Creole Architecture

Two components of Creole Architecture are Bousillage and lime wash; both are evident on Cane River today. As early as the 1780s, the Spanish maps show raised West Indian style houses along Cane River, which likely used these practices.

Creole structures in the Natchitoches community remind us of the past, and although many have been lost over time, they remain as visible remnants of that heritage. Mrs. Cammie Henry, the doyenne of Melrose Plantation in the 1920s and 1930s, surrounded herself with writers, artists and folklorists. Not only had the Henry family acquired the Hypolite Hertzog land, which was acquired from the Metoyers, but they had acquired some of the finest examples of Creole architecture on the river. Several of these buildings, including Louis Metoyer's Yucca Plantation (its earliest known name), were moved to Melrose Plantation and can be seen today.

The 1960s and 1970s brought a renewed interest in local historic preservation. The late Dr. Tom Wells purchased the Tauzin-Wells House in Natchitoches and began restoring it to its original 18th century form. He began buying doors, hinges, and millwork from Creole houses on Cane River. Innocuous as it might seem, it damaged the integrity of Creole structures and had a wider effect.

Around the same time, the house of Madame Aubin Roque, now known as the Roque House, was abandoned and had fallen into disrepair. Former Mayor of Natchitoches, Robert DeBlieux, hoping to preserve and develop the city's cultural tourism, saw the house as an example of architecture and history. It was decided that the City of Natchitoches would purchase the building and move it to town along the Cane River riverbank. While the effort saved most of the structure, the "restoration" altered the house in serious ways - so much it is hardly recognizable. Still it is preserved.

A number of older Creole houses have been lost on Isle Brevelle. The old hospital, Madame Aubin's house, the old Chelette house, the old Landry Dupree house, the old Chevalier house, the old Lewis Jones store, the old church hall, and others are remembered well but are gone. Fire seems to have gotten many older structures - a real problem in an area where wood is the dominant architectural fabric.

Many of these structures were lost by the 1930s, fire being the most common explanation for their losses. Some houses have been remodeled and "hide" older houses inside them. Carroll Balthazar points out that his bungalow covers an earlier, old home. His mother, Mrs. Cora Balthazar, preserved her "outside" kitchen behind the house. Shine Delphin's house has been re-roofed, so it looks "new." Still, it has an outside ladder instead of a stair, a colonial trait.

A serious folk-house-type study (1980s) by Dr. George A. Stokes of Northwest State University notes that fully 80% of the houses at Isle Brevelle are in French-Creole styles. French carpenter's marks are still closely visible on the Balthazar house. Somehow, with no real plan, the people on the island, along the river, up Bayou Derbonne, along Little River into the towns and cities have preserved their home. Dr. Rachal saved the Rachal house; Patrick and Lita Jones saved the Lewis Jones house; "Mrs.Bernadine Delphin saved the furnishings of Suzanne Metoyer; Carroll Balthazar saved his family home; his children have kept after him not to demolish the old log cabin. Thomas Delphin is working to save their old cabin, once a Melrose house. The Roque family has kept their old store. Time and tragedy erode the material culture, but the people have kept it going. At least a dozen traditional structures have survived from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, With the exception of the Badin-Roque house, there has been no outside involvement in any house maintenance or preservation. People have done most of the work themselves; their incentive comes from mainly within the community.

Sources: "We Know Who We Are. (Unpublished manuscript)". By H.F. Gregory and Joseph Moran. Pp. 90-96.

Cane River Creole National Historical Park

Last updated: July 16, 2021