Perched atop a bluff on the eastern shore of the Mississippi River, St. Francisville, the second-oldest incorporated town in Louisiana, began life as a burial ground. Spanish Capuchin monks established a church in the 1730s across the river in a floodplain that made burial impossible. The monks rowed across the Mississippi to the drier higher ground to inter their dead. The Cappuchine friars obtained a land grant from the King of Spain and constructed a wooden monastery near the graveyard which they named for the order’s gentle patron, St. Francis. The monastery later burned but the name remained.

When the United States negotiated for the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803 a section of land, including this area, along the Gulf Coast was retained by Spain. By that time the mostly American settlers had no interest in living under Spanish rule and waited restlessly while negotiations for what was called West Florida dragged on between the Spanish and the Jefferson administration.

Finally in 1810 a group of planters marched on the Spanish fort at Baton Rouge, captured the governor and set up their own nation, The Free and Independent Republic of West Florida. St. Francisville became the national capital. West Florida had a constitution based largely on the US Constitution with three branches of government. The first and only governor was Fulwar Skipwith, a former American diplomat who helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase.

The Republic of West Florida lasted 90 days. On October 27, 1810 the United States annexed the region by proclamation of President James Madison as part of the Louisiana Purchase. At first Skipwith and the West Florida government were opposed to the proclamation but the appearance of the United States Army in St. Francisville changed their minds.

Meanwhile, below the bluffs a rowdier rivertown was growing up. Bayou Sara, named for a creek that offered flatboaters safe anchorage, was developing into the largest port on the Mississippi between Natchez and New Orleans by 1850. But fire, the Civil War, floods, the railroads and the destructive power of the boll weevil conspired to doom Bayou Sara.

St. Francisville meanwhile trundled on as the genteel center of the surrounding plantation country. It was said that two out of every three known millionaires of the antebellum period lived on the Great Road from New Orleans to Natchez and many of them were found in West Feliciana Parish and St. Francisville. Several of the grandest plantations are open to the public today. 

Our walking tour will start at the Museum of West Feliciana Historical Society on Ferdinand Street. In downtown St. Francisville, the entire district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places...


Ferdinand Street
West Feliciana Historical Society

Located in the old hardware store circa 1896, the museum houses photographic exhibits, miniature recreation rooms, period clothing and flags of the area.

Royal Street (east side)
White’s Cottage

A 1903 urban adaptation of that emblem of Upland south culture know as the dog-trot or pen and passage house -- two "pens" or rooms divided by an open passage or "dog-trot."

Royal Street (outside corner)
Audubon Market Hall

One of the town’s earliest buildings was constructed in 1819 as an open-air public market with a magistrate’s office upstairs. The large arches at each end enabled the passage of wagons. Enclosed in 1868, the hall has been put to service in a variety of ways over the years: as a Masonic Lodge, a theater, a library and town hall.

Royal Street(south side at 9892)
Methodist Church Parsonage

The original parsonage for the United Methodist Church dates to 1899; notice the patterned shingles in the gable. 


Royal Street(inside corner)

A Baltimore merchant built this cottage in 1817 along Anglo-Creole lines. The house is named for later owner Henry Seabrook.

Royal Street (southeast corner of Fidelity Street and Royal Street at 9856)
United Methodist Church

Lorenzo Dow was personally unkempt. His long hair and beard were described as "never having met a comb." Yet the itinerant and eccentric Dow was the most popular preacher of the early 1800s. He traveled widely by foot throughout America, attracting crowds estimated to be 10,000 strong. Dow's public speaking mannerisms were like nothing ever seen before among the typically conservative church goers of the time. He shouted, he screamed, he cried, he begged, he flattered, he insulted, he challenged people and their beliefs. He told stories and made jokes. Dow’s autobiography at one time was the second best-selling book in the United States, exceeded only by the Bible. His influence and popularity led many thousands of U.S. children of the early 19th century to be named after him. The 1850 U.S. census counts Lorenzo as one of the most popular first names in America. Lorenzo Dow brought his brand of Methodism to The Louisiana Territory in 1807; an imposing church was built in Bayou Sara in 1844. The present church was built in 1899 and includes the bell tower from the old church.

Royal Street (south side)
Robb House

Next door to the United Methodist Church is the Robb House that was erected in 1895 by pharmacist F.M. Mumford as a gable-front commercial building with living quarters above. 

Royal Street (north side)

Simple cottage adorned with Victorian decorations such as gingerbread porch trim and Gothic Revival vergeboards in the fronting gable.

Royal Street (southwest corner of Fidelity Street and Royal Street)

This magnificent white Greek Revival town house began humbly in 1817 as a one-room store. Expanded in 1826 to a story-and-a-half cottage, it reached its present size in 1855 when Massachusetts born lawyer L.K. Brewer added the two story section with elaborate cast iron balconies. Brewer enjoyed his home for only four years before boarding the ill-fated steamship Princess at Bayou Sara. The Princess was considered the fastest steamer on the Mississippi. On February 27, 1859, shrouded in heavy fog and weighed down with a full cargo of cotton, the overloaded boilers exploded. Some 70 of the ship’s 200 passengers and crew perished in the accident, including Brewer’s.

Royal Street (northwest corner of Fidelity Street and Royal Street)
Golsan House

Joseph L. Golsan came here in 1877, a young Alabama lawyer eager to enter Post Reconstruction politics. He married the great-grandniece of Lucy Audubon, never lost an election, and built this charming Queen Anne cottage in 1885. John James Audubon lived at the Oakley Plantation House on SR 965 while working as an art teacher and compiling his masterpiece, Birds of America.

Royal Street (southeast corner of Prosperity Street and Royal Street)
Bank of Commerce & Trust

This handsome red brick bank was crafted in 1909 in the Romanesque Revival style with distinctive arched entrances, windows and ornamentation.

Royal Street (southwest corner of Prosperity Street and Royal Street)
Stucco Building

In its original state was one of the finest brick buildings in town. Built as the leading mercantile counting house in 1809, it served as the first court house of West Feliciana Parish in 1824 and later as the branch of the Bank of Louisiana.


Prosperity Street (east side)
Law Office

This simple, Greek Revival was built by a lawyer from New York state in 1842 and has served as a law office ever since.

Prosperity Street (west side)
Court House 

It was built in 1905 in the Georgian Revival style to replace the 1852 structure damaged when the town was shelled by Federal gunboats during the Siege of Port Hudson in 1863. The demolition of the classic slate-covered brick structure proved so unpopular that those responsible refused to have their names displayed on the cornerstone, which remains blank. The temple-like well house from the earlier building remains in the rear.


Royal Street (south side at 9794)

A double-galleried house circa 1895.

Royal Street (southeast corner of Johnson Street and Royal Street at 9780)

One of St. Francisville's oldest brick buildings, Propinquity was built of some 200,000 bricks in 1809 as the store of John Mills with cellar underneath and dwelling house above. In 1966 the building was restored as a private residence.

Royal Street (northeast corner of Johnson Street and Royal Street at 9779)
Camilla Leake Barrow House

Built as a combination store-dwelling, there is no central hall; french doors gain access. The single-story addition was once a separate house. J. Hunter Collins noted in his ledger the $260 cost of moving the cottage and $224.38 for the distinguished cast iron railed balconies on the banquette. Like his law partner L.D. Brewer of Virginia, Collins could not choose between two admired patterns so the upper and lower balcony rails differ.

end of Johnson Street on the south side of Royal Street
St. Francisville Democrat

The town has had a weekly newspaper since the third newspaper in the Louisiana Territory, The Time Piece, was established in 1811. The Democrat was begun in 1893 in opposition to the Louisiana lottery and moved into its present office in 1908. Today the front room contains a computer for generating news stories, but the back portion remains the printing shop of the late Horse and Buggy Printer, Elrie Robinson. Old presses and paper folding machines and even the pig iron smelter for casting hand-set type remain.

Royal Street (south side)
The Printer’s Cottage

It is the small restored post and beam house to the right of the Democrat office. The legend persists that bodies about to be buried in the Old Spanish graveyard were housed in it. Its heavy corner posts and load-bearing outer walls allowed many interior changes over the years, but the original sturdy construction is apparent in the attic as is damage from Civil War bombardment.

9758 Royal Street
Sainte Reine House

Built 1894 with wraparound Victorian porch.

Royal Street (outside corner at 9746)

Built before 1807, is constructed of bousillage (heavy timbers filled in with a mixture of mud and moss) after the manner of the Creole House elsewhere in Louisiana. The full cellar, however, is of eastern seaboard derivation. An early classical well house remains in back.

Royal Street (west side at 9732)

A grand Neoclassical townhouse, was built in 1905 for Judge Samuel McCutcheon Lawrason as a gift from his wife's brother, a wealthy South Louisiana sugar planter.


Ferdinand Street (south side)
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church

Built from plans drawn by Confederate General P.G. T. Beauregard in 1871, the church was completed in 1893. The interior columns are of hand hewn heart pine and the altar was hand-crafted in Natchez. From the Catholic Hill can be seen the part of town known as “The Foot of the Hill” with its small pedestrian park commemorating the West Feliciana Rail Road. Edward McGehee, a large planter and pioneer textile manufacturer, obtained a charter in 1831 for the West Feliciana Rail Road Company. The line opened a decade later, with 28 miles of standard gauge track - the first in the South - and operated between St. Francisville/Bayou Sara and Woodville, Mississippi. Beyond the park was the town of Bayou Sara. 


Ferdinand Street (north side)
Grace Epsicopal Church

Organized March 15, 1827, Grace Church is the second oldest Episcopal Church in Louisiana. The present Gothic structure was built 1858-1860, its cornerstone laid by Leonidas Polk, the “Fighting Bishop of the Confederacy.” A Tennessee native, Polk was Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana who was elevated to the rank of general, despite no prior combat experience, because of his friendship with Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Polk was killed in action in 1864 during the Atlanta Campaign. Grace Church's beauty owes much to the restraint of its builder, local master carpenter C.N. Gibbons. It was considered one of the finest examples of church architecture in its time. Severely damaged by shelling during the Civil War, Grace Church nevertheless saw the burial by its rector of Federal gunboat captain John E. Hart. A Mason, Hart had desired a Masonic burial, and fighting stopped for a day while Confederate and Union Masons honored a brother's request. The Reverend D. S. Lewis read the Episcopal burial services as Commander Hart was laid to rest in the time-honored Masonic Plot.

corner of Prosperity Street and Ferdinand Street
Masonic Lodge

Dating to 1903, notice the flag for the Republic of West Florida, a single star on a blue field, hanging form the front of the double-galleried hall.

Ferdinand Street (north side between Fidelity Street and Royal Street)
Widow Ross’ House

Dora Ross was a frugal German wife who had outlived two husbands by the time of the Civil War. She set a good table and served many gunboat officers, oblivious of the ire of her Confederate neighbors. It is said that Admiral George Dewey, later a naval hero in the Spanish-American War hero at the Battle of Manila Bay, but then a midshipman patrolling the Mississippi River during the War Between The States, often dined at her board. 

Ferdinand Street (south side across from Museum)
Black Burial Society Lodge

This simple, windowless structure in the Greek Revival style was built in 1883.

Ferdinand Street (north side, at 11801)
Brasseaux House

In 1895 Albert Sydney Brasseaux constructed this embellished version of the Southern “dog-trot” style in 1895.

Ferdinand Street (south side)

This simple white structure dates to 1901

Ferdinand Street (north side)

Evergreenzine, its name a Yiddish word meaning "surrounded by greenery" , was constructed by Adolph Teutsch in 1885 at a time when, following the Civil War, many Jewish merchants moved south to sell necessities and prospered sufficiently to construct impressive townhouses and contribute to the cultural as well as commercial life of the community.  

Commerce Street at end of Ferdinand Street
St. Francisville Inn - The Wolf-Schlesigner House

This true example of Gothic Victorian style was built in 1880 for Morris Wolf, owner of a cotton gin and mercantile store directly across the street. A similar house adjacent, was built by his brother Emanuel Wolf, was later destroyed. Now houses a Bed & Breakfast and antique shop.