True History on False River
This New Roads cottage reflects Louisiana family housing.
Light fills the salle (salon) on the second level that is built entirely of cypress. Mary Magill Gibbs, Richard’s mother, who studied and taught at Parsons in Paris in the 1930s, painted the watercolors over the sofa. Many of the antiques throughout the home came from Randy and Richard’s parents.
Photographed by Craig Macaluso
The LeJeune House in the Pointe Coupee Parish town of New Roads is the center of the active lives of preservationists Randy Harelson and Richard Gibbs. The two fully embraced the 200-year-old home when they purchased it in 2006. The historic structure is worthy of study and preservation – measured drawings of the house are kept in the Library of Congress as part of the Historic American Building Survey. The building is noted by local tradition as the oldest home in New Roads.
Harelson, a writer, illustrator and horticulturist, and Gibbs, an architect, agree that the house is indeed an important part of the history of Louisiana. “An added bonus of purchasing this home was becoming a part of an area of our country where preservation is revered and respected,” Harelson says as we sit on the broad gallery and turn the pages together of his recently published book New Roads and Old Rivers: Louisiana’s Historic Pointe Coupee Paris. (He collaborated with Richard Sexton and Brian J. Costello on this publication.) He loves to share the stories of each home and building in the book.
The house was part of a 500-acre plantation along the banks of False River, so named when the Mississippi River changed course in 1722 and left a lazy lake where once the mighty Mississippi flowed. Today the LeJeune House is in the heart of New Roads, surrounded by two acres shaded by a centuries-old live oak tree 20 feet around, two venerable Southern magnolias, vegetable and flower gardens, a greenhouse and a new barn, designed to look as if it had always been on the property.
The first property in New Roads to be designated on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, the LeJeune House has seen many changes over the years. The Creole house, typical of Pointe Coupee vernacular architecture, was refashioned in the Greek Revival style later in the 19th century.
Richard Gibbs and Randy Harelson
A pigeonnier, a structure intended to house pigeons, has a place of honor in the garden.
“The original house is believed to have been built in the early 1800s,” Gibbs says. “It is an early Creole house refashioned in the Greek Revival style later in the 19th century. Our house has no internal hallways and features the main living quarters on the second floor. The basement is built of briquette entre poteaux (brick-between-posts), and the main living floor upstairs is constructed of wood frame filled with bousillage (mud and moss). The house was built without nails.”
“Our home is a genuine, old Louisiana family house,” Harelson adds. “In its whole life, it was never abandoned; it was always lived in. It has been here since Louisiana became a state, and it has seen great wealth and dire poverty, but it has always retained its dignity and simple beauty.”
The historic bed in the master bedroom was purchased at the Mary Plantation auction in Braithwaite.
Oscar and Miss Press enjoy nap time in the guest bedroom on the first floor.
The cozy kitchen on the first level has modern conveniences within the original structure of the old house.
A weathered birdhouse made by neighbor Gerald Guidroz is nestled within azaleas and ardesia in a corner garden.
He continues: “The LeJeune House was the first property in New Roads to be designated on the National Register of Historic Places. We marvel each day of our good fortune in finding this house. It’s a comfortable retreat for us to cherish and enjoy at this time in our lives. We hope that it will still be here 200 years from now, and that it will always be loved and cared for by people who love history, culture and fine old gardens.”