Helping to preserve a piece of history

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 9, 2000

DANIEL TYLER GOODEN / L’Observateur / May 9, 2000

GRAMERCY -Nothing destroys kingdoms, buries families, recourse rivers and chews mountains down into the swamps better than the ravaging hand of time.

In St. James, Joe Samrow has matched his will against time’s and, along withthe St. James Historical Society, is working to preserve the parish’s historybefore it disappears into the past.

Samrow has lived most of his life in St. James Parish. His handshake displaysa strength thinly hidden under the veil of retirement. Large in stature,Samrow retired from Kaiser after working his way from operator to shipping supervisor. After his retirement, with a great interest in saving the localhistory of his parish, Samrow began to look into its preservation.

“My wife, Thekla, and I do a lot of traveling and every place we visited had some sort of historical museum. We knew St. James had a lot to offer,” saidSamrow. “After talking so long about it, she said ‘if it’s going to happen itlooks like you’re going to have to be it,'” he added.

Samrow was soon introduced to Jerry Haas, who had been looking into preserving the indian mounds in Bellmont and together they began the St.

James Historical Society.

Incorporated in February 1984, the society began collecting artifacts and history of the indian mounds as well as other historical sites in St. James.In 1990, the society moved into its present location in Gramercy. Continuingto collect artifacts, documents and even buildings, it quickly filled to capacity. On the property dwells the 100 year-old Paulina post office, an old-style blacksmith shop, a Perique Tobacco barn, an Acadian cottage as well as a small locomotive and other instruments of local industry.

“We’re still taking pictures, documents and critical memorabilia but we’re really full to capacity,” said Samrow. The society is currently looking forways to expand its organization, both on the east bank and the west bank.

When the society began, there were few historical tours running in the parish. As the Historical Society expanded, it helped other historical mindedorganizations enter the parish. Now there is a large collection of plantationhouse tours, bed & breakfasts and other sites set along the banks of the river. The museum also has served as a welcome center for the parish,introducing new businesses that look to enter the area to the Parish government.

All have worked to help each other out in the historical circles. One it’s goodfor one is good for all, said Samrow.

In continuing to strive for the preservation of the parish’s history, the society is continually looking to document and save all forms of its past. St.James was at one time cataloged with more historical structures than any other parish in Louisiana, said Samrow. Since he began living here in 1947,probably 10-15 percent of those old homes and buildings have disappeared from the River Road.

“From Convent to Gramercy, there are some 100 structures, still incredibly beautiful but quickly falling apart. Some of them are large eight roomplantation houses,” said Samrow. With most of the homes and propertiesdivided through multiple heirs, they tend to become neglected until they are torn down or collapse.

The society would like at minimum to see the windows and doors properly boarded up and sealed to slow down the deterioration of these ancient buildings. “At maximum we’d love to see these buildings occupied and used,”said Samrow. Currently there are no laws or ordinances set to keep thosehistorical properties maintained.

“Ordinances should be passed. The parish should take a lead role in maintainthe current preservation of its history,” said Samrow. “It’s difficult to saywhere to start, but it needs to happen,” he added.

In other areas, such as Donaldsonville in Ascension Parish, there have been historical districts designated to keep historical properties from being lost altogether. There are a few sites in St. James Parish that the HistoricalSociety has helped put on the National Historical Register, and is always hoping to register more.

The St. James Historical Society is comprised of some 125 members. Theymeet monthly to discuss current historical topics and is run by a nine- member board. Volunteers from the society help run the museum along withit’s current full-time administrator, Laurie Bourgeois. Dues are $10 a yearand anyone is invited to join who takes an interest in the history of the area.

With limited space available, the museum currently takes only valuable items, but if there are documents or pictures that one would like to donate to the society for preservation, they can call 869-9752.

Back to Top

Back to Leisure Headlines

Copyright © #Thisyear# Wick Communications, Inc.Best viewed with 4.0 or higher