Cane River Creole National Historical Park partnered with the Cane River National Heritage Area to bring Theodore “Teddy” Pierre, an expert mason from New Orleans, to Oakland Plantation to repair the Oakland Main House foundation Feb. 13-17. Pierre is active in the restoration of antique masonry structures, using appropriate techniques and materials.
The foundation of the Oakland main house was originally constructed of locally made, low-fired bricks and lime mortar. As the original mortar deteriorated, a coating of Portland cement was added to the foundation walls and piers in the mid-20th century. Portland cement is a much harder material than lime and historic bricks, and it ultimately damages the soft brick material.
According to Park Superintendent Carrie Mardorf, “Some of the bricks at Oakland are essentially turning to dust due to the incompatibility of materials over a long period of time. When the Portland parging was removed from the walls, water gushed from the openings in some locations, meaning that the Portland was trapping a lot of water in the foundation walls. Over the past year, the foundation has been allowed to breathe, releasing much of that trapped moisture. This is a unique opportunity to provide one-on-one training for the park staff, while completing much needed work.”
In preparation for the project, the park procured replacement bricks along with replacement bricks for the African House at Melrose Plantation. The Cane River National Heritage Area was instrumental in securing these bricks in a timely manner. During his time in Natchitoches, Pierre will not only train National Park Service staff and complete repairs at Oakland, but will also train local student apprentices to perform preservation work at Melrose as part of a program to increase masonry skills and expertise in the area.
Under his guidance, park staff will learn the basics about lime mortars, historic bricks, and appropriate repairs and techniques. Staff will have an opportunity to learn the art of mixing mortars, replacing mortar joints, and see Pierre rebuild structural support piers and walls of the main house. Bricks that have turned to dust will be replaced. This work will ensure both a firm foundation for the Oakland Main House and the knowledge how to preserve it as the house approaches the two hundred year mark.