Monroe News-Star Friday June 18, 1971
Monroe Landmark Moving to a New Location
By Ed Lewis
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.
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.
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.”
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.