ST. FRANCISVILLE — The Cedars Plantation has long been a well-kept secret.
Although the property has ties to some of the oldest families in the Feliciana parishes and New Orleans, "a lot of people didn't know it was here," Kelle Grezaffi said.
In 2016, she and her husband, Andrew, purchased The Cedars, which could possibly be the oldest home in West Feliciana Parish. It was built between 1793 and 1795 on a narrow, secluded road, which accounts for its forgotten status.
But no more.
The Grezaffis and their five children have made this Feliciana treasure their home, and, for the first time ever, it will be on the Audubon Pilgrimage tour of homes March 16-18.
"We did a lot of the work ourselves," Kelle Grezaffi said. "We brought it back to life."
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Four private homes, along with other locations, will be spotlighted during the 47th annual Audubon Pilgrimage.
The Cedars features a long front gallery with three doors — a center door which opens to the foyer with the home's original staircase; another door leads to the library with original pine floors and a third door opens to the formal parlor.
There's also a formal dining room, opposite a guest bedroom, at the front of the home, while along the back is the large family room that opens to the traditional kitchen updated with modern appliances. Upstairs are four bedrooms and the large landing, which has been converted to a sitting area.
The home, once the center of a tobacco plantation, was built in the Federal style by Simon and Ann Michel Hearty, who are believed to have come to the area from Virginia. All structural materials were made onsite. Fine doors, windows, mantels and other woodwork were shipped by boat from Philadelphia.
In 1817, the plantation was sold to William Rucker, whose family socialized with John James Audubon after he sketched on Cedars Lane, the road leading to the home.
The plantation was acquired in 1855 by William J. Fort, whose family was related to the families of nearby Rosedown and Catalpa plantations and who married into the prominent Butler family. Thomas Butler, the elder Butler owner, ran the plantation as a tobacco farm.
In 1905, when Thomas Butler's two daughters returned from Newcomb College, they told their father that they wanted to modernize the home in the New Orleans style. According to a plantation history, Butler agreed as long as his daughters left alone his private rooms, mainly those at the front of the home.
The Butler sisters, who used The Cedars as their weekend residence, enlarged the upstairs, had built two-story octagonal bay additions, moved the kitchen closer to the house and removed some of the earlier woodwork, which they stored in the barn. However, they abandoned the house in the 1920s because electricity was not available so far off U.S. 61.
In 1951, the home was acquired by Thomas Jenks King, a banker for many years in the area, and his wife, Augusta Walmsley, whose father was mayor of New Orleans from 1929-1936. The Kings restored the property, which had been abandoned for more than 30 years, to mid-century standards by attaching the kitchen to the house and turning the back porch into a gallery off a new family room, where a hall had originally been. Across the back of the family room, they used French doors from Uncle Sam Plantation in Convent and added mantels and doors from the Royal Hotel in St. Francisville.
The Kings reared four children in the home. In 1989, after the death of her parents, Carolyn King Perkins became the owner of the home, where she lived with her husband, Clayton Perkins Jr., until her death in 2010. Clayton Perkins Jr. and second wife, Jane Zachry Perkins, made some major renovations to the home before it was acquired by the Grezaffis in 2016.
The newest owners have filled the home with antiques collected over many years. Several pieces came from the King family, including a trunk in the library and two antique beds upstairs. They also have a gas chandelier, cornices and sliding doors that earlier owners stored in the barn, built on the property in 1805. There is also the original three-seat privy as well as the brick foundation of an old greenhouse and what appears to be the remains of a root cellar.
The five Grezaffi children love playing in the surrounding woods, swimming in the pool and sleeping in their upstairs bedrooms with wonderful views of the trees.
"It's a great place to raise a family," Kelle Grezaffi said.