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Audubon State Historic Site

The main feature of the 100-acre woodland site is Oakley House, where John James Audubon lived for a short time.

Oakley House
Photo Credit - Louisiana Office of State Parks

"The rich magnolias covered with fragrant blossoms, the holly, the beech, the tall yellow poplar, the hilly ground and even the red clay, all excited my admiration. Such an entire change in the fall of nature in so short a time seems almost supernatural, and surrounded once more by numberless warblers and thrushes, I enjoyed the scene."

So reads the journal of John James Audubon as he recorded his arrival in 1821 at Oakley Plantation.

This lush natural setting, with a variety of birds singing throughout the 100-acre forest, still inspires visitors. In these peaceful environs, it is easy to imagine the artist filling his sketch pad with notes and drawings for his famous series of bird illustrations.

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Audubon came upriver from New Orleans to do more than paint pictures. He had been hired to teach drawing to Miss Eliza Pirrie, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James Pirrie, owners of Oakley. He was aid $60 a month, with room and board provided for him and his 13-year old pupil/assistant, Joseph Mason. He was allowed to spend half of his time roaming the woods to work on his paintings.

Audubon would collect and prepare his bird specimens, make his drawings, paint the bird, and then instruct young Mason on the proper background vegetation to add to each bird painting. The other half of his time was devoted to tutoring Eliza.

His teacher-artist arrangement was short-lived due to a misunderstanding with Mrs. Pirrie. Only four months after his arrival, Audubon returned to New Orleans. Although there is no record of his success in teaching Miss Pirrie to draw, in his personal endeavors he completed or began 32 bird paintings while at Oakley.

Oakley House
The tall, airy house where John James Audubon stayed is a splendid example of colonial architecture adapted to its climate. Built circa 1806, Oakley predates the relatively heavy details of classic revival in Southern plantation homes and claims distinction for its beautiful simplicity.

A West Indies influence can be seen in the jalousied galleries which allow cool breezes to drift through the rooms while keeping out rain and the glare of the sun. Adam mantels, delicate decoration of the exterior gallery stairs and a simple cornice frieze are Oakley's only ornaments.

Plantation kitchen
Photo Credit - Louisiana Office of State Parks
Simple and dignified by its unusual height, the building seems a suitable part of its beautiful forest setting. In 1973, Oakley House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, an honorary designation for significant historic sites.

The rooms of Oakley have been restored in the style of the late Federal Period (1790-1830), reflecting their appearance when Audubon stayed there. Assisted by historical societies, the Office of State Parks worked with private resources to re-create authentic settings throughout the historic house.

The large, detached plantation kitchen, typical of the period, was reconstructed on the old foundations, around the original chimney. The kitchen building also contains a weaving room and an ironing/wash room.

Adjacent to the house is a plantation barn which displays numerous horse-drawn implements and vehicles.

Two slave cabins, located a short distance from the rear of the house, give a glimpse into the laborers' way of life on the plantation.

Restored formal and kitchen gardens adjacent to the house demonstrate the early Louisiana plantation owners' tendency to re-create formal beauty in their wilderness environment.

Guided tours of Oakley House are offered daily. A picnic pavilion is useful for groups planning an outing to Audubon State Historic Site, and the lovely grounds of the house are a marvelous setting for strolling along and enjoying the natural beauty of the area.

Wonderful and creative special events, programs and demonstrations take place throughout the year. Contact Audubon State Historic Site for details.

Audubon State Historic Site -- (P.O. Box 546, St. Francisville, LA 70775; 225-635-3739 or 1-888-677-2838) is located in West Feliciana Parish, near St. Francisville on LA 965. From Baton Rouge, it is just 30 minutes away: follow US 61 north to LA 965, then turn right and follow the signs.

The main feature of the 100-acre woodland siteis Oakley House, where John James Audubon lived for a short time. Other facilities include formal and kitchen gardens, a separate kitchen and weaving room, a plantation barn, two slave cabins, a picnic area with a shelter and a nature trail through the acres of magnolia and poplar trees.

Email: audubon@crt.state.la.us

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