In the spring, a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love. But for Wisconsin dairy farmer Louie Smith, it was hard to feel the warmth of passion surrounded by drifts of snow, with icicles dripping from his barn eaves. His thoughts turned from Love to Louisiana, a place close to the heart of this history-loving longtime bachelor, and he knew that in St. Francisville, one of his favorite all-time destinations, the temperature was in the seventies and the azaleas were in full bloom.
Was it any wonder, then, that Louie Smith, Wisconsin dairyman, would rev up his pickup truck and head south, girlfriend Brenda in tow. She knew where they were going; what she didn’t know was that he planned more than a vacation. He planned a proposal, and warm and welcoming St. Francisville would provide the perfect setting for what he had in mind.
Coming from another direction was young Edward Scheidt of McLean, Virginia, who works for CNN in Washington, D.C. but had left his heart in Louisiana. Not that he didn’t trust airline baggage handling, but on the trip south he kept right in his coat pocket the perfect engagement ring, which was even inscribed with 1996, the year he met his true love. In Baton Rouge, teacher Kendal Balkom had been told she was needed to housesit for friends, so she packed a few supplies and headed over to their house. Lo and behold, who should be hiding in the backyard but longtime boyfriend Edward, who spirited her off to an undisclosed location which turned out to be—naturally–St. Francisville, which they had previously enjoyed visiting.
Scheidt has carefully planned every step leading up to the perfect proposal–the surprise appearance, the surprise destination, dropping to his knee in the romantic 1850’s garden gazebo at the Bed & Breakfast where they were spending a few days. Said the beaming bridegroom-to-be, “St. Francisville is the perfect place to make memories; it’s tranquil and beautiful. You can be a total unromantic schlub, but the place does all the work for you; you just have to show up.” Said his also-beaming bride-to-be, flashing her engagement ring after jokingly accusing him of being devious, “We look forward to bringing our own family back here in the future.”
The St. Francisville area has been redolent with romance since its earliest beginnings in the late 1700’s. The towering live oaks dripping with moss, the glorious gardens full of flowering camellias and azaleas, the intoxicating scent of sweet olive trees and gardenias, the sandy creeks and unspoiled wilderness, the rushing Mississippi River, the columned plantation homes and historic townhouses, the shaded gazebo in the peaceful downtown public park, the dozen luxurious B&Bs– surely among these beauties can be found just the right setting for a proposal.
In 1861 young Sarah Turnbull accepted a proposal from James Bowman at her family home, Rosedown Plantation, and it was said to have been the 100th one she had received, this lovely lass who was called the National Belle of 1849. Many of her smitten suitors must have wooed her in the 28 acres of formal gardens being developed to set off her fine house, and even today her wedding is re-enacted periodically by state historic site staff complete with antebellum costumes and customs.
The other plantations in the area have proven no less romantic over the years, with proposals and elopements and great love affairs inspired by the settings…consider the gallant bridegroom who eloped with teenaged Eliza Pirrie of Oakley Plantation and carried her across the flooded Homochitto River en route to a Natchez honeymoon only to succumb to pneumonia within weeks, or handsome William J. Fort who wed not one but two of the Bowman sisters from Rosedown, Eliza’s granddaughters, and carried them home to the pleasure park at Catalpa Plantation complete with strolling swans and pond island for fishfries and its own dance pavillion.
Even today, these plantation settings inspire great romantic encounters and provide the backdrop for some very unique proposals. The owner of one local plantation, now operated as a Bed & Breakfast, recounted the story of the nervous suitor who reserved an overnight accommodation and had the local florist completely fill the room with flowers and chocolates and champagne before the couple arrived, much to the amusement of other guests who watched enthralled and were delighted to hear that the proposal had been accepted. Another proposal there was helped along by the small bouquets the florist arranged in advance in the room, each with a tiny message reading “Say YES!”
Other popular proposal sites are the wonderful St. Francisville area restaurants. When Stewart Hamilton recently surpised longtime love Laura Metz with a diamond engagement ring, he made elaborate plans to get her to the dazzling new Oxbow Restaurant for what she thought would be dinner with her father. She thought Stewart was out of town at work, and she was overcome when he suddenly appeared and dropped to one knee to propose. Her whole family was there to share the special moment. His whole family was there to share the special moment, too. And, this being a small town, everybody else in the restaurant knew in advance what was going to happen and they all burst into applause at the appropriate moment, sending over bottles of champagne and congratulations to the family table.
For those wanting a more private proposal setting, the nearby Tunica Hills wilderness area beckons, and impassioned proposals have been made by hikers and horseback riders, bicylists and birdwatchers and picnickers, totally alone in the unspoiled woods with only the birds to witness. Could there be a more serene locale? Doubtful. Or cross the river on the ferry right at sunset as the fiery sun drops beneath the Mississippi River waters for a spectacular backdrop for popping the question; just don’t drop that ring!
The St. Francisville area offers a veritable paradise of proposal settings, settings special for each couple, private, romantic and utterly unique. Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the area is a year-round tourist destination, with six historic plantations-Rosedown and Audubon State Historic Sites, Butler Greenwood, the Myrtles, the Cottage and Greenwood–open for daily tours, Catalpa Plantation open by reservation and Afton Villa Gardens open seasonally. Eclectic shops fill restored 19th-century structures throughout historic downtown and surrounding area, and there is a nice variety of small restaurants, several remarkably upscale. Some of the state’s best Bed and Breakfasts offer overnight accommodations ranging from golf clubs and lakeside resorts to historic townhouses and country plantations; a modern motel has facilities to accommodate busloads. The scenic unspoiled Tunica Hills region surrounding St. Francisville offers excellent biking, hiking, fishing, birding, horseback riding and other recreational activities.