Tag Archives: louisiana

Kate Chopin House: Taking a look at a heritage recovery operation

By Jeff Guin

A lot has happened in the three months since the U.S. National Historic Landmark Kate Chopin House was destroyed by fire. Much goes into a salvage effort of this scale, and you may be surprised that how much care has been taken with the remains of the building and of its surviving contents. Voices of the Past recently spoke with Dustin Fuqua of the heritage research organization Cultural Lore about his experience leading the rescue operation. Here are some of his insights on the topic.

Any salvage operation is stressful, but cases where the structure defines the community are especially difficult. Rescue workers are faced with the challenges of limiting access to the site while being sensitive to the grief of the community. All the while, they must also be mindful that the structure and the heritage resources it contains are degrading by the minute.

The situation is inherently unsafe from the get-go and will likely remain that way until the structure is taken down completely. Fires can reignite days after the initial event. Charred walls of brick or bousillage may crumble at any time. Rescuers use personal safety equipment like masks and gloves–and good sense as well–when approaching any salvage operation.

The case of the Kate Chopin House was especially dire, with perhaps only 10 to 15 percent of the Bayou Folk Museum contents surviving in any recognizable condition. For those precious few objects that survive the fire, other environmental threats immediately arise.

websites 282

For paper objects soaked with water from fire trucks and lying amid the smoldering warmth of embers, mold blooms immediately and degrades the fibers. As the home of a famous writer, this structure had some very valuable paper items. So what to do? Believe it or not, rescuers wrapped the books in acid-free paper and put them in a freezer until they can be properly conserved. Freezing the items inhibits the growth of mold and prevents further environmental damage to the paper.

Metal objects are affected by the warm, wet environment of a fire scene as well. Oxidation starts immediately, resulting in rust on metal objects that may have already been weakened by extreme heat. A quick, but careful removal operation is necessary to keep these objects from becoming further casualties of the disaster.

As with many disasters, the path of destruction can take unexpected turns. For example, Dusty reports finding a stack of Confederate currency in good condition while huge pieces of 19th century furnishings were incinerated without a trace. The wooden objects that survive are also cared for, potentially for reintegration into a rebuilt structure or as a memorial.

websites 292

Thanks to the first response efforts of the Cultural Lore team, the NSU Masters of Heritage Resources program and the National Park Service, we will have some remnant by which to remember the Kate Chopin House and Bayou Folk Museum. But what’s happening now? I’ll tell you next week. In the meantime, you can read more about this project or contact Dusty through the Natchitoches Preservation Network website.

Related images:

Kate Chopin House Ruins

Kate Chopin House - Fire

Enhanced by Zemanta

National Landmark "Kate Chopin House" is lost to fire

By Jeff Guin

CLOUTIERVILLE, LA–The Kate Chopin House, named for the legendary feminist writer who lived there during the 1880s, burned to the ground in an early morning fire today. The structure had been named a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of Interior in 1993.

According to Vickie Parrish, president of the Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches (APHN), the structure’s loss will be felt far beyond the Coutierville community.

“Countless people have invested their time and hearts into the restoration of this structure,” Parrish said. “So much had been done. But the real tragedy lies in how much more could–and would– have been done to make the Kate Chopin house a preservation showcase for the country. So many people loved it.”

The house was in a serious state of disrepair before APHN became steward of the property in 1979. The organization invested in several restoration efforts, including the installation of central air and heat in 1999.

The Creole-style home was built between 1805 and 1809 by Alexis Cloutier using slave labor and exemplifies the building style of that time. Creole architecture is characterized by its spacious galleries, gallery roofs supported by light wooden colonnettes and a form of construction utilizing a heavy timber frame combined with an infill made of brick.

Officials from the National Park Service’s Cane River Creole National Historical Park were on hand this morning to help salvage the few artifacts that survived the fire. The head archivist from the Cammie G. Henry archives at Northwestern State University of Louisiana was also assisting in the recovery.

The contents of the Bayou Folk Museum, which was housed in the Kate Chopin House, were also lost. Local resident Doris Roge’ says the loss is being especially felt in the Cloutierville community because so many citizens had contributed to the museum.

“A lot of people in the community donated or sold pieces for the museum,” she said. “Many pieces belonged to my grandfather. We’ve all lost a part of our heritage.”

Kate Chopin came to Cloutierville  with her husband Oscar, a New Orleans businessman who bought the house in 1879 at a sheriff’s sale. Kate was pregnant with their sixth child and quickly made enemies in the town.

According to Roge’, her grandfather often told stories of Chopin’s then-scandalous public smoking and flirtations with men other than her husband.

Many of Kate Chopin’s most important works, including Bayou Folk and The Awakening are set in Louisiana.

Dr. Lisa Abney is a Chopin scholar and dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Northwestern State University of Louisiana. She believes the burning of the Chopin House is a loss to the literary community as well.

“Kate Chopin’s work is important both nationally and regionally; Chopin’s creative and innovative fiction changed the face of American literature,” she said. “The loss of the Kate Chopin House and Bayou Folk Museum is a tremendous loss to fans of Chopin’s literature and to preservation. This is, indeed, a tragedy to no longer have this important treasure.”

The Kate Chopin House/Bayou Folk Museum is another significant blow to the history of the Cloutierville Community. Several important structures have been lost there over the years including the Carnahan Store, a National Register for Historic Places structure, which burned in 2004.

What caused the fire at the Kate Chopin House is still under investigation.

Photos from the scene of the fire can be seen at the NCPTT Flickr stream.

View more about the salvage operation in the video below:

@weather: it’s what makes London timeless

Daffodils

I mentioned in a couple of previous posts all the pretty flowers in bloom here in England. They are indeed beautiful because, along with these old stately buildings, they’re part of the permafrost. Things that are frozen don’t rot, after all.

{Note to Chris F.: That global warming thing you keep talking about? Ain’t happening, darlin’… Or could be it’s already peaked and has now transitioned into the next ice age?}

I’m kidding, of course. But the 40°F temp plus 20 mph wind gusts that rob your breath is a far cry from home where it’s 89 degrees with 98 percent humidity, which just smothers you all the time. In Louisiana, the weather overwhelms the senses. Anyone ever smelled New Orleans?.

I’ve been walking. A lot. Little wonder that folks are so fit here. Walking lets you see the small things you normally wouldn’t from the Big Red Tour Bus. And London is so pedestrian friendly, it’s quite enjoyable. What I don’t enjoy is having to duck into shops every 15 minutes to let the icicles on my beard melt. This I’m NOT kidding about.

I’ve got to give the store owners credit (and have, quite a lot actually)–they leave their doors open so the blast of heat compels passersby into their lairs. And I always feel guilty when I walk into a store and don’t buy something, so I’m the ideal sucker. Or it could just be that they’re trying to help global warming along? I don’t blame them a bit.

One thing I’m seeing a lot of that’s shocking and hilarious to me is all the kids–babies even–dressed in knickers and eating ice cream. I hope the American social workers never have a convention here. I have a vision of them running around the streets of London, “rescuing” the wealthy children of Kensington Borough.

Right now, I wish someone would rescue me before I either max out my credit card or freeze into a permanent statue in Hyde Park.

FOWD: Bad, Burka, Bad!

Image representing Pownce as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

So Louisianian‘s live in trailers and marry their cousins, eh?

Well, maybe we do. But my brother-in-law and I are coming to Pownce your San Francisco @$$ anyway. 😉

http://vimeo.com/932296

Enhanced by Zemanta