A Haunting Journey – by Tara Ambrose

A weekend away at the eclectic Myrtle’s Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana

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by Tara Ambrose of Tara’s Taste of the Town

Each month I spend weeks wandering throughout our marvelous state, looking at the grandeur of it and even the simplicity that remains in so much of our history.   Meandering away from the typical North Louisiana sights, I set my GPS and grabbed a friend in tow to head to one of our southern sister parishes, in West Feliciana Parish.

Beginning this journey there were storm clouds brewing all around us, an utter heaviness in the air, and lightening striking all around us – at one point so close you could feel the static in your skin as the hair on the back of your neck began to rise, but this was no deterrent for my journey.

Briefly pausing along the way to pick up scrumptious morsels in Vidalia, Louisiana, (which is another story for another time) we finally arrived in St. Francisville and eagerly  look for the entranceway to the adventure I was about to embark upon.

Beneath the lush cutzu vines, the drive bid me “welcome”.   Pulling onto such historic grounds was breathtakingly majestic, yet hauntingly inviting, to which I knew this would be a visit unlike any other for certain.

As with any trip through the past, in order to appreciate the rich history of the Myrtle Plantation, one must have a historical background to form the basis of any great story.

It all began with General David Bradford, dubbed “Whiskey Dave” for his involvement in the infamous Whiskey Rebellion.  Bradford was a successful attorney, businessman and even a Deputy Attorney General in Pennsylvania but was rumored to have had to make a quick departure from his home without his family, as it is said that President George Washington had placed a bounty upon Bradford for his involvement in the Whiskey Rebellion.

Being no stranger to this area after his travels in 1792, attempting to obtain a grant from Spain, Bradford purchased 600 acres near Bayou Sara (near where St. Francsiville is located in present date).

The original structure, consisting of eight rooms, on this picturesque plantation was erected by Bradford in 1797 and was named “Laurel Grove”.   Bradford remained at Laurel Grove alone until sometime in 1799 when he was pardoned by then sitting President, John Quincy Adams, for Bradford’s assistance in establishing “Ellicott’s Line” between Spain and the United States.

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In 1801 Bradford returned to Pennsylvania to collect his wife, five children and to try to sell the family home there. This inevitably resulted in a trade deal that Bradford would never settle prior to his death in 1817.

Moving forward through history, Clark Woodruff, who was one of Bradford’s law students in Louisiana, later married Bradford’s daughter, Sarah Mathilda at Laurel Grove under the canopy of the crepe myrtle trees, which was thought to have been the namesake for the plantation years later.

After the death of Bradford, Woodruff managed the plantation with his mother-in-law, Elizabeth, utilizing his farming knowledge, and later acquired an additional acreage for the growing family.  Woodruff and his wife Sarah would  go on to have three children together, Cornelia Gale, James and Mary Octavia, though their happiness would be short lived in years to come with the untimely deaths of not only Sarah Mathilda, but also with the deaths of two of their three children.

Fighting the despair of the tragic loss of his wife and two children, Woodruff chose to purchased Laurel Grove from his mother-in-law, who continued to reside with Woodruff and the one remaining child until her death in 1830.

While it could be imagined that Woodruff was overcome by the tragic losses he endured at Laurel Grove, history shows that he sold the plantation to Ruffin Grey Stirling in 1834, after being appointed to a Judge’s position in Covington that Woodruff maintained until sometime in 1835.

Taking over Laurel Grove, the buildings, and slaves who had been purchased by David Bradford and his wife, Elizabeth, proved to be no hardship on the wealth of Ruffin and his wife, Mary Catherine Cobb Stirling, but they wanted “bigger”.

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Once complete, the renovations that Stirling added to Laurel Grove nearly doubled the size of the plantation and played host to the elite social standing Ruffin and Mary had in the community; however, it wasn’t just befitting the wealth of the Stirlings to double the size of Laurel Grove, they officially renamed the plantation to its present name, “The Myrtles”.

Sadly enough, tragedy would befall the Stirling family just as it had done to the preceding owners of these glorious grounds beginning with the death of Ruffin Stirling and his son, Lewis in 1854.  Disturbingly enough, only four of the nine children of Ruffin and Mary would survive long enough to take spouses of their own.

As the smoke clouds billowed, the cannons fired, and General Lee surrendered, the plantation was left in ruins by the Federal Soldiers during the Civil War; and the Myrtles, like the Stirling family, were reduced to shambles after the diminution of confederate currency to nothing; steadfastly, Mary Stirling held on to her beloved Myrtles, but not for long.

Times we hard in the years following the Civil War, and Mary Stirling appointed her son-in-law, William Winter as her agent and attorney to assist with the managing of the Myrtles.  Married to Sara Mulford Stirling, William would sadly become yet another calamity in the suffering that has been the legacy of The Myrtles.  According to local legend it said that Winters was in the home when an assailant galloped up to the plantation on horseback, calling to the occupants of the home from the outside.  Unbeknownst to Winter, he walked out to the front porch where he was shot by the assailant.  It is said that William fought off death long enough to stagger into the home, calling out the name of his beloved wife, Sara, who met her husband on the 17th step inside the main house where he succumbed to his fatal injury in the arms of his wife.

Heartbroken from the loss of her love, Sara never remarried and remained at the plantation with her brothers and her mother until her untimely death in 1878 at only 44 years of age.  One may wonder if Sara’s death was simply from that of a broken heart over the loss of her loveWilliam.

Changing hands yet again, in 1880 Stephen Stirling (son of Mary and brother of Sara) who purchased the plantation only to sell it in 1886 to Oran D. Brooks, ended the Stirling’s legacy of The Myrtles.

A few short years later, with little known about the causation, the plantation was bought by Harrison Milton Williams who moved into the lavish homestead with his second wife, Fannie, and seven children, but again… it wouldn’t be long until the dark angel of death would again strike at The Myrtles.

Williams’ eldest son, Harry Williams, would be the next in the series of tragic deaths and sadness at The Myrtles.  Attempting to lend aid to the family by herding cattle, Harry met his untimely demise by drowning when he fell into the mighty Mississippi.  It was after Harry’s death, distraught by the loss of their eldest son, the Williams’ turned over the running of the plantation to another son, Surget Minor Williams. As time marched on, the Williams’ family passed on and their heirs divided the property, and the house was later sold to Marjorie Munson sometime in the 1950’s.

From the historical standpoint alone, the grim past of The Myrtles is paramount.  Ghostly sightings have occurred more and more over the years by the guests who are brave enough to embark into the “strange and unusual” , but hauntingly beautiful,  history one will find at The Myrtle Plantation.  But please don’t take my word for it, book your reservations, and make certain that you include the “Mystery Tour” on your next visit.

During my stay, I not only enjoyed the amazing amenities found in one of the newest editions of the plantation, namely the Crepe Myrtle Cabin, but my guest and I delved into some of the finest dishes under the moon and stars, so make certain that you come hungry, because a haunting good time goes hand-in-hand with the amazing culinary creations and fine spirits in the Carriage House Restaurant, located conveniently on the grounds at The Myrtle Plantation.

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As my guest and I departed the Myrtle Plantation, I couldn’t help but be amazed at all of the wonderful staff members that I encountered both on the grounds, in the guest house, and at the Carriage House Restaurant.

 

Crave more?  Visit Tara’s Taste of the Town on Facebook for an in-depth look inside this locale as well as other local restaurants at.

 

The Myrtle Plantation

Location:  7747 U.S. Highway 61

P.O. Box 1100

St. Francisville, LA 70775

Phone: (225) 635-6277

 

The Carriage House Restaurant

Location:  7747 U.S. Highway 61

St. Francisville, LA 70775

Phone:  (225) 635-6278

Hours of Operation:

Monday – Sunday  (11 a.m. to 2p.m.)

Monday – Saturday (5 p.m. to 9 p.m. )

Sunday Brunch – (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

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