Members of the Natchitoches Historic Foundation know all eyes have been on the Roque House over the last few months, ever since the roof and chimney were removed.
Construction was halted during the Christmas Festival season as logistics would be impossible with so much going on downtown. Between the riverbank closure for the festivities and the wet winter weather, crews from DSW haven’t been able to do much on site.
In the midst of all this, a seepage issue was encountered. You’ve heard the stories of how Cane River Lake is the original course for the Red River. In the 1800s a thousand-year-old logjam was broken up, thus causing the river to change its course to where it flows today. What was left in Natchitoches is a 32 mile long lake with earthen dams at its north and south ends.
So the lower riverbank area in downtown Natchitoches where the Roque House currently rests is a river bed.
Work was able to resume recently and the new foundations for the Roque House and its support building were first on their list. When they began to dig into the dirt, water began bubbling up through the old river bed. After discussions with project engineers, the decision was made to dig down below the foundation level and pump in fiber concrete for foundation support. Around two feet of dirt will be added on top of this. Only then will the foundation slabs for the buildings be poured. This process was done to seal off the ground water that was penetrating into the work area.
The crew that will move the Roque House to its new resting spot will be on site around the first week of February, weather permitting. The move itself should take 1-2 weeks.
“It took a while to figure out how to handle it,” said Roque House Steering Committee Chairman Ben Barron. “Remember that everything we’re making in this renovation process is with the goal to preserve one of the state’s most iconic buildings.”
Moving the structure itself was no flippant decision. Because the entire riverbank area is the old river bed for the Red River, the NHF decided to move the Roque House so its front doors face Cane River Lake. This move will also put the Roque House 7.5 feet above the level of Cane River Lake. Motivation for this lift in elevation was the horrible damage inflicted on the Roque House by the 2016 flooding that raised Cane River far beyond its banks.
The NHF is also planning on adding a white wash/lime wash to the outside of the bousillage walls once they’re repaired. This will repel boring bees after extensive damage discovered on the existing structure.
As crews removed shingles from the roof, each piece of wood was rotten, brittle, and to NHF’s dismay, unsalvageable. This led the organization to look at synthetic version that will give the structure longevity so future generations can learn about it.
An 8 foot veranda will wrap around the Roque House to further protect the building from the elements. This is customary in French Creole architecture.
Each of these parts to the project are ways the NHF is working to adaptively restore this essential part of the story of Cane River Lake.
“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,” said Cane River Waterway Commission President Jim Rhodes. “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.”
The NHF is excited to see this renovation project, a partnership with the Cane River Waterway Commission, come to a close.
However, there’s more exciting news concerning the Roque House. A series of granite memorial slabs will be installed the length of the project site. This Preservation Wall is the perfect way to honor people who have contributed to the preservation of Natchitoches’ history and culture.
Honor someone, or simply add a name to the wall by going online to RoqueHouse.com and follow the onsite instructions to put your name on the wall. It’s just a $150 donation to become memorialized as part of Natchitoches’ history forever.
“We wanted to give everyone the chance to be a part of history. Whether your ancestors are from the area, your business operates in the area, or you’ve visited a few times and fell in love with the southern charm and hospitality,” said Barron. “We’re preserving the Roque House for future generations. It’s OUR house.”
The Natchitoches Historic Foundation is dedicated to its mission of preservation, education and advocacy. Donations from the Preservation Wall project will go toward the future operation and maintenance of the Roque House once the renovation is complete.