Off the map

“There are two types of people in Louisiana, those who live in St. Francisville and those who want to!”
— St. Francisville Mayor Billy D’Aquilla

Cross-country cyclists following Adventure Cycling Association’s Southern Tier route will no longer be routed through one of the most charming, historic and picturesque of Southern river towns: St. Francisville, La.

Southern Tier route

The news comes from Carla Majernik, director of Adventure Cycling Association’s Routes and Mapping Department. It was reported in the Aug. 17 edition of the association’s Bike Bits, an online compilation of cycling news.
“This is to alert everyone that there is a new end-point city on the newest version of map section
#5 of the Southern Tier,” Majerik said. “This map section now ends in New Roads, Louisiana, instead of St. Francisville.
“The change results from the fact that last May, a Mississippi River ferry crossing closed permanently. A new bridge was built about three miles downriver from where the ferry was located and the route no longer can go through St. Francisville.”
That’s very sad news.
In November 2009, during the final three weeks of a transcontinental bicycle journey from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla., along Adventure Cycling Association’s Southern Tier route, I spent a pleasant sojourn in St. Francisville, our first stop on the eastern side of the Mississippi River.
St. Francisville was a scheduled rest stop on our 65-day trip. Some members of of our bicycling caravan — then numbering 12 — chose to rent a van and pay a whirlwind, overnight visit to New Orlean. Others, like myself, who had savored the delights of the Crescent City, chose to stay in St. Francisville — to relax, do laundry and do maintenance on our bikes in preparation for the home stretch of our cross-country trek through Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
I did a leisurely bike ride through St. Francisville, perched on high bluffs between Natchez, Miss., to the north and Baton Rouge, La., to the south.

A stately home in St. Francisville

Several of the stately homes and welcoming B&Bs in the town’s historic district flew blue flags with a large white star in the center. Called the Bonnie Blue Flag, it was a remembrance of St. Francisville’s moment of glory, when for a little more than a month in the autumn of 1810 the town was the capital of the self-proclaimed Republic of West Florida. (See Nov. 5, 2009, blog post, “A short-lived southern republic.)
I had an excellent grilled-shrimp po’ boy sandwich and a bottle of Abita Amber beer at the Magnolia Cafe, where I met a young French-Canadian couple who were bicycling to the Pacific Northwest. That evening, I and two of my traveling companions enjoyed a splendid meal — complete with wine, white tablecloth and real silverware — at one of St. Francisville’s more elegant dining establishments. It was welcome change after weeks of eating our collectively cooked meals out of Tupperware containers with plastic utensils at campsites and seedy RV parks the breadth of America.
The stop in St. Francisville was fixed in my mind even before our cycling caravan had set out from San Diego on Sept. 20, 2009. A friend was canoeing the length of the Mississippi River from its headwaters at Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota to New Orleans, and we had the fanciful notion of crossing paths at St. Francisville. But it turned out that a rendezvous wasn’t in the cards; he had been held up in Mississippi quite a few miles upriver.

A St. Francisville residence flies the Bonnie Blue Flag

St. Francisville was also the place where we learned that one of fellow riders had to abandon the trip. Our prevous overnight stop had been a campsite near Simmesport. The morning of our departure for St. Francisville, we learned, he had awakened with an eye problem. He was on cooking rotation that morning and prepared a pot of grits and a nice fruit salad for his traveling companions’ breakfast.
Without, to my knowledge, making any mention of a problem to his fellow riders, he rode nearly 40 miles from Simmesport to New Roads, downriver, where he saw an ophthalmologist. He learned that he had a detached retina and needed immediate surgery to reattach it. He flew home to the West Coast from New Orleans the next day.
Even in 2009, ferry service to St. Francisville was sporadic. When we reached the river after our ride from Simmesport, we heard that the ferry was out of service and no one seemed to know when it might be working again. So most of us gathered at a bar and grill near the river and tried to figure out what to do next. How far downriver was a bridge? What distance would that add to the day’s ride, already amounting to about 50 miles? After a couple hours, word came from our ride leader that the ferry was up and running, so we headed for the landing and crossed to St. Francisville.

The newly completed John James Audubon Bridge. Photo by Joe Dunn

The new John James Audubon Bridge is about 3 1/2 miles downriver from where the ferry operated, and that route for cyclists on the Southern Tier will bypass St. Francisville.
That’s a shame.
I don’t know New Roads, now designated as the end-point of Section 5 of the Adventure Cycling Association’s Southern Tier maps. I’m sure it’s a nice town. Settlers from France established an outpost called Le Poste de Pointe Coupée in the 1720s near what is now New Roads, according to Wikipedia. But I’ll bet it will be tough for New Roads to match St. Francisville for scenery, charm and history.


1 Comment

Filed under Americana, Cycling across America, History, Journeys, Travels

One response to “Off the map

  1. John Vandevelde

    Thank you for the news and I join in your lament.

    Crossing the Mississippi on our Southern Tier, was a very meaningful and moving experience for me. I am sure you remember that even though it was not your friend’s canoe, we did see a couple of guys in an aluminum canoe paddling South as we floated East on the ferry. For me that intersection was a total eclipse, a double whammy. The fact that some strangers, who I instantly imagined having started at the Northern Boundaries of the US and intending to finish in the Gulf of Mexico, happened to cross our path North to South as we went across the Mississippi and the country from West to East was a good omen. That coincidental intersection captured a lot for me and confirmed the value of the sweat and sacrifice of our own adventure. It was an incredibly heady feeling for me rolling into St. Francisville–a picture perfect, genteel, sophisticated oasis on the banks of the Mississippi. I am glad we experienced St. Francisville, and suspect those who take the new bridge from New Roads and miss out on the ferry and St. Francisville will also miss out on feeling the life, almost an aortic pulse, coursing in our nation’s most important river.

    Then again, I don’t much like big bridges on a bike, so maybe I am just biased.


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