Couple retires to West Feliciana in family house
St. Francisville — Paul and Mary Anne Stevens knew that when he retired from his position in advertising with Continental Airlines, they would move from their home in Washington, D.C., to the St. Francisville area.
Mary Anne Stevens’ roots on both sides of her family go back to the early families of West Feliciana. “We decided to come back here because it’s the prettiest place in the world, and we had some family here,” she said.
Even before Paul Stevens retired, the couple began looking at houses in the area. About 2002, local real estate agent Mary Frances Smart suggested that the Stevenses take a look at a log cabin that Mary Anne Stevens’ uncle, Horatio Nelson Jackson “Jack” Babers, built about 1940 on Rosemound Plantation. He named the house Micajah Lodge after his grandfather, Vincent Micajah Jackson, who built Rosemound. The home had been vacant and on the market for at least five years.
Mary Anne Stevens was more curious than interested in the house, which had originally contained a mantel hand-carved by her father, Montrose Barrow, Jack Babers’ brother-in-law. Across the cypress mantel Barrow had carved the words, “This Is the House that Jack Built.”
“I wanted to see if the mantel was still here,” Mary Anne Stevens said. “We came in the door. I looked at the mantel and burst into tears.” That was it. The couple had to have the house, but they knew it would be a project.
“It was horrible,” Paul Stevens said. “The windows didn’t close, but it had great bones and a magnificent fireplace.”
Cindy Nicholas, a local decorator, helped the Stevenses renovate the house, which required jacking up the foundation, a complete rewiring and central air and heat. The house, originally contained small windows, which the Stevenses wanted to change to add light and to give them an expanded view of their secluded setting. “When they started cutting through the windows, they had to cut through the logs and this budget became that budget,” said Paul Stevens describing with an arm spread that went from about a foot to longer than a yard.
Visitors to the Friends of the West Feliciana Parish Library Christmas in the Country Tour of Homes on Sunday will have the opportunity to tour this gem of a home traditionally decorated for Christmas with native greenery.
The exterior of the house was always board and batten, so the log cabin view was not apparent from the outside, which the Stevenses left almost unchanged. When the house was built, all of the wood was harvested from the plantation, and three of the main rooms were finished in different woods. The great room with the fireplace and mantel is pecky cypress. The master bedroom is done in yellow pine, and the front room is magnolia.
The Stevenses preserved the three wood-panel rooms, converted a porch adjoining the great room to their dining room and completely redid the old kitchen, which originally had a barbecue pit inside.
Contractor Burnett Carraway started the work on the house shortly after Hurricane Katrina. The project took about a year. At the end of 2006, the Stevenses and their Australian shepherd Luke moved in.
That same year, the couple started work on a small house on the property for Mary Anne Stevens’ mother, Hannah Eldridge Babers Barrow, who grew up at Rosemound Plantation but was living in Houston. The little house, which will also be on the library tour, was finished by Thanksgiving. “She came for Thanksgiving and then Christmas but passed away in 2007,” Mary Anne Stevens said. She never lived in the house, which is now a guest house.
The main house, which the Stevenses call Jack’s House, is filled with artwork collected over years of travel and at auctions. “Paul is a collector and a big auction fan,” Mary Anne Stevens said. Among his collection are several 19th-century dioramas of sailing ships done in intricate detail often by sailors or folk artists.
On display in the dining room is part of a collection of 800 pieces of china in the Dubarry pattern ordered for Afton Villa before the Civil War. “My great-grandfather, whose last name was a “B” like the Barrows (of Afton Villa) said that all of this china ordered before the war was sitting on the wharf in New Orleans, and the wharf agent said he would sell it for the price of the duty,” Mary Anne Stevens said. Her great-grandfather, Darling Babers, had six children, so the collection has been divided among the children and over the succeeding generations.
“We have just a smidgen of it,” she said.
The Stevenses love their life in the St. Francisville area. They are devoted to Luke, who plays on the five secluded acres and pretends to chase cars, when given permission, from his fenced area as they drive along the Rosemound Loop that was once a part of U.S. 61.
From June to October, the Stevenses escape the hot Louisiana summers in a cabin they own in Maine. “I, being a northerner, wanted the New England experience,” Paul Stevens said. “We say we have the best of both worlds.”