A deal sweet as sugar

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 18, 2009



LAPLACE – St. John the Baptist Parish officials are poised to take control of an aging historical landmark home in Reserve that dates back more than 200 years.

The parish council will vote Tuesday night on a measure that would allow Parish President Bill Hubbard to accept ownership of the Godchaux House on behalf of the parish. The property, which has been in the parish since the late 1700’s, would be donated to the parish by the Godchaux/Reserve House Historical Society, which has managed the land since 1997.

“It is an interesting piece of history that has quite an amazing past,” said Judy Songy of the Historical Society. “We are extremely grateful that (the parish) has stepped up to help us save the building.”

Hubbard said the parish has been working over the past year to examine all the options for rehabilitating the home. If the council approves the donation, Hubbard said the 1,800-square-foot home, located on the corner of West 10th Street and River Road, would be one of the foundations of the historical redevelopment plan for the Reserve area.

“We plan to work with the tourism commission to turn the site into a tourist information center and a prime tourism spot,” said Hubbard. “Buses constantly pass right by the building on the way to plantation homes and other tourist attractions. It would be a nice addition to what we already have in St. John.”

Buddy Boe, a parish spokesman, said St. John has access to about $6.9 million from the Louisiana Recovery Authority that is set aside for hurricane recovery projects. He said pending state approval, the parish hopes to use about $350,000 to renovate the building.

“In the meantime, if the council votes to approve the transfer, we will immediately work to secure the building and patch holes to prevent further deterioration,” Boe said. “Then we will move on securing further funding.”

According to historical documents, the original house was a two-room structure built around 1764 by Jean Baptist and Marie Therese Laubel. The property was sold several times and was twice owned by free people of color.

The house was eventually expanded into a larger plantation home in the mid 1800s. Various owners managed the home as a plantation right up until the Civil War, when husband and wife owners Antoine Boudousquie and Sophie Andry fell into bankruptcy.

In 1869, a French-born Jewish merchant named Leon Godchaux purchased the debt on the home from Andry and began rebuilding the plantation. Over time, Godchaux and his descendents turned the plantation into a sugar refinery, which eventually became one of the largest sugar industries in the world, as well as the economic base of most of Reserve’s residents.

“I always hear stories about how everyone in Reserve once worked at the Godchaux refinery and how residents would like to see something done to the property,” said Councilman Danny Millet, who represents Reserve. “I hope that we can secure some grants to turn the house back into what it once was.”

The refinery was eventually sold in 1975 to the Great Western Company of Texas. The firm operated the refinery until 1985, when the owners went bankrupt and shut the refinery down for good.

In 1993, when the property was purchased by the port of South Louisiana, the Historical Society raised funds to move the aging home to its current location. The home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 and the Historical Society has since been working to acquire funds to resurrect the house.

“It has been extremely difficult to raise money because it is not a big antebellum home,” Songy said. “We get someone interested in helping us, but something always backfires. If the parish can restore it, it can be used for multiple purposes.”

The council meets Tuesday night at the Percy Hebert Building in LaPlace at 6 p.m.