Walt's Look Around: Oakley Plantation - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Walt's Look Around: Oakley Plantation

ST. FRANCISVILLE, LA (Mississippi News Now) -

I am still fascinated by what we found in Louisiana a couple of weeks ago, with Mississippi ties. It was plantations we wanted to see mostly. Well, that's not exactly true. We just wanted to get out of town for a few days and ended up going and seeing some plantations.

Iconic Oak Alley at Vacherie, Louisiana south of Baton Rouge is one of the most photographed houses in America, I guess.

Up river at St. Francisville is the Myrtles, supposed to be the most haunted house in America. And nearby is Oakley Plantation.

The house at Oakley is located in the Audubon Memorial State Park. While engaged as a tutor at Oakley, naturalist John James Audubon completed a fourth of his portfolio of native birds that would later become his famous birds of America series.

Although Oakley is in Louisiana, it has Mississippi connections, too. For instance the house was built by a successful Natchez planter Ruffin Gray in 1799. He died before the house was finished and his widow remarried and finished and lived in Oakley. It was her daughter that hired Audubon to teach over the summer of 1821.

Another tie to Mississippi in general and Natchez in particular is Audubon himself. In his journal he writes of selling portraits for five dollars apiece to residents in and around Natchez for survival money.

Audubon also mentions going past the mouth of the Yazoo River as it emptied into the Mississippi and commenting on the sparkling clear water pouring from it. That was back in the day when the Delta was still a jungle and swamp before the first plow ever broke the soil there.

By the way it was in Natchez that Audubon decided his fortune wasn't going to be made in selling quick portraits, but in publishing a book of his wildlife sketches, his Birds of America.

And at Oakley Plantation, in St. Francisville, is where the germ of that idea originated; from here to Bayou Sara and Woodville and Natchez and south to New Orleans and north to the Delta, in a day when not only the Yazoo ran clear, but wildlife overflowed the banks of the Mississippi.

And out in the yard you can still hear the calling of birds, the descendents of those that fascinated John James Audubon nearly 200 years ago.

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