St. Francisville — Lynda and Peter Truitt knew the restoration of Rosale, one of West Feliciana’s most historic houses, would be a huge job, but they were willing to make the effort for the treasured country farmhouse believed by many historians to be the place where in June 1810 more than 500 local residents gathered to organize the West Florida Rebellion.
The Truitts, who both grew up in the Baton Rouge and St. Francisville areas, moved to Oregon in 1973, where Peter Truitt owns a food processing business.
“We had an eye to moving back here, getting home,” he said.
In 2005, they bought his father’s homestead south of St. Francisville and spent several years restoring the family home. But when Rosale went on the market, they bought it and 125 surrounding acres and sold the family property.
Guided by designers Patrick Tandy and Helaine Moyse, the Truitts refinished the floors, painted the interior and exterior, redid all of the heating and air-conditioning, replaced a crumbling fireplace and made some major changes to the home to make it comfortable for their family.
“This is their home. It is not a museum,” Tandy said. “We have not strived to do it to a period. They live here.”
Rosale, which will be featured on the 45th annual Audubon Pilgrimage March 18-20, contains a large front gallery that opens to a wide center hall with double parlors on the left and a study and dining room on the right. The hall leads to a large sunroom, which opens to the modern kitchen on the right. Upstairs are four bedrooms.
The property on which Rosale is located came through a Spanish land grant in 1795 to Alexander Stirling, one of the Felicianas’ important settlers. He named the plantation Egypt. Stirling’s daughter, Ann Stirling Skillman, acquired the property in 1820 and changed the name to China Lodge. She and her husband set about building a magnificent brick house on the property, but in 1844, faced with financial reverses, they were forced to sell the plantation to Robert Hilliard Barrow and his wife, Mary.
The Barrows planted 96 live oaks and created a rose garden in front of the house. According to local legend, they changed the name to Rosale for an Indian word meaning “garden of roses.”
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Barrow formed a military company called the Rosale Guards, which later became part of the 11th Louisiana Infantry Regiment.
Barrow, who returned from the war a decorated hero, implemented some forward-thinking agricultural practices that pulled the family through the depression that followed the war. His son and family were living at Rosale in the 1880s when fire destroyed the brick home and several outbuildings. Near the home was a frame schoolhouse, originally built around 1832 to house the carpenters working on the brick house. The Barrows moved into the old schoolhouse and sometime later moved it to the site of the brick mansion and built the present house around it. The study, dining room, stair hall and two bedrooms upstairs are the remains of the old schoolhouse.
Over the years, the property remained in the Barrow family, although it was often unoccupied.
“For some time, it was used as a hunting lodge,” Lynda Truitt said. “The men used to sit on the front porch and shoot at the trees.”
Finally the property was acquired by one of Louisiana’s most distinguished citizens, Gen. Robert H. Barrow, the 27th commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and great-grandson of Rosale’s first Robert Hilliard Barrow. Gen. Barrow and his wife, Patty, both now deceased, modernized the home and preserved the gardens. The Truitts still have a home in Oregon, where they generally spend their summers but take advantage of Louisiana’s mild climate for the rest of the year.
They have filled Rosale with family pieces; art collected by Lynda Truitt, an LSU art major; and a collection of photography by the late Fonville Winans, who would occasionally ride his bicycle from Baton Rouge to St. Francisville to visit Peter Truitt’s parents.
45th annual Audubon Pilgrimage
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, March 18-20. Tours hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 18-19; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, March 20
WHERE: In and around St. Francisville
ON TOUR: The Cabildo, the circa 1809 Spanish colonial structure used over the years as a monastery, tavern, bank, West Feliciana’s first courthouse, barbershop, grocery, hotel, drugstore, library and now a beautifully restored private home.
The Myrtles, a raised English cottage begun in the late 1790s and enlarged throughout the 19th century.
Rosale Plantation, part of the enormous landholdings of early settler Alexander Stirling with sweeping vistas of manicured oak-shaded lawns and ponds.
Vinci Cottage at Virginia, built in the 1940s of materials salvaged from the detached kitchen and quarters of the Virginia townhouse.
Woodleigh Garden, a beautifully landscaped hillside setting filled with heirloom passalong plantings.
Rosedown, the State Historic Site, built in 1834 by Daniel Turnbull and his wife, Martha Barrow, who created and documented 27 acres of formal gardens surrounding the stately home.
Oakley, the three-story West Indies-style home built by James Pirrie, whose wife, Lucy, hired John James Audubon as a tutor for their daughter, Eliza.
Afton Villa Gardens, with an avenue of live oaks underplanted with azaleas and parterres and terraced vistas surrounding the romantic ruins of the Gothic Revival mansion that burned in 1963.
OTHER: Visitors also can tour several churches, including Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the United Methodist Church, Grace Episcopal Church and historic St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. Volunteers will demonstrate homestead skills at Rural Homestead, where children will also perform traditional dances in authentic costume. “An Audubon Spring Sketch,” depicting a day in the life of John James Audubon, will be held Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday.
TICKETS: $35 for the daytime tours, good for all three days; $20 for the Friday night events, which include hymn singing in the United Methodist Church, a wine and cheese reception, period costume style show, vintage dancers in Bishop Jackson Hall and the Audubon play from 7-9 p.m. at the restored Temple Sinai and a 6-9 p.m. graveyard tour at Grace Church; and $50 for the 7 p.m. Saturday “Light Up the Night,” an evening of food, drinks, live music and dancing in the Historic District. Tickets are at the office behind the Historical Society Museum, 11757 Ferdinand St., or online at westfelicianahistoricalsociety.org.
SPECIAL EVENT: Genevieve Trimble, who with her late husband restored the gardens at Afton Villa after a devastating fire destroyed the historic home, will be signing her new book, “Afton Villa: The Birth and Rebirth of a Nineteenth Century Louisiana Garden,” in the garden from 4-6 p.m. Sunday at a community-wide free event hosted by the Southern Garden Symposium and the West Feliciana Historical Society.
INFORMATION: (225) 635-6330