January 6, 1953
O’Kelly Home Dates to Earlier Century
by Mrs. Charles M. Mitchell
The O’Kelly house, listed in the Louisiana State guide is one of the points of interest to see in Monroe, is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Charles M. Mitchell and Miss Mary O’Kelly. It is at 123 North Sixth Street.
The home, said to be the oldest one standing in Monroe at this time, was erected at different intervals; the oldest part in the 1790’s and the newest part some 90 years ago. After it had been acquired by Col. Henry O’Kelly, from Belfast, Ireland, who came to this country in 1830 and became a merchant and planter in Mississippi and Louisiana and purchased the Damemours house located on the De la Baume grant.
The building is a one and half story frame structure with wide galleries and square white columns across the front. It is built of hand hewn cypress lumber,mortised together, no nails being used in it’s construction. Massive cypress doors and green shutters adorn the house which is typical Louisiana plantation it’s design and was once the home site of a large plantation but time and progress have now reduced the grounds to only one city block front.
The house is surrounded by fine old oaks and other trees, among which is one of the largest specimens of native southern holly in this area, and an immense old catalpa tree, said to be the largest in circumference in the state. Other trees such as magnolia grandiflora, oriental magnolias, mimosas and various colored crepe myrtles are pleasing sights when in bloom. The gardens that surround the house contain many rare camellias, roses and flowering plants.
As they grow older, old houses gather legends and stories of the people who have lived in them. Since the Civil War and reconstruction periods in Louisiana, many stories have come into existence. The most notable being a lively ghost story about the house and one of the buried treasures of the grounds.
Five large fireplaces adorn the interior, recalling days when immense stacks of cordwood where stored in the yard to furnish wood to keep the house warm in the winter.
The library is the favorite room with students of Louisiana history, It houses a collection of Americana . Many of the books are especially relative to Louisiana and in original editions. Among them are “Histoire de la Louisane” and the Voyages to the interior of Louisiana by C.C. Robin published in Paris 1807. The last named is of interest to students of the early history of Monroe, then known as the Post of Ouachita. Robin called himself a merchant and a peddler but today we would cal a merchant. He financed his his travels by peddling trinkets and wares to the local inhabitants and the Indians. When he returned to France he published his travels and ridiculed the people residing in the wilderness of Ouachita, making light of their manners, customs, morals, and politics. But despite all this we are grateful to him for his description of the Chevallier Danemours, ancient consul general of France to the U.S. from Baltimore who settled at Ouachita and was said to have been the original owner and builder of the oldest portion of the O ‘Kelly house, which in French he described as a “very pretty house.” Robin expressed surprise at being able to stroll through the lovely formal English gardens of the Chevallier but though it absurd that one should waste such effort in the wilderness when ground could have been put to better use in corn, cotton, pumpkins, and beans for profit.
The house still contains much of its “Ante Bellum” furnishings of hand carved rosewood, walnut, and mahogany furniture. Handsome gold leaf cornices over the windows match the frames of the mirrors. Many art objects are scattered about the house . The Napoleon clock on the mantle in the dining room, under a glass dome , is surmounted by the figire of the “Little Corporal” commemorative of “Crossing the Alps.” This clock was buried along with silverware, and other valuables to save from the Yankees in the Civil War.The only damage resulted in a tiny crack of the glass dome.
Also treasured by the O’Kelly family are two religious medallions, hand carved on ivory and framed in burnished copper; brought by their Grandfather from the old country more than a century ago.
Old silver, old china, and glassware and other antiques add their charm to this old house making it a treasure-trove for those interested in old houses and their heirloom furnishings.