The 44th annual Audubon Pilgrimage, March 20-22, celebrates spring in St. Francisville and is dedicated to West Feliciana’s most famous visitor: artist and naturalist John James Audubon, according to the West Feliciana Historical Society.
The group has sponsored the event for more than four decades.
Doors of historic homes, structures and churches are opened to commemorate Audubon, who painted a number of bird studies and who tutored Eliza, daughter of Oakley Plantation’s Pirrie family, said Anne Butler, St. Francisville native, author and local historian.
One of the four homes featured at this year’s Audubon Pilgrimage, the Levert-Bockel house, sits on a hilltop lot overlooking Ferdinand Street.
Located off the courthouse square, the cottage was built in 1918 in the then-popular bungalow style for Mamie Bockel and her husband, Dr. Eloi M. Levert.
According to Butler, Levert was from Iberville Parish, where his family grew sugarcane on the Willow Glen Plantation along the east bank of the river. He also had family at Rienzi Plantation on Bayou Lafourche.
The couple married in 1912 in New Orleans at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Church. The St. Francisville newspaper announcement of the ceremony called Bockel the only remaining member of a once large and prominent family of Bayou Sara, for she had long outlived both of her parents, Butler said.
“Mamie’s mother, Bridget, was Irish, and her father, Conrad Bockel, had arrived from Prussia to prosper in Bayou Sara. He was a master saddle maker who owned more than 25 lots in the town and had business interests in merchandising, rental property and swamp timberland,” Butler said.
“All of this property was inherited by his only child, Bockel, but the year of her marriage also was the year of one of a series of devastating spring floods in the 1920s. Levees broke and floodwaters from the Mississippi inundated Bayou Sara.”
Bockel inherited lots in Square 2 of St. Francisville, laid out upon a high narrow ridge safe from the floodwaters. The Leverts had a home built there by her relative, English-born master carpenter Thomas W. Raynham, who used salvaged architectural elements from Bockel’s flooded Bayou Sara properties — window jambs and sashes and deep door moldings blended seamlessly with the bungalow style, according to Butler.
In one room, Levert kept his medical office and saw patients, as he was known for his success in treating pneumonia in the days before antibiotics. In the 1920s, he served as prison physician at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, according to Butler.
On an adjacent lot Bockel inherited from an aunt in 1919, a cottage housed the family cook, Aunt Nellie.
“The Leverts had married late in life and remained childless. Their relationship was marked by a reserved formality, and business correspondences were closed by Mamie signing, ‘Best regards from the Doctor and I’, and by her husband, ‘the Madam and I,’” Butler said.
When Bockel died in 1939, her separate estate in West Feliciana, including four lots in St. Francisville and many more in the old town of Bayou Sara, was appraised at $3,498. Levert lived in the house for some years afterward.
Today, the home belongs to Susie Tully and Dr. Tom Tully, an avian and small animal specialist at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine.
“The house is filled with a number of caged birds large and small, and Susie is a master gardener, obvious from the colorfully imaginative landscaping with bordered beds, bricked patio with fountain and a raised wooden deck,” Butler said. “They furnished the house, which Tully bought in 1988, in craftsman style and in keeping with the home’s design. Color choices are suitable to the style as well, and the exterior is a rosy mauve with shutters in specially blended ‘Tully green.’”
Butler said the home contains four working fireplaces and brick bases for the six columns crossing the front porch that overlooks a steep, sloping front yard.
The Audubon Pilgrimage will feature three other homes this year: Dogwood, The Oaks and Retreat Plantation as well as Afton Villa Gardens, Audubon and Rosedown State Historic Sites, three 19th-century churches in St. Francisville plus St. Mary’s church in Weyanoke, and Rural Homestead with demonstrations of daily pioneer life.
A full schedule of events is planned for the three-day Pilgrimage including an Audubon play, hymn singing, graveyard tours and a wine and cheese reception.