Bringing history back to life

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 5, 2000

DANIEL TYLER GOODEN / L’Observateur / August 5, 2000

Another historical home is being saved from the ruinous hand of time. Slowlymoving along the path to collapse and demolition, like so many other Acadian and Creole homes in the River Parishes, this old home along the River Road in Convent has been taken under the wing of Robert E. Judice, owner ofCabanocey Construction.

Contracted to restore the Acadian home to it’s original designs, Judice has been busy combing the old house for clues of when it was built, who may have lived there and how the home has evolved over 200 years.

In the last few weeks Judice has been busy stripping down the house to its original construction. Covered in wall paper, tar paper, newspapers from1943 and linoleum, the walls and floors have been sealed tight. Underneathlies the keys to discovering the origins of the house.

After removing all the scrap and bringing the old materials back to the surface, Judice has determined that the house dates between 1800-1810.

Old mud and moss walls and a Norman-Truss wood system tell of the age.

Differences in the structure of the house tell Judice that it was renovated shortly after being built, maybe as early as five years. The original house hadone room in the front and two in the rear, said Judice. When it wasredesigned two more rooms were added, with three in the front and three in the rear. Evidence of this runs through the whole house, from the frontporch to the attic.

On the porch support beams change size or match up a little off center. Thewooden columns holding up the roof have been shifted in order to be properly centered on the house, said Judice.

Inside, structural supports in the walls change design or show signs of newer construction methods. In the center rooms Judice pointed out where thewalls first ended before the house was expanded. Pulling away the old mantlepiece, there is evidence of its original designs. Doors were added or removedin the various rooms. One in particular was closed up with brick, showing amuch later date to its renovation. Another door was added “probably toaccept a piece of furniture that was needed for the room,” said Judice.

In the attic a heavy cypress floor was laid down. The attic thus was built forstoring and made to be walked on, said Judice. Half the floor was hand-carvedin a tongue in groove style, with each board slipping into the next on in line.

On the upriver side of the house the flooring is laid side by side, with slightly smaller boards, added at the same time as the rooms below. In the roofingbeams an old Norman-Truss stops abruptly. It indicates the original locationof the fireplace. In the later addition a second fire place was added and bothcentered in the house.

An old railing has been set in front of an open window. The railing is asegment from the front porch. Though the railings are now gone, an oldpicture from the mid 1900’s displays the railing at that time.

“They probably allowed the kids upstairs to play,” said Judice, explaining the oddity.

“Just like nowadays people changed and renovated as their families changed.

Families grow and the house adapts,” said Judice. It’s like if you have a goodyear, you decide to add in a pool, he added.

Two different workmen were contracted to work on the house, said Judice.

The markings on the original structures of the house are continuous slashes marking different sections. Instead of stopping at four, the slashes continueup through six and so on, said Judice. The second contractor made hismarkings with Roman Numerals. The second workman was most likely a moreeducated contractor.

One of the most unique and exciting aspects of the house occurs on the outside of the building. The gabled ends are constructed of cypress shakes ina West Indies style. The shakes are attached in a curved pattern to give theillusion of a wrap-around roof. There are no homes in the River Parishesrestored with original West Indies gables. This home is very unique due to thealmost impossible to find design.

“The style really adds something to the house. It really softens the roughlines,” said Judice.

Underneath the tin roof the original cypress singles still lay overlapping each other. After pulling up some of the tin, Judice said the old cypress is stillholding up well after 200 years, with only a couple small leaks after a recent shower.

One of the later additions to the house, a breezeway and exterior room, has been torn down. The 1890’s addition may have been a one-room kitchen.Judice has salvaged the old materials, still in great shape, to reconstruct the main house.

Judice is excited that he’s been contracted to restore such a fine house.

“Overall it’s a good example of the middle-class working families,” said Judice. In regards to historical preservation, “There is a lot of emphasis onbig columns and bricks. This was just as important to this region and thestate,” he added.

Judice finds that this is an excellent project to restore simple because so many houses like it have been disregarded do to their small scale.

With St. James Parish home to an overwhelming amount of historical homes,many of which are being pulled down by time, vines and overgrowth or a simple desire to clear a lot, it’s good to see more old family homes returning to the glory of their past. When Judice finishes this home it will again look asit did in the 1800’s sitting just as it has on it’s original foundation. It seemsfitting after it has so well survived the path of an ever changing Mississippi, hurricanes, wars, depressions and the progress of man.

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