplantation.com), 6838 Highland Rd. Greenwood has been featured in six films, most notably the miniseries "North and South."
This elegant 1830s Greek Revival-style home, surrounded by 28 stately columns, is considered the South’s finest example of a classic Colonial. Until the Civil War, 750 slaves worked the cotton and sugarcane fields on the 12,000-acre plantation. Today, the estate is smaller and still a working farm surrounded by pastures of cattle, fields of hay and groves of pecan trees.
Many movies have been filmed at Greenwood Plantation.*
The reflecting pond and ancient moss-draped live oaks add charm to the peaceful countryside estate. Inside are a striking spiral staircase, grand baronial hall and rooms adorned in period antiques. The home and garden tour costs $7.
On the estate is a small bed-and-breakfast. Rates are $125 per night, including a country breakfast and home tour.
Mary Thompson greets her guests Southern style, a tradition that has been upheld for six generations at her ancestral home, Catalpa Plantation (225-635-3372 or www.catalpaplantation.com), 9508 U.S. Hwy. 61.
Mary lives in the plantation home and intrigues guests with tales of how, during the Civil War, many of her family’s treasures were sunk at the bottom of their pond to keep them out of the hands of the Union Army.
Tours of the raised Victorian home, with its many original family heirlooms, cost $6 and are by appointment only.
Butler Greenwood Plantation (225-635-6312 or www.butlergreenwood.com), 8345 U.S. Hwy. 61, has remained in the same family since the 1790s. Owner Ann Butler offers tours of the antebellum home, with its priceless antiques, family treasures and an exceptional formal Victorian parlor. A house tour is $5.
Overnight guests will enjoy the enchanting bed-and-breakfast cottages overlooking the pond and scattered about the oak-lined estate. All have romantic fireplaces, double whirlpools, antique stained-glass windows and private porches. Rates are $135 per night with continental breakfast.
Audubon Slept Here
The claim to fame of Oakley Plantation (225-635-3739 or www.lastateparks.com), 11788 U.S. Hwy. 965, a West Indies-style home, is that John James Audubon painted works from his Birds of America series here. Arriving from New Orleans to tutor the owner’s daughter, he was inspired by the wealth of birds found in the Felicianas.
Nestled amid 100 acres of woodlands, visitors can roam nature trails and see slave cabins, old barns and gardens on a self-guided tour. The house tour is $2; children under 12 are free.
Step back into the days of a working plantation at the Cottage Plantation (225-635-3674 or www.cottageplantation.com), 10528 Cottage Lane. The home is filled with antique furnishings and original outbuildings. The carriage house, smokehouse and old kitchen offer interesting insights into life in the 1800s.
General Andrew Jackson stayed at the plantation after the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. Room rates range from $110 to $150 per night, including a plantation breakfast.
St. Francisville Plantation Events
Audubon Pilgrimage (225-635-6330 or www.audubonpilgrimage.info), held in venues throughout St. Francisville, takes place the third weekend in March. Guides in period costumes will give tours at plantations, homes and gardens. Events include an antique fair, working rural homestead and music. This cultural festival showcases life in the 1820s when John J. Audubon lived in West Feliciana
The Southern Garden Symposium (225-635-3738) celebrates gardening in the Deep South with tours, lectures and demonstrations. It will take place at Afton Villa Gardens October 26-27.
St. Francisville's gardens are colorful and fragrant.
The Myrtles Annual Halloween Experience (225-635-6277 or www.myrtlesplantation.com), features evening ghost tours of the home by guides in antebellum costume. It will be held over Halloween weekend.
Need St. Francisville Information?
Contact 225-635-4224 or www.stfrancisville.us
Lorry Heverly, an adventure travel writer and photographer who resides in Baton Rouge, LA, writes a column on scuba diving for the Miami Herald and travel articles for magazines and newspapers.
All photos on this page are owned, copyrighted and shown courtesy of the Louisiana Office of Tourism. Please do not link to or copy these photos. Thank you.