Bonjour et Bonne Année!
In this season of rebirth and renewal, I write today of a “phoenix” that has risen from the ashes more than once!
This phoenix is the c.1830 “maison de Dimanche” or Sunday house, now on the grounds of Au Vieux Paris Antiques. I found it melting back into the earth in St. Martinville in 1981.
Even before I found it, the house had already undergone a move around 1845 from the front of its lot on the corner of Bridge and Pinot streets to the rear of the lot, where it was “downgraded” to become an outdoor kitchen for the “new” house built in its former location.
Originally it was probably what we would call today a weekend house for someone who had a large house out of town. In the 18th and 19th centuries if you came into St. Martinville (known as “Petite Paris “SVP”!!) for shopping and the opera house on Saturday or church on Sunday, and it rained, you could not travel the mud roads back home to the surrounding countryside. Therefore if you could manage to have a “maison de Dimanche” in town, this common problem was solved with a nice degree of luxury.
Court house records indicate the house was sold in 1831, shortly after it was built. The document that states the description of the lot also mentions “la petite maison”. When I first found this little gem of early Louisiana architecture, I thought it was constructed by Alexandre DeVince Bienvenu, but further courthouse research relieved that the original owner married a “house builder” by the last name of Rogers which leads me to the belief he built this house. However it does have many architectural elements which are exactly like those used in M. Bienvenu’s, most well documented project “Lady of the Lake Plantation” built in 1827 between St. Martinville and Cade. This treasure was tragically destroyed in 1976.
After politely pestering the owner for 14 months, he sold me the structure in the spring of 1983. The first thing I did was to bring in some carpenters to shore up and connect together the major sagging elements. After it looked a little more stable and presentable, I had a house mover come to see it and fortunately he was not intimidated by its condition and agreed to move it.The move went without a problem and to my surprise was conducted completely in French!!!
Next was the reconstruction and restoration. This was an extensive amount of work to say the least, but all was done and I moved in December 1983. I very much enjoyed living in this little house even though, Au Vieux Paris Antiques had not taken over all of the neighboring c.1820 Henri Penne house as it has today.
On August 26 1991, during hurricane Andrew, a tornado came marching down the driveway and tossed an enormous water oak tree down on this little house with me in it !!!! As you can see in the attached photos the damages were certainly serious, however if the tree had not hit exactly dead center on the solid brick double center chimney, which acted as a strong column, it would have smashed through the structure down to the ground with me crushed in the middle!!!! As it is the bed I was in when this happened ended up holding up the ceiling with its bed posts!! Again a serious restoration took place and I moved back in the winter of 1991.
Next in about 2011 the roof needed changing “again” as well as much general replacement of the rotten wood steps, porch flooring etc. We do live in humid Louisiana after all!
The last trauma was the flood of August 2016!! This brought one and a half inches of water above the floor which had “little” results except the destruction of the a/c duct work and some electrical rewiring.
So as you can see from this written story and my photographs, this
“phoenix” has weathered a lot of destruction but has rebounded each time rising from the “ashes” to go on to a renewed life once again.
Read the 1991 “Southern Accents” article about the “Maison de Dimanche”. (Photography by Tina Freeman and Text by Lindsay Heinsen).
May 2017 be a year of endings and new beginnings of renewed life for all!
Robert E. Smith