Restoring history

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 8, 1999

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / December 8, 1999

Who knew stripping siding from an old house could be so exciting? “This is the most fun I’ve ever had in my entire life!” the co-president of the Hahnville High School Science Club said.

The club, joined by other student organizations, community leaders, the St. Charles School Board and donations and technical assistance from farand wide, are opening a living laboratory into life from a century ago.

The Davis Nicholas house, once on River Road in Taft and built in the early years of the 20th Century, stands now behind Hahnville High School.

It’s being lovingly restored and preserved, opening a clear window into past culture, architecture and art. And, for their efforts, teacher ValButler and her students are receiving the second Angelus Award from the River Region Arts & Humanities Council at special Emilie Plantation ceremonies in Garyville, starting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.The origin of the project was the action plan of the Barataria/Terrebonne National Estuary Program which, besides preserving wetlands, also aims at preserving and restoring local culture.

Mike Matherne of Bayou Gauche, of the St. Charles Historical Foundation,knew of the planned demolition of the Taft house and tipped off Butler, whose students leaped into action.

The first problem was raising nearly $12,000 to buy the house and move it from its River Road site to Mozella. Appellate Court Judge EdwardDufresne Jr. offered to loan the necessary funds, but it was the St. CharlesSchool Board which stepped in with the loan.

Nicholas had been offered $5,000 for the valuable cypress lumber alone, and the family was delighted to see the house preserved to benefit future generations.

There were problems, of course.

“If I had known it was going to be this complicated, I would’ve been too scared,” Butler said.

A later wing and siding were removed from the original four-room house, and asbestos was also removed before the house was relocated to the school in September.

“The kids brainstormed on uses,” Butler said. Plans now includeeverything from period restorations in each room representing different decades to using the front porch for theatrical productions.

Meanwhile, money to pay back the loan poured in. Dr. Eboo Banerjee kickedin $500 and Dr. Lloyd Sensat, historical architecture expert, arranged a$5,000 donation. Other funds came, honoring past students or teachers.Butler and two girls, including co-president Jessica White of the Science Club, took off the siding before the house was moved. While working, theydeveloped a “want list” of items for the next stage of restoration work.

Top of the list was male students to do more of the “grunt” work.

Co-sponsors for the Science Club, Laura Theriot and Corey Rome, have been supervising paint scraping, brick cleaning and the winterizing of the house, making it secure against the elements.

Butler added that other curricular departments of the school, from home economics to industrial arts to history, are also getting involved to make the Davis Nicholas House a showplace of regional culture. English studentsare also already involved in an oral history project linked to the house, recording the recollections of local senior citizens.

This spring, restoration of the house’s exterior is planned and renovations of the interior are planned next summer. Biology students will also beplanting a medicinal herb garden next to the house.

Butler said the house has been a welcome boost to the enthusiasm of students across the school population. “It’s like a living classroom,” shesaid, smiling.

This is the second Angelus Award, the 1998 recipient being the St. JamesHistorical Society, headquartered in Lutcher.

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