A small group of conservationists is seeking funding and perhaps additional community assistance to aid in their ongoing efforts to restore what many historians believe may be the oldest home in St. Landry Parish.
The nonprofit St. Landry Preservationists Inc. has been reduced to just a handful of older and active members and is practically out of money to carry out a number of important and overdue maintenance projects for the Michel Prudhomme Home in Opelousas, said organization president James Douget.
“There are quite a few things that need to be addressed that will help us at this time to preserve the house which is truly one of the recognized great architectural treasures in the parish and statewide,” Douget said after a meeting of the conservative group. at the Prudhomme Home Wednesday evening.
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An article published in the Daily World five years ago outlined the ongoing financial difficulties for the conservation group in taking care of the number of projects it then needed to preserve the house.
Nothing has changed since then with regard to the problematic home financing problem. If anything, Douget said, there is now significantly less money available.
Pay out of your own pocket
Membership in the conservation group that was founded 46 years ago has dwindled to less than 10 active members today. The group works to conserve and provide revenue for the Prudhomme Home, tucked in 1152 Prudhomme Circle, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places nearly 50 years ago.
Income for general home maintenance is normally collected from annual membership dues and private donations.
Douget admits that there is practically no money left in the conservation treasury to make the necessary routine repairs for the house widely believed to have been built by Michel Prudhomme, who emigrated to the parish from France sometime in the late 1700s.
In recent years, Douget said, he has paid the monthly insurance costs for the home out of pocket, a significant expense for the two-story cypress and mudbrick house, which has stood empty for more than half a century.
“Our biggest expense at the moment is air conditioning and heating. That cost can be as high as $10,000,” Douget said. “There are a number of other things that are smaller in nature but are very important and must be done to protect the integrity of the home.”
Douget said the house will need cypress shingle replacement, paint and ongoing repairs for a second-floor porch, which is supported by several of the original French Creole-style brick columns.
In the past, the conservation group has been reluctant to venture outside of their own private financing and occasional fundraising projects to get money for investment projects.
That should change, though, as the immediate concerns for repairs may require a new strategy, Douget told the conservation group at the meeting.
Douget suggests the possibility of setting up a GoFundMe account that would attract more outside capital and possibly younger members who could perhaps become more active in raising funds.
Pandemic hits conservation efforts hard
Conservationist board member Lucius Doucet recalls that the house hosted Halloween haunted house events and sold dinners for fundraising.
The house is always available for private tours and events, but Douget points out that as of 2020, those potential funding events have been canceled lately due to concerns about COVID-19.
Douget called a meeting of the custodians on Wednesday evening for the first time in three years.
“If we don’t have a working air-conditioning system, it’s almost impossible right now to plan events that would bring us revenue. We usually have our general membership event on the first Sunday in November where we collect our annual dues and accept donations, but even that has been canceled for the past two years due to COVID,” Douget said.
The Prudhomme House is important for parish history
An article published on the website waymaking.com describes the Prudhomme Home as the oldest surviving home in St. Landry.
“(The house) is an excellent example of the 18th-century French-influenced building tradition, as it began to be influenced by the classicism of the first half of the 19th century,” the article states.
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Another published article on lcweb.gov indicates that the Prudhomme house is “architecturally significant” as it is one of the few 18th- and 19th-century French Creole cottages that remain in unaltered condition today.
Douget says the house is also important to the parish’s history, as it was occupied by Union troops during the Civil War and used as a meeting place when the Opelousas post was handed over by the French to US authorities after the completion of the Louisiana purchase.
“There is documentation at the courthouse (St. Landry) indicating that the Prudhomme Home was where the French and Americans met to hand over this area of Louisiana,” Douget said. “Juan Gradnigo acted as mediator for the transition. Governor Claiborne threatened to imprison some of the local population if they did not submit to US authority by then.”
Douget said the original dovecote, on the southwest corner of the half-acre property where the home stands, is one of the few remaining in Louisiana.