At its April 26 meeting the Natchitoches City Council approved an ordinance to enter into an amended Cooperative Endeavor Agreement with the Natchitoches Historic Foundation, which will provide for the relocation of the Roque House, the completion of the Downtown Riverwalk, and the lease of the ground upon which the Roque House is to be relocated, and to provide for the use of the facilities by the parties.
The NHF is entering the design phase of the project, which should be completed by mid October. The organization plans on holding public meetings before it breaks ground in November.
The construction and renovations, projected to take a year or slightly longer, is targeted to begin in September. Anticipated completion is mid-May 2022.
The plan is to move the building so it’s facing the river and will back it up against the riverbank to raise it up from its current height. A support structure will be added in the back of the building to house mechanical equipment. The building will be put up on pilings to run AC/plumbing and electrical. The NHF plans on furnishing the house as it was in 1803. It will also have televisions to provide more information to the public as they walk through the building because the NHF wants the building to remain open. A second phase to the project is the completion of the downtown riverbank walkway from the old boathouse to the far North end of Beau Jardin. This will add easier access for vehicles and electricity hookups to make it easier for people who are looking to rent Beau Jardin and the riverbank area for weddings and other events. The NHF has also employed a historian to do research on the true history of the Roque House and its significance to the Cane River region.
The Natchitoches Historic Foundation and the Cane River Waterway Commission announced a partnership on March 5 on the $1.5 million preservation/renovation project.
The Pacale-Roque House, relocated in 1967 to downtown Natchitoches from its original location in the Isle Brevelle community down Cane River Lake, was built in 1803 by Yves Pacale, a freed man of color. It is a circa 1790s French Creole post on sill house with three rooms.
“Procuring one’s freedom and the freedom of other family members was no small accomplishment for a man who had spent most of his life as a slave. Already aged (65), Yves Pacale managed to buy land, his mother, wife and daughter’s freedom, and establish a close relationship with a freed man of color, Augustine Metoyer,” said the NHF proposal.
“It may be a string of coincidences. However, Pacale’s ambition as a slave and fortitude as a freed man suggests he provided a home for himself and his family, and that home was the Pacale-Roque House.”
The initial project focus by NHF was on restoring the house and adding a small support building, but after consultation with the City of Natchitoches and designers, the scope was expanded to include renovations to the footprint where the Pacale-Roque House stands at the north end of the downtown riverbank area. Notably, the house is expected to be shifted so its front doors face Cane River Lake, and necessary structural fortifications will be accomplished along with landscaping and other exterior improvements.
Preserving the Pacale-Roque House is part of the fundamental mission of the Cane River Waterway Commission, said president Jim Rhodes.
“The Pacale-Roque House is essential to the story of Cane River Lake that truly shapes the history of this area. It is one of the very few structures in Louisiana remaining from days as the Louisiana Purchase was finalized and we became part of the United States. The building remains a historic and cultural icon in remarkable condition, available for thousands of residents and visitors to appreciate, thanks to the care in the past three decades by the Natchitoches Historic Foundation.
“This project fits hand in glove on the mission of the Cane River Waterway Commission, which among our top priorities includes historic preservation relevant to the lake and its people, and celebrating our diverse and vibrant culture,” said Rhodes.
In the course of regular, routine care for the building, NHF leadership began to realize the necessity of addressing its continuing viability.
“As the caretaking organization of the Pacale-Roque House, it’s our responsibility to assure it is preserved for future generations to appreciate. Almost a half-century after it was relocated to the downtown riverbank, we recognize the need to significantly fortify the building and provide enhancements that will make it an even greater experience for visitors and local residents,” said Terri Cunningham, president of the Natchitoches Historic Foundation.
“We have begun this endeavor working to unite all of the communities that make up the very special fabric of Natchitoches Parish, so we can all share in celebrating this focal point of our history,” she said. “We initiated the project, and we are eager to embrace everyone who has an interest in the rich history of our parish and in particular, the Pacale-Roque House.”
Pacale was one of the earliest persons of African decent in the region. He was baptized Jan. 2, 1736. His carpenter skills allowed him to earn enough money to eventually buy his freedom. He purchased 91 acres of land where he made his home.
The house is a remarkable example of the creole style of French architecture along Cane River. Constructed in typical French colonial fashion with hand-hewn cypress and a bousillage fill (a mixture of mud, Spanish moss and animal hair), the structure was topped with an oversize roof of durable shingles. A close inspection of the house reveals the craftsmanship of Pacale in the jointing. It contained no nails.
The Pacale-Roque House is among the oldest surviving examples of Creole architecture in Natchitoches Parish, home of the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase. Natchitoches was founded in 1714. The structure may be the only remaining circa 1790s French Creole post on sill house built by a freed man of color.
The renovations, after the planned shift of the building to face the river, will include providing space in the pantry allowing spacing for cultural displays, that community groups and educational entities will be invited to develop and display.
Windows will be cleaned and interior lighting installed to enhance viewing by visitors even when the house is closed. It will be open at no charge on select afternoons and during various events, and a video presentation will be accessible inside.
The roof will be replaced, as will be the interior fireplace. The new exterior building, with the same appearance, will include restrooms and storage/janitorial space.
A security barrier will be constructed to secure the Pacale-Roque House and adjoining Beau Jardin garden and reception area for private events.
Tipton Associates has been the consulting architect engaged by NHF to develop the proposed relocation of the house and renovations, along with construction of the support building, with an anticipated cost of $1.2 million. Carbo Landscape Architecture prepared the plan for work on the grounds, which has a projected cost of $250,000.
The Natchitoches Historic Foundation, formed in 1994, is organized and operated for the exclusive purpose of supporting and promoting the preservation of history in Natchitoches Parish through education and advocacy.
The NHF provides the Mildred Bailey Scholarship at Northwestern State University for students who have been actively involved with historical preservation. It contributes to the maintenance of the historic American Cemetery in Natchitoches, founded in 1737 and with gravesite markers dating back as far as 1797. The NHF conducts tours of the cemetery for parish eighth-graders studying Louisiana history.
The NHF hosts the annual Christmas Tour of Homes in Natchitoches, one of the focal events in the community. It collaborates with the Natchitoches Main Street Program, the Association for Preservation of Historic Natchitoches, the Historic District Business Association, the Natchitoches Convention and Visitors Bureau and other entities on tourism initiatives.
Joining Cunningham as board members for NHF are Hillary Bennett, vice president of communications; Susan Barron, vice president of property; Jackie Horton, vice president of projects; Kathy Bundrick, treasurer; and Nancy Rutledge, secretary.
The NHF has authorized the Pacale-Roque House Steering Committee to direct the project. Members of the committee are Ben Barron, chairman; Danny Seymour, co-chair; Susan Barron, Jim Rhodes, Bennett and Cunningham.
Membership in the NHF is available online at the http://www.natchitocheshf.com/shoplink at rates starting at $20 for students and $25 for adults. For more information about the NHF, call 318-471-7489.