Giving Back: Breathing new life into Godchaux-Reserve House

Published 12:09 am Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Alone, abandoned and left to the elements, the Godchaux-Reserve House sits on the corner of River Road and West 10th Street in Reserve.

Helping lead the current efforts to repair the building is Historical Society President Stephen Guidry.

Helping lead the current efforts to repair the building is Historical Society President Stephen Guidry.

Though time and nature have taken their toll, the Godchaux-Reserve House Historical Society is on a mission to breathe new life into one of the oldest buildings — not only in St. John the Baptist Parish — but in Louisiana.

Built around 1764 by Jean Baptiste and Marie Therese Laubel, the home changed hands many times before Leon Godchaux purchased the debt on the property in 1869 and began rebuilding the once prosperous plantation.

Godchaux, a Jewish immigrant who centralized sugar refining and developed a narrow gauge railway system leading to his sugar refinery in Reserve, provided the Godchaux-Reserve House as a home for workers at the refinery.

Leading the current efforts to repair the building is Historical Society President Stephen Guidry.

The Society will host a Sugar House Soiree this Sunday to kick off fund raising for the renovation project.

The event will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. at the St. John Theatre in Reserve with a viewing of the Godchaux-Reserve House from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. The donation is $100 per couple for an evening of hors d’oeuvres, cocktails and music by Rocky and the Sugarmen.

To purchase a ticket, or for more information, contact Society board member Julia Remondet at 504-415-5379, Stephen Guidry at 504-415-6524 or email

“It’s important to preserve the history of our community,” Guidry said. “We plan to restore the house and turn it into a museum. People have already begun to donate pictures and sugar kettles. We are in the process of recovering other artifacts.”

The history of the sugar industry is only one part of Reserve’s heritage to be exhibited in the proposed museum. Also featured will be the stories of other former owners of the house.

Jean Baptiste Fleming and Jeanette Teinter, free people of color, purchased the house in 1815 and owned it six years before selling to Francois and Elisee Rillieux, also free people of color.

The Rillieux brothers — whose cousin, Norbert, invented the multiple effect vacuum process that revolutionized the processing of sugar cane — substantially expanded the Reserve Plantation.

In 1833, it was sold it to Antoine Boudousquie, who operated the plantation until his death in 1855.

His wife Sophie was eventually forced into bankruptcy by the difficulties brought about by the Civil War, at which point Godchaux purchased the plantation.

Gerald Keller, Society board member, remembers riding past the Godchaux-Reserve House as a child.

“It was one of the most beautiful houses in Reserve,” Keller said. “Restoring it will keep a part of Reserve history alive.”

Guidry said initial plans are to put a new roof on the building.

“From there, renovations will take place one 2×4 at a time,” he said, adding he would like to use cypress wood cut from the swamp.

Upon completion, the Society’s goal is for the Godchaux-Reserve House to act as a visitors center and museum.

The facility will also be capable of supporting events for use by businesses, industries and individuals for meeting and functions.

Hopefully, much of the history of Reserve will be preserved in the Godchaux-Reserve House as the stories of the community are told, retold and remembered.

— By Ronny Michel