The Over in a Heartbeat Blues
CHASING THE BLUES, CHAPTER 8: La Place, LA, to Vicksburg, MS
Leaving La Place this morning, we reversed directions again, turning the car west on US-61, familiarly known as the Blues Highway, a.k.a. the Great River Road. This backcountry route afforded us the relaxing pleasure of bypassing Baton Rouge and the frenetic traffic on the interstate highway.
We had left Acadiana, the southern portion of the state where French influence is strongest, and were driving through an area known as the Florida parishes. Like the lower reaches of Alabama and Mississippi, this section of southeastern Louisiana was once part of Spanish Florida. Soon after the American Revolution, Anglo-Saxons migrated here from the East Coast, settling on parcels of land granted by the Spanish crown.
When Thomas Jefferson negotiated the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the Florida parishes region was not included, as it was still claimed by Spain. By 1810, the American settlers there had tired of Spanish rule and decided to take charge of their own destiny. In September of that year, armed rebels stormed Fort San Carlos at Baton Rouge, easily defeating the understaffed Spanish, and declared this area the Republic of West Florida. The independent nation quickly established a government, complete with a constitution, governor and small army. A blue banner centered by a large white star was raised as its national flag, and St. Francisville was named the capital.
Such a tiny republic in the midst of dominant nations was doomed from the start, and just 74 days after independence was declared, President James Madison announced that the United States was annexing the territory as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Though the provenance of his claim was questionable, Madison had the power to enforce his decree. The fledgling republic's government opposed the takeover, but capitulation was inevitable and swift when the U.S. Army marched into St. Francisville.
After an hour and a half along US-61 this morning, we made our own foray into St. Francisville (pop. 1,704), but our intentions were peaceful. Perched on a bluff on the east bank of the Mississippi River, this quaint and picturesque village began its existence in the late 18th century as a burial ground for a church situated on a floodplain on the river's opposite side. In 1785, the Spanish Cappuchin monks who had established the church built a monastery near the graveyard, naming it St. Francis in honor of their order's patron saint. Though the friars' building later burned, the settlement that had grown up around it kept the name and established the town as St. Francisville.
|Museum exhibits detail the history of the town and parish.|
|White's Cottage, a 1903 urban adaptation of the Southern dogtrot house|
Back at the museum, we picked up our car and drove east out of town to our next stop. On the way, we took a wrong turn and stumbled upon a surprising sight. Queen of the Mississippi, a Victorian style paddlewheel riverboat, was moored at the end of a dead end road, receiving a delivery from a food purveyor. It seemed an odd place for the boat to stop, but the passengers and crew had to eat, so presumably no one objected.
|Sysco delivers the goods.|
For comparison's sake, we examined a few Alaska and Caribbean cruises offered by competitors and found their two-person cost considerably less than a single fare on the Mississippi River. It goes without saying those ocean-going vessels also offer a plethora of amenities and facilities this little paddlewheeler (150-guest capacity) can only dream of.
|Oakley House with West Indies style galleries|
|Rosedown carriage approach|
With his two partners, Danny lives on site and helps keep the rodent population in check. Sitting near his post was Michelle, the rookie cruise director from the aforementioned Queen of the Mississippi, whose passengers had just arrived at Rosedown by bus. She didn't know too much about her job or the cruising life yet, so we conversed with her only briefly and let her get back to enjoying a break while the river riders were touring the plantation house. The bus driver, Harry, whom we met at the parking lot, was considerably more experienced and told us a few interesting tales about his many adventures piloting a charter bus.
Before leaving town, we took time for a driveby of one final plantation. Built in the 1790s, Butler Greenwood is owned and occupied today by descendants of the original 18th century Spanish land grant recipients. Set amid 50 landscaped acres populated with hundreds of ancient live oaks, various cottages on the property are operated as a B&B. But this was not the place for us today; we had reservations farther north. So we returned to US-61 and within 15 minutes, we were in Mississippi.
|Butler Greenwood Plantation|
Tomorrow we'll roll into Clarksdale, the cradle of the Mississippi Delta blues, where we'll spend a couple of days seeking out some authentic down home blues music.
- Miles driven: 251
- Weather: clear to partly cloudy, 57° to 77°
- Tourists on plantation visits: 286
- Mississippi riverboats: 1
- French speaking locals: 0
More Photos from Today
|Historic United Methodist Church of St. Francisville (1899)|
|A West Florida republic flag on display in St. Francisville|
|Azaleas in bloom at Rosedown|
|The Rosedown cedar tree that sprouted an oak|
|Even the barn is picturesque at Rosedown.|
|Rosedown's front garden from the upper gallery|
|Mammy's Cupboard, a roadside diner and Highway 61 landmark near Natchez|