By Brooke Robichaux  LOBSERVATEUR

Published 12:20 am Saturday, October 20, 2018

LAPLACE — The historic Godchaux-Reserve House paints a story of “triumph in spirit and optimism over neglect and indifference,” according to Peter Wolf, great great grandson of the man who put Reserve on the map.

Built in 1764, the House went through several owners before falling into the hands of Leon Godchaux, who built the surrounding grounds into a prosperous sugar industry and promoted community spirit.

That spirit was alive and well this week, when hundreds of St. John the Baptist Parish residents and public figures gathered to celebrate the meticulous restoration of the Reserve-Godchaux House exterior, which lay crumbling in desolation less than four years ago.

 

In 1904, while on a steamboat trip down the Mississippi River, former soon to be “President” William Howard Taft delivered a speech on the top gallery of the Godchaux-Reserve House. Taft is in front of the left column, next to the lady in black resting her head on her hand. Also pictured next to Taft is Albert Godchaux. His wife, Aline Godchaux, is on the same level, sixth from him. Holding the sugar cane next to her is Mrs. Taft.

Tuesday morning’s events included a recreation of a November 1904 photo documenting former President (then Secretary of State) William Howard Taft’s visit to the home.

Dressed in era clothing, members of the Godchaux-Reserve House Historical Society and other local figures took on the roles of Taft and numerous senators, congressmen, governors and diplomats who traveled to Reserve by railroad.

According to Wolf, if the Godchaux-Reserve House were a person, it would be wiser for the wear, able to recount centuries of relocation, bankruptcy, real estate transfers, aches of abandonment and decay, and the slow but steady road back to health.

Leon Godchaux’s great great grandson Peter Wolf spoke at Tuesday’s community celebration.

The House is on its way to becoming a museum for daily history tours, boasting a re-stabilized structure, restored walls, fresh paint and a reconstructed staircase.

The exterior restoration was completed primarily under the leadership of Historical Society President Stephen Guidry, member Charles Daigle, St. John Councilwoman Julia Remondet and School Board member Gerald Keller, with help from many sponsors.

Sandra Lasseigne grew up down the road from the Godchaux-Reserve House’s current location. Her father worked for the Godchaux Sugar Refinery, as most parents did, while children delighted in spending summer days at the Godchaux swimming pool and theater.

 


The Godchaux-Reserve House was in a decrepit state in 2014 after decades of neglect. The historic structure was nearly demolished in 1992.

“My family was good friends with the people living in the house,” Lasseigne said. “Everybody in Reserve knew everybody. It was just a great place to live. It’s a lot different now than it was then, but still, Reserve is home.”

Ali Vicknair, 19, was not around to see the House before it was neglected and decayed.

Michael Hoover leads a toast at Tuesday’s celebration.

As former St. John Parish Teen Sugar Queen, Vicknair had a chance to learn more about its history and connection to Reserve’s sugar refinery, which was once the largest in the country.

“Being a resident of St. John Parish my entire life, every time I passed this House, it wasn’t just a landmark to me,” Vicknair said. “When I would pass by, I would wonder about its history. This is fulfilling my childhood curiosity.”

Others, including J.L. Robichaux and Wayne LeBoeuf, were drawn to the Godchaux-Reserve House celebration through family ties.

Gerald Keller and Julia Remondet dress in period costume at the Godchaux-Reserve House.

Monty Buckles, business development associate for Louisiana Federal Credit Union, said it is important to support the House because it is part of the fabric of the community and the site of local business events.

The Phase One Exterior completion signals the start of Phase Two interior work, projected to conclude within one to two years, according to Remondet.

The Godchaux-Reserve House will soon receive electrical wiring, parking area development and restroom additions.

Guidry hopes to raise $200,000 by January for the continuation of the project.

For more information, visit godchauxhouse.com or visit Godchaux-Reserve House Historical Society on Facebook.