EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the fifth in a series of articles on the Audubon Pilgrimage.
Among the homes to be featured this year during the 45th annual Audubon Pilgrimage March 18-20 are The Cabildo and Rosale Plantation.
The Cabildo, believed to be from as early as 1809, was constructed of heavy hand-hewn joists and sturdy walls of handmade bricks 22 inches thick. The name is from early Spanish colonial governing bodies and its style in the tradition of Spanish colonial architecture.
Anne Butler, author and St. Francisville resident, said The Cabildo likely is one of the oldest buildings in St. Francisville with its central location just off the courthouse square that assures its involvement in all of the important milestones of local history.
In 1819, the two-story structure housed the Smith-Mills Counting House, where planters arranged sale of their goods, Butler said. Partnering in this enterprise were Jedediah Smith, captain of the Feliciana Troop of Horse during the War of 1812; his brother, Ben Smith; and John H. Mills, nephew of the founder of Bayou Sara.
During Audubon’s stay at Oakley Plantation, Jedediah Smith and his wife, Eliza Pirrie’s older half-sister, Mary Ann Gray, lived there as well.
In its early years, the structure was said to have housed everything from a monastery to a tavern operated by German-born Maximillian Nubling, who lived with his wife just beyond The Cabildo at Propinquity.
By 1824, The Cabildo was serving as the first West Feliciana Parish Courthouse after the original Feliciana Parish was divided in two. On the same lot at the corner of Royal and Prosperity streets, besides the brick house containing the counting room, storeroom and adjoining gallery, there were a brick kitchen, smokehouse, servants’ quarters, stable and corn house.
After the new, larger courthouse was damaged during the Civil War, The Cabildo served as a temporary replacement, and historic maps record other uses as a hotel, grocery store, barbershop, drugstore, library and florist shop, she said.
Cabildo homeowners Joey and Peggy Gammill have reclaimed the structure by stripping away the 1950s plaster obscuring the old brick, exposing the original arches and historic carriage entrance, returning windows and doors to original locations and opening the original ceiling joists in the dining room and master bedroom.
The Cabildo’s dining room table is made of old cypress casings, while other treasured antiques include a four-poster rolling pin bed and overseer’s desk, a walnut bookcase/desk from The Myrtles, a Pipes armoire from Refuge Plantation, a large circa-1840s portrait presumed to be Elizabeth Folkes, New Orleans convent beds and other fine pieces, according to Butler.
Rosale Plantation was part of the immense property holdings of Alexander Stirling, who by land grant and purchase, acquired roughly 10 square miles after arriving in America from North Britain in the late 1770s, Butler said.
Stirling’s wife, Ann Alston, was the sister of Oakley Plantation’s Lucretia Alston Pirrie. One son of Alexander and Ann Stirling, Ruffin Gray Stirling, mid-1900s owner of The Myrtles, was named for his uncle, Lucretia’s first husband who built Oakley. Another son, Lewis, was a leader of the West Florida Rebellion in 1810 that rid the region of Spanish control after organizational meetings at “Stirling’s Old Plantation,” Butler said.
The Stirlings’ 10th child, a daughter born in 1797 and named Ann, was associated with Rosale. Ann married Dr. Martin Luther Haynie, a physician who served as surgeon general and commander of the Provost Guard for the West Florida Republic. Permission for the wedding in 1811 had to be granted by Ann’s brother, Lewis, because she was a minor, apparently only 14, Butler writes.
It would not be three years before she was filing a petition of complaint against her husband, praying for separation of bed and board, separation of property and restitution of her inherited property, according to records.
In 1818, Ann Stirling married Andrew Skillman, a happier union that produced 10 children, nine of them girls. From her father’s estate, she inherited lands, slaves and money, and her new husband, using her funds, bought from her brother the “Old Plantation.” To the north of the original house and cemetery, the Skillmans hired railroad master carpenter Joseph R. Miller to construct a spacious brick home they called China Lodge.
In 1845, Robert Hilliard Barrow Jr., Ann’s cousin, and his wife, Mary Eliza Barrow, of Afton Villa Plantation, bought China Lodge and changed the name to Rosale to celebrate the beauty of its rose gardens.
The proud heritage continued when the last of the Barrows, Gen. Robert H. Barrow, the great-grandson of Rosale’s first R.H. Barrow, came home to the plantation after retiring from 41 years of active military service that included seven tours in the Far East, service in World War II, the Korean conflict and Vietnam.
Rosale was a mid-19th century brick house lost to fire in the 1880s, but a schoolhouse and 1840s eight-sided summer house remained.
Mary Barrow, according to historian Elisabeth K. Dart, had kept an unexploded Union shell as a souvenir, and when the house burned, it exploded and brought down one whole side of the house. The family moved the framed schoolhouse to the original house site and built around it.
Enlarged about 1900 and further improved over the years, the original schoolhouse of pit-sawn pegged timbers consisted of two rooms upstairs and down with a hallway, heart-pine flooring and huge poplar sills, which have been tastefully incorporated into the present structure, a pleasant simple farmhouse with a broad central hall, double parlors separated by large sliding doors and a surrounding porch.
The setting today includes manicured lawns sloping down to ponds and more than 100 live oaks. From every room in the airy, light-filled house are sweeping vistas.
In November 2012, Rosale, the house and 128 acres were purchased by Peter and Lynda Truitt, who have filled the home with sensible pieces, including Audubon Quadrupeds and Havell bird prints.
Some furnishings are original to the home, such as the upstairs school desk and a nursery that has a half-tester bed and spool crib, which is useful when their granddaughter comes to visit.