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1971 Newspaper Item: Monroe Landmark Moving to a New Location

Monroe News-Star Friday June 18, 1971

Monroe Landmark Moving to a New Location

By Ed Lewis

Staff writer

For around 175 years the O’Kelly house has rested quietly under the large shade trees of North Sixth Street. Now Monroe’s oldest home is on the move.

Once the homesite of Colonel Henry O’Kelly’s tabacco and cotton plantation, the dwelling in recent years had become surrounded by buildings and a new super higway complex.

Several months ago Mr. and Mrs. Travis Oliver III of Houston purchased the old home from the O’Kelly family. The ancient relic is now being moved – piece by piece- to an 80 acre tract on Horseshoe Lake Road.

It’s a long haul for any house, especially one that’s pushing the two century mark. The move covers about six miles and could only be accomplished by splitting the plantation home into three sections.

Transporting the building has proved quite a lengthy task which has already encompassed several weeks. After initial stripping and bracing, the bare structure was split into sections. Each part was then separately transported to the Horseshoe Lake Road site – a tedious step filled with many little hang-ups. Since the different segments composed rather large pieces of city traffic, work crews often had to uproot (then replace) assorted road signs just to allow passage along the six mile stretch.

Original Appearance

Once the dwelling is eventually reassembled on Oliver’s newly acquired land, the Houston architect plans to “restore the early house as close to it’s original appearance as possible.”

Travis and wife, Sally, hope to move into the rejuvenated  structure around Christmas. “I really enjoy this particular type of architecture and think it will be a lot of fun to restore,” the Monroe native admitted.

Oliver’s aunt, Mrs. H.W. McSherry, resides in the Upper Pargoud Plantation here. The Houston architect explained that he has always admired her place and had hoped someday to acquire an early Monroe home.

Before recent moving operations, the O’Kelly house was a one and a half story frame structure wityh wide galleries and square white columns across the front. It was constructed of hand hewn cypress lumber in typical “Louisiana plantation” style.

“Most of the original cypress is still in surprisingly good shape,” Oliver related. The old plank floors, which were installed in the 1790’s, will be retained in the remodeled facility. However, some lumber must be replaced, including several front porch pieces.

Hand Carved

The new home will also contain five hand carved cypress mantles, the original cypress doors and an intricate ceiling medallion, all of which were recently removed in preparation for the six mile trip.

Oliver said that even some of the original glass window panes would be reinstalled. In addition, all railings, columns, bricked piers and steps will be restored to their former places. Of course, the structure will most surely receive a fresh coat of the traditional white paint.

When movers were disassemblying the O’Kelly home, they ran into a unique frontier building technique. Many of the old boards were held together by wooden pegs and even the most recently conducted portion of the dwelling was built with “square nails.”

One thing that the Olivers will just have to leave on North Sixth Street is the home’s early cistern system. It’s composed of two water wells, one for drinking water and the other for fires. Movers at the scene stated that one of the wells was around 30 feet deep.

Besides restoring the house, the Olivers will try to duplicate the original English Gardens that once surrounded the old place. This will take quite a while, Oliver explained, for the O’Kelly dwelling was encircled by old oaks, magnolia, grandiflore, Oriental magnolias, mimosas, and vari-coloredcrepe-myrtless. The gardens also contained roses, some rare camelias and many other flowering plants.

The house dates back to the 18th century French colonial era in Louisiana. Chevalier D’Anemours, the first judge of Ouachita territory and a friend of Thomas Jefferson, was the original owner and builder of the oldest portion of the home. The Frenchman even named the street by his home ( where the Illinois Central track runs today) for the president.

C.C. Roberts described the early old structure in his 1807 book entitled, Voyages into the Interior of Louisiana.” He stated it was “Une Habitation assez jolie” (a very pretty house). The author admitted the gardens were lovely, but thought it absurd to “waste such an effort in the wilderness.”

Descendants

The property was later sold by the Filhiol estates and was acquired from them by Colonel O’Kelly about 1840. It stayed in the hands of the latter’s descendants until the recent Oliver acquisition.

Originally, the dwelling was constructed on cypress logs, high above the ground with space for livestock and storage underneath. It was later lowered to brick pillars.

After purchasing the house, Col. O’Kelly made a number of changes and additions in the style of the mid-Victorian era.

This year’s surgery marked the first major change since the O’Kelly alternation project.

In the early days, the kitchen, dining room and slave quarters were separate from the main house. A breezeway connected the kitchen with the main structure. Opening into the breezeway was a witch’s door with a Christian cross to protect the inhabitants from sorcery.

When the dwelling was first constructed, early settlers had to maintain a close watch for hostile Indians. Occupants of the old house accomplished the task by looking through a tiny “lookout” window in the dining room wall.

Of course the ancient structure has its traditional legends. One pertains to a lively ghost and another concerns buried treasure.

Oliver says he will attempt to refurnish the home in it’s original French and English flavor. The O’Kelly’s, owners of the house for over 100 years, assembled a rare collection of china, silver and art objects during their century of residence. The items include bohemian glass bottles, Biscuit figurines, elegant hurricane lamps, Paul Revere silver pieces and a Napoleon clock with a timepiece surmounted with a figure of the Little Corporal on his charger. The c[l]ock and silver service spent some time in the cistern to escape Yankee detection during the Civil War.

This family also possesses an old painting which bears a long gash received from a Yankee bayonet.

Oliver says it will take almost a lifetime to really restore the place like he wants it. Although “authenticity” will be stressed in reconstruction, the Olivers admitted that certain modern conveniences will defnitely be added – namely, central heat and air conditioning.

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November 1871 Death and Obituary of William O`Kelly

Following the loss of the Confederacy, William was left bankrupt and forced to take a job as a store- clerk in Port Gibson, Mississippi. Working for another man was a great trial for hot-tempered William and took a grave toll on his nerves. While in the store, a forgotten outrage occurred causing William to stomp his foot straight through the floor and tightened his heart so that he suffered an attack that would end his life a few hours later. My Mother and I always thought of Rumpelstiltskin, driving his foot so far into the ground that he created a chasm and fell into it, never to be seen again.

The Port Gibson Enterprise of the 29th of November 1871

Sudden Death of an Old Citizen It is with regret that we recall, and many will read that Mr. William O`Kelly so long and well known in this community departed this life. He suffered an attack while apparently in his usual health, on last Wednesday evening about one o`clock, he called for someone to call for him quick and about three hours later passed quietly away. Mr. O`Kelly was one of Port Gibson`s oldest citizens and at one time was the owner of a great deal of property and was one of the most popular merchant – planters of this place before the Civil War. He has in his later years been the victim of many financial disasters which resulted in his fortunes being completely broken. He had not recovered from the recent disaster at Grand Gulf where the Mississippi River wiped out  his  remaining fortune which left him much depressed at times. He leaves two sons Thomas Swan, William Abram, one daughter Jennie and a brother Henry to mourn his death.

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Filed under Claiborne County, Mississippi, Henry O'Kelly, Jane O'Kelly Calderwood, Thomas Swan O'Kelly, William Abram O'Kelly Sr., William O'Kelly

1953 Newspaper Item: O’Kelly Home Dates to Earlier Century

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.

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Filed under Henry O'Kelly, Jane Calderwood O'Kelly, Mary Catherine O'Kelly, The O'Kelly Home