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Jackson, Louisiana – Old Centenary College

14 Sep

The West Wing Dormitory of Old Centenary College in Jackson, Louisiana.

The towns of Jackson, Clinton, and St. Francisville no longer reflect their past glory but still there are many clues to that heritage that can be found in both East and West Feliciana Parishes.  Thankfully the residents of these small towns have pride in their heritage and have taken the lead to preserve those elements that have linked each generation of people who have lived there.

One of the most enduring structures is the west wing dormitory of Old Centenary College  in Jackson, Louisiana.  Many that grew up in the recent past near Jackson may remember this structure as an old ghostly looking building.  It was the old spooky building out by the baseball fields.  Today it has been restored to its 1837 condition.

The west wing dormitory is all that survives of the original 3 room educational complex  There was an east wing dormitory and a magnificent center building in which classes were held.

The main or center building and the east wing dormitory have been lost to time.  The remaining west wing dormitory is two stories high and one room deep with a free-standing colonnade encompassing the long south front and east and west ends.  The second story rooms are reached by means of a continuous balcony with three sets of exterior stars along the front.

The college first began as the College of Louisiana in 1937 but it came into the hands of a Methodist College in 1845.  Centenary College, previously located in Mississippi, moved to the grounds in 1845.  Centenary had been founded in Mississippi in 1839 on the 100th anniversary (or centenary) of the founding of the Methodist society by John Wesley.

Centenary grew rapidly and reached its peak enrollment of 260 just prior to the Civil War. The war not only took all of the students but it also took a toll on the buildings and grounds.  After the war Centenary was in constant repair and the student body did not regain its previous numbers. Jackson could not regain its former vitality. The college survived until 1900 when at that time a new home was sought.  A 40 acre site in Shreveport was offered and in 1906 Centenary moved to its present location.

After the college’s departure, the campus sat unused for fifteen years. In the mid 1920s it was used as a tuberculosis hospital. But by 1935, the campus was in a state of extreme disrepair, and on the brink of condemnation. The three buildings had three different owners, two of whom chose to sell the rights for demolition. The East Wing and Center Building were both demolished, and the salvageable materials from them sold for scrap. There were many buildings constructed in that time from Jackson to New Orleans whose materials included those of the Main Academic Building.

The West Wing remained standing because its owners had come up with a way to make it far more lucrative than just knocking it down. From 1938 to 1965, the West Wing Dormitory was low-income housing. The campus itself was used as a trailer park. To this day, there are visible remnants of the residences that were there during that time.

In the 1970s, the only use the campus saw was a baseball field, which happened to be on the site of the College’s baseball field more than 80 years earlier. In 1977, not long before it was to be demolished, the West Wing was saved due to the efforts of many influential citizens in and around Jackson. The State of Louisiana purchased and restored the West Wing, Professor’s Cottage, and surrounding 43 acres. The West Wing was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and Centenary State Historic Site was born.

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Clinton, Louisiana – St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church – “Carpenter Gothic”

7 Sep

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church (1871) is a Good Expample of a "Carpenter Gothic" Church in Louisiana

When one passes through Clinton, Louisiana, it is easy to miss the many historical and architectural jewels that this town has to offer. There is the historic courthouse in the center of town that catches everyone’s attention and other buildings that can be seen along the traveled highways through town.  It only takes a few minutes to get off the beaten path and to turn up some sights that one would never expect to see.

The Marston House, churches, old schools, Sillman Institute, The Confederate Cemetery and other places are there for those that do a little exploring.  One unique church has been providing “atmosphere” in Clinton since 1871.

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church sits atop a small hill. Although it is in a small built up area St. Andrews commands the view and gives the impression of an isolated rural church.  The church even retains the original stained glass.  It is very beautiful in its rural setting with blooming trees and flowering bushes and tall pines dotting the grounds.

St. Andrew’s can best be described as an example of “Carpenter Gothic.”  “Carpenter Gothic” was popular in America, especially for rural churches in the middle of the 19th century. Popular is a relative term in that the style was not used that much in Louisiana.  Perhaps there are a half dozen examples in the whole state.

St. Andrew’s Church expresses itself quietly and beautifully in its setting.  Completely made of wood,  its light members and vertical proportions, in addition to being Gothic, are considered to be in keeping with wood construction..  The structure presents itself in the proper proportions and in no way does it suggest a massive and heavy style.

A visit to the grounds of this church is a “spiritual” experience.  Not spiritual in the religious sense but in the sense that the mind and heart are indeed brought to a higher level and all it takes is to roam around the grounds – one doesn’t even have to think about things – which is a hard thing to do when you visit here.

Clinton, Louisiana – East Feliciana Parish Courthouse

13 Aug

East Feliciana Courthouse in Clinton, Louisiana

Having grown up not very far away from Clinton, Louisiana, I always accepted the town as a very pretty place with some nice looking buildings that were much older and much prettier than those in my hometown.  It was only after I was grown that I began to have an appreciation for the history and for the beauty of Clinton. In the center of town is one of the most historic courthouses in Louisiana.  The old south charm of the building is complimented by the Historic Lawyers Row situated directly behind the East Feliciana Parish courthouse and the obligatory confederate soldier memorial out front under the large live oaks that dominate the grounds.

Clinton and the East Feliciana Parish Courthouse have shown their significance and beauty by appearing in a number of movies and television shows.  I do not know all  of them but I do know of some.  As many HBO subscribers already know, Clinton has appeared in episodes of the hit series True Blood.  Prior to HBO many of us can remember that the 1958 movie The Long Hot Summer was filmed in Clinton. Then in 1972 Sounder was filmed here.  More recently The Dukes of Hazzard filmed scenes in and around Clinton.  There are some more instances of filming taking place here but that is not the significance associated with the courthouse.

The East Feliciana Parish Courthouse is the oldest continuously operated courthouse in Louisiana.  It was built in 1840 and is one of four courthouses in the state of Louisiana that were built before the Civil War and are still in use today. The two story Greek Revival structure, surrounded by a Doric colonnade, is centered in the public square.  The masonry walls and columns are plastered and painted white.  A domed, octagonal cupola sits on top.

Watermelons Being Sold in Front of Courthouse

Clinton has a number of historic buildings that would be of interest to a visitor.  Although True Blood may be filming in town, one is more likely to find a red flowing substance oozing from some cut watermelons being sold from the back of a truck under the shade of the large oak trees in front of the courthouse.  Now that is something I can sink my teeth into!