ELISABETH KILBOURNE DART, 88, Writer and Historian
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Elisabeth Ann Kilbourne Dart died peacefully at home 7 March 2020. Born and raised in St. Francisville, seat of West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana where she spent most of her life, she was the only child of educator Elisabeth Lehmann Kilbourne and attorney James Holcombe Kilbourne. She attended Julius Freyhan School and All Saints Episcopal School in Vicksburg, Mississippi, before majoring in journalism at LSU in Baton Rouge. In 1951, she married Stephen Plauché Dart (1924- 2005) of New Orleans, whom she met at LSU where he was attending Law School; his practice would be located in the little office across from the courthouse where her own father had practiced law. The couple descended from prominent families in New Orleans and both East and West Feliciana Parishes.
With co-founders Nancy Vinci and Anne Bennett, she established the West Feliciana Historical Society and Museum in 1969, and was a member of the Louisiana Historical Association and president of the Friends of Oakley Plantation. She studied West Feliciana genealogy, architecture, and history, including that of St. Francisville, historically the parish cultural center and capital of the Republic of West Florida, and Bayou Sara, the vanished antebellum shipping port hard by the Mississippi River that served as the center of commerce in the 19th century. Dart wrote about West Feliciana subjects including "Working on the Railroad: The West Feliciana Railroad, 1828- 1842" for the Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, biographies of notable figures for the Louisiana State Historical Society, and first-person biographies for the Grace Church Cemetery tour, “Graveyard Tales.” Ever since she was a five-year-old piano student, she also wrestled with the huge Pilcher organ in Grace Episcopal Church to provide music for some Sunday services as well as the weddings and funerals of several generations of parishioners, playing, as she put it, “poorly but devoutly.” She will be buried in the family plot at Grace Church, where she was a life- long member and choir director.
Her elegant beauty was matched by her sharp mind. Indefatigable researcher and gifted writer, exacting historian and accomplished musician, fearless equestrian and graceful swimmer who taught generations of children in the town pool, Libby Dart was, quite simply, St. Francisville’s historical conscience, encouraging the preservation of significant structures and insisting upon a properly authentic appreciation of the past. She regularly contributed thoughtful articles to historic journals and magazines as well as the local newspaper, which ran her fascinating column she called “Palimpsests” for many years. She compiled an impressive research catalog on every aspect of local life from the most minute detail to the broad overview, delighting in the off-beat and quirky stories that dwelt behind every door in her beloved West Feliciana, where every turn of the plow or garden spade revealed whispers of history that told a story, but only to those who listened. And listen she did, letting her unbridled imagination fill in “the rest of the story.” With several strong women and a couple of men, too, she spearheaded the Audubon Pilgrimage, at which for years she appeared on her own horse in 19th-century ladies’ riding habit complete with vintage sidesaddle or walking one of her beloved Westies. As longtime head of the West Feliciana Historical Society, she commanded the entire community to get involved in preservation and the pilgrimage, and she made sure they did it, by God, with a smile.
Her efforts were recognized by numerous awards and citations, among them American Revolution Bicentennial Commission Certificate of Appreciation (1977), Certificate of Recognition Louisiana Department of Culture Recreation and Tourism (1990), Certificate of Award DAR Excellence in Community Service (1996), Foundation for Historical Louisiana Outstanding Contribution Toward Historic Preservation (2007).
Following her husband’s death in 2005, Elisabeth Dart moved to Portland, Oregon, in 2008, to be near her daughter and granddaughter, returning to New Orleans in 2014, and back to St Francisville shortly before her death.
Immediate survivors include son James Kilbourne Dart of New Orleans and St Francisville (husband David Anthony Parker II); daughter Ann Holcombe Dart (husband Dr. Ralph Harrison Beaumont III) of Portland and New Orleans; granddaughter Clara Dart Beaumont of New Orleans; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.
Funeral and burial will be at 3pm on Monday 9 March 2020, at Grace Episcopal Church, 11621 Ferdinand Street, St Francisville, LA 70775, with visitation from 1pm until 2:45 pm Monday 9 March 2020.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Old Benevolent Society Restoration Committee, the West Feliciana Historical Society, the Friends of Oakley, the Friends of Rosedown, Grace Church Cemetery Fund, the American Brain Foundation (americanbrainfoundation.org) or Hospice of Baton Rouge (hospicebr.org).