One of four featured homes at the 44th annual Audubon Pilgrimage on March 20-22 is Dogwood, situated in the Thompson Creek delta.
By 1794, George Freeland arrived in Louisiana from the Carolinas with his wife, two young sons and several slaves determined to make a new life. The home he built in 1803 was of hewn logs in the pen tradition with two rooms on each side flanking a hallway and an upstairs sleeping loft, said Anne Butler, St. Francisville native and author.
After Freeland’s death in 1835, finished lumber from steam sawmills permitted new owners in the Atkins family to sheath the logs in clapboards outside and plaster the interior walls. A series of subsequent owners made additional improvements, most notably Baton Rouge antiques dealers Robert Womack and Ernest Gatlin, who in 1970 added a rear wing with modern kitchen and several bedrooms and baths to serve as bed-and-breakfast accommodations.
In 2005, New Orleans attorney, entrepreneur and political activist Rob Couhig and his wife, Missy, took refuge from Hurricane Katrina with family members living in the St. Francisville area. A stay stretched into months for the couple who had been looking for a beach house, Butler said.
Couhig had clipped a tiny ad for a historic home with a pond on La. 966 south of St. Francisville but decided to purchase a temporary home in the Felicianas that he and his wife could sell once a return to New Orleans was possible.
According to Butler, they looked and looked but with no luck. The very last house the real estate agent showed the couple, which happened to be on La. 966, triggered Rob’s memory of the dog-eared clipping folded and forgotten in his wallet.
“The clipping described Dogwood, which had fallen into such deplorable condition that it was not even listed on the real estate market anymore,” Butler said.
“Walking on the wood floors was like being on a trampoline, they bounced so much,” Missy Couhig said.
Today, Dogwood has a new tin roof, new electrical and plumbing systems, new French drains and gleaming 200-year-old heart pine floorboards that were meticulously removed, finished and flipped.
“The idea of selling once New Orleans was habitable again didn’t happen,” Butler said. “Now, the Couhigs spend long weekends at Dogwood, gardening and enjoying the peace and quiet.”
The home is filled with inherited furnishings from Rob’s mother, the late Nootsie Couhig, of Asphodel Plantation in East Feliciana, Butler said.
“Nootsie had an eclectic style of decorating that was a confidently carefree elegance of style,” said Butler.
The double parlor set from Asphodel still bears the date it was shipped in 1834 from France. There’s an American Empire secretary, an English Chippendale card table and a colorful pitcher considered one of the earliest pieces of Mason ironstone in America.
Most of the lighting fixtures through the home are converted gasoliers but an elaborate French chandelier is from Asphodel.
The dining room features a 19th-century New Orleans dining table, Mallard buffet and colorful portrait of Queen Victoria’s surgeon-general resplendent in scarlet coat and painted with his wife in England in 1869, Butler said.
A large soup tureen was part of a service for 18, which was Nootsie’s grandmother’s wedding china, and shipped in 1835 from Limoges, France, painted in Canada and then sent by barge to New Orleans.
Besides Dogwood, other homes featured at this year’s Pilgrimage include Retreat Plantation and The Oaks in the country and the Levert-Bockel House in St. Francisville.
Afton Villa Gardens, Audubon (Oakley Plantation) and Rosedown State Historic Sites, three 19th-century churches in town and St. Mary’s in the country, as well as the Rural Homestead with lively demonstrations of the rustic skills of daily pioneer life are all part of the Pilgrimage.