EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the fourth in a series on the Audubon Pilgrimage.
The 45th annual Audubon Pilgrimage sponsored by the West Feliciana Parish Historical Society is slated for March 18-20 and coincides with the start of spring in St. Francisville.
For the first time, the pilgrimage will feature Vinci Cottage at Virginia House as well as Woodleigh Garden, both in the National Register-listed Historic District.
Virginia, a historic townhouse, began in 1817 as a one-room store on Royal Street, but in 1855, a two-story wing was added to accommodate the growing family of lawyer Lorenzo D. Brewer, according to St. Francisville resident Anne Butler, author of more than a dozen books on Louisiana history and culture.
In the early to mid-1900s, Virginia was the home of Oriana Pillet, longtime teacher at Freyhan School, who gave music lessons and rented rooms to make ends meet. Pillet opened Virginia for an early pilgrimage tour, advertising “century-old home furnished with family heirlooms. Meeting place of prominent people in the steamboat era. Tourist accommodations: sleep in a four-poster. Admission 25 cents.”
When Dr. Sam Vinci and his wife purchased the historic townhouse in the early 1960s, it had been painted on the outside once, and the horsehairs had never been smoothed on the inside plastering. Dated papering of questionable appeal covered interior walls.
Butler notes that the Vincis turned it into a residence where they raised two sons and were generous in sharing the home with pilgrimage visitors and preservationists over the years. After Dr. Vinci, the town dentist died, and Nancy Vinci made the difficult decision to sell Virginia and downsize, she didn’t have to move far, as the backyard featured a little cottage built from materials salvaged from Virginia’s detached kitchen and torn-down slave quarters.
One-fourth the size of Virginia and only 1,000 square feet, Vinci Cottage has a long living-dining room, kitchen, bath, tiny office and single bedroom with a four-poster bed. Favored antiques retained from Virginia add historic ambience, and a white picket fence and jalousied front porch suit the Historic District neighborhood, Butler said.
Shaded by a spreading live oak, the cottage backs up to Freyhan School, the area’s first public school and now the focus of a restoration campaign headed by Vinci. Under her leadership, the Freyhan Foundation has restored the adjacent Temple Sinai with plans to reclaim the brick school building as a public cultural center and museum.
With Vinci Cottage’s postage stamp-sized lawn, pilgrimage planners complement the tour with a garden across Royal Street called Woodleigh Garden, which embraces the hilltop home of West Feliciana Historical Society president Leigh Anne Jones and her husband, Butch.
Butler notes that the garden has shady meandering pathways filled with heirloom plants collected over the years from horticulturists in West Feliciana.