Shrine to Audubon a Tourist Attraction

Henderson has no sandy beaches on the ocean front leaning towers, giant caverns or bubbling springs, but it still rates as one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Tri-State. The reason is simple and lies just three miles north of the city limits on U. S. Highway 41 – Audubon State Park and its shrine to Henderson’s best loved and one of its most famous citizens, John James Audubon.
Audubon, the first great ornithologist and a naturalist of no minor proportion, claimed Louisiana as his birthplace, but even his biographers dispute this.
Indeed, in later years biographies have sketched the theory that he was the lost Dauphin of France, child of the martyred Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The child, about Audubon’s age, disappeared during the French Revolution. Cryptic statements in Audubon’s own autobiography such as “puzzling background,” his “noble birth” and “great secret” have provided fuel for the imagination.

Born on San Domingo
But much later biography furnishes reasonable proof that the bird-lover was born at Aux Cayes, on the island of San Domingo, April 26, 1785, to a ship’s captain and a Spanish Creole.
Audubon came to the U. S. at the age of four and with tutoring soon became an expert at music, dancing, fencing and skating.
Audubon’s father wanted him to enter the naval service, but the youth lover to escape into the wild and wooded sections and study Wildlife. His father’s patience soon wore thin and at 18 the boy was carted off to manage family property at Mill Grove near Philadelphia.
John James lived there for a time hunting, fishing and collecting specimens of birds. It was there that he conceived the idea of becoming an ornithologist and met Lucy Bakewell. A courtship developed and he fell in love with the girl.
Lucy’s father, William Bakewell, early recognized Audubon’s inability to adjust and urged the youth to establish himself in business, a venture which ended at first in failure.

Formed Partnership
Audubon went to France to confer with his father and urge his consent to his marriage to Lucy.
In 1806 he returned with Ferdinand Rozier, a young Frenchman with a way in the business world. The two then set out for the West, hoping to make their fortune selling goods to emigrants in the Ohio Valley.
Louisville was chosen as the place for the test and the firm of Audubon and Rozier flourished.
Audubon and his young wife and Rozier then set out in 1810 by flatboat, landed at Henderson and established a general store. Rozier manned the store while the nature lover roamed the forests in pursuit of rare bird specimens.
Sales volume was small, so Audubon and Rozier decided to go to St. Genevieve on the Mississippi.
Rozier was happy to find a settlement so heavily French, but Audubon disliked the place. He sold out his interest to Rozier and returned to Henderson. The general store there did well until Audubon’s brother-in-law persuaded him to erect a steam mill. The cost was enormous and the entire business soon went into the red. Audubon was jailed for failure to meet his debts but was released on a bankruptcy plea.

Sold Drawings
The great American naturalist in 1819 went to Louisville, leaving Mrs. Audubon behind for a time. John James made money drawing crayon portraits at $5 each, and his financial circumstances soon improved. He wandered aimlessly, exploring the Ohio and Mississippi for birds paying his way by drawing. When he had saved $42 he sent for his wife, and later when they had saved considerably more money, Audubon went to England to exhibit his drawings — at a nice profit.
In Scotland he had engravings made of his bird drawings — 435 plates which were later used in his folio edition of “The Birds of America,” the first book of its kind.
The book, however, was not completed until 1839, Some 30,000 miles of travel drawings and paintings of some 1,000 birds and a million words of text went into the book.
Parts of the ornithological biography, along with the earlier edition, were published in seven volumes between 1840 and 1844. John James Audubon died on his New York estate Jan, 27, 1851, at the age of 66.