"The rich magnolias covered with fragrant
blossoms, the holly, the beech, the tall yellow poplar, the
hilly ground and even the red clay, all excited my admiration.
Such an entire change in the fall of nature in so short a
time seems almost supernatural, and surrounded once more by
numberless warblers and thrushes, I enjoyed the scene."
So reads the journal of John James Audubon as he recorded
his arrival in 1821 at Oakley Plantation.
This lush natural setting, with a variety of birds singing
throughout the 100-acre forest, still inspires visitors. In
these peaceful environs, it is easy to imagine the artist
filling his sketch pad with notes and drawings for his famous
series of bird illustrations.
Audubon came upriver from New Orleans to do more than paint
pictures. He had been hired to teach drawing to Miss Eliza
Pirrie, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James Pirrie, owners of Oakley.
He was aid $60 a month, with room and board provided for him
and his 13-year old pupil/assistant, Joseph Mason. He was
allowed to spend half of his time roaming the woods to work
on his paintings.
Audubon would collect and prepare his bird
specimens, make his drawings, paint the bird, and then instruct
young Mason on the proper background vegetation to add to
each bird painting. The other half of his time was devoted
to tutoring Eliza.
His teacher-artist arrangement was short-lived due to a misunderstanding
with Mrs. Pirrie. Only four months after his arrival, Audubon
returned to New Orleans. Although there is no record of his
success in teaching Miss Pirrie to draw, in his personal endeavors
he completed or began 32 bird paintings while at Oakley.
The tall, airy house where John James Audubon stayed is a
splendid example of colonial architecture adapted to its climate.
Built circa 1806, Oakley predates the relatively heavy details
of classic revival in Southern plantation homes and claims
distinction for its beautiful simplicity.
A West Indies influence
can be seen in the jalousied galleries which allow cool breezes
to drift through the rooms while keeping out rain and the
glare of the sun. Adam mantels, delicate decoration of the
exterior gallery stairs and a simple cornice frieze are Oakley's
Simple and dignified by its unusual height, the building seems
a suitable part of its beautiful forest setting. In 1973, Oakley
House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places,
an honorary designation for significant historic sites.
Photo Credit - Louisiana Office of State Parks
The rooms of Oakley have been restored in the style of the late
Federal Period (1790-1830), reflecting their appearance when
Audubon stayed there. Assisted by historical societies, the
Office of State Parks worked with private resources to re-create
authentic settings throughout the historic house.
The large, detached plantation kitchen, typical of the period,
was reconstructed on the old foundations, around the original
chimney. The kitchen building also contains a weaving room
and an ironing/wash room.
Adjacent to the house is a plantation barn which displays
numerous horse-drawn implements and vehicles.
Two slave cabins, located a short distance from the rear of
the house, give a glimpse into the laborers' way of life on
Restored formal and kitchen gardens adjacent to the house
demonstrate the early Louisiana plantation owners' tendency
to re-create formal beauty in their wilderness environment.
Guided tours of Oakley House are offered daily. A picnic
pavilion is useful for groups planning an outing to Audubon
State Historic Site, and the lovely grounds of the house are
a marvelous setting for strolling along and enjoying the natural
beauty of the area.
Wonderful and creative special events, programs and demonstrations
take place throughout the year. Contact Audubon State Historic
Site for details.
State Historic Site -- (P.O. Box 546, St. Francisville, LA
70775; 225-635-3739 or 1-888-677-2838) is located in West
Feliciana Parish, near St. Francisville on LA 965. From Baton
Rouge, it is just 30 minutes away: follow US 61 north to LA
965, then turn right and follow the signs.
The main feature of the 100-acre woodland siteis Oakley House,
where John James Audubon lived for a short time. Other facilities
include formal and kitchen gardens, a separate kitchen and
weaving room, a plantation barn, two slave cabins, a picnic
area with a shelter and a nature trail through the acres of
magnolia and poplar trees.
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