Community People & Places Places

May is Historic Preservation Month

CAROLA LILLIE HARTLEY
Publisher and Contributing Writer

Featured Photograph: Michel Prudhomme Home on Prudhomme Circle in Opelousas, today owned by the Preservationists of St. Landry Parish. Thanks to that organization the centuries old historic home is still standing today. The home was built in the latter 1700s by Michel Prudhomme, and it was later owned for several years at the turn of the 20th century by Michael Ringrose. At that time, it was known as Ringrose Plantation. Today it is again called the Michel Prudhomme Home. (Photograph Courtesy of Terri Spencer, taken in 2005.)

Established in 1973 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as National Preservation Week, in 2005 that week of preservation celebration was extended to the entire month of May. The annual event is co-sponsored by the National Trust along with local preservation groups, state historical societies, business groups, and civic organizations across the United States. Historic Preservation Month presents an opportunity to celebrate the diverse and unique heritage of the country’s cities and states.

Many ask what is the meaning of historic preservation and why is it important to a community? Historic preservation is an endeavor that seeks to preserve, conserve and protect buildings, objects, landscapes or other artifacts of historic significance in a community, a state and our nation. According to many historic preservation professionals, the movement in the United States started sometime around the 1850s, and over the years it spread across the US and since 1973 is celebrated annually.

Why should we preserve our historic assets? Renovating historic properties preserves the historic, architectural, and aesthetic character and heritage of a community or area and helps to provide a sense of place and connection.

There are several reasons to preserve old buildings and other historic assets.

  • Old buildings are valuable. Most were built using high quality materials that are cost prohibited today or may not even be available to use today. 
Professor R. A. Mayer Home on Bellevue Street. Professor Mayer was a musician, a photographer, an inventor and so much more. Today the home remains in the family, owned by one of his descendants. (Courtesy of Jonathan Sebastien.)
  • When an old building is demolished, or moved out of the area, you may never know what was really lost. Many historic buildings have hidden treasures that were simply covered up over the years. If the building is demolished, or moved away, a community loses all those treasures that can never be replaced. Some old buildings have their original facades covered by less desirable materials. Renovating the structure and removing all those materials brings the structure back to life. If the building is instead demolished, or moved out of the area, the community loses a part of its history.
Home of Governor Jacques Dupre, once located right out side of Opelousas, was moved away several years ago.
The Edward M. Boagni Home on Railroad Avenue and Grolee Street was lost to demolition many years ago.
  • Most small, mom and pop type businesses, are more successful when they operate in historic building. Businesses like antique stores, gifts shops, bookstores, ethnic restaurants, jewelry stores, coffee shops, and the like, seem to be more successful in historic buildings. That is real economic development especially in downtown commercial districts.
  • Old buildings are a way to get people into your community. Historic buildings are assets to the tourism industry. These buildings attract people. They are more interesting, and they have a great story to tell about the city or town.
  • Old buildings are a part of the community’s history, and its culture. These buildings make the story of the city or town come alive. Going through the buildings brings you back to another time that is long gone. It helps people understand the town’s past, and the road it took to get where it is today.
  • Demolition of a building often brings years of regret. Once a building is gone you can’t bring it back. It cannot be renovated or repaired. It can’t host new and exciting businesses, those that contribute to the local economy. When a building is gone, the town loses so much of its worth. Look at some of the historic buildings Opelousas lost over the last 50 years. So often you hear people say, if only that building was still here.
  • Historic preservation is an important economic development tool for communities. It is about protecting a town’s history, architectural accomplishments and the fabric of the communities. By doing this we are attracting others to invest in the community and further the economic development efforts.

Historic Preservation Month reminds us how important it is to preserve our town’s historic assets. Look around and see what historic Opelousas has to offer. Celebrate this month by getting involved with local and area preservation groups in the Opelousas area. More local citizen involvement in the preservation movement will help to ensure the Opelousas historic assets are preserved and protected. By doing that we are making our community a great place to be.