Fundraiser underway to save St. Augustine’s first convent

33
Badin-Roque House

Driving down Hwy 484 through Isle Brevelle, you might not notice a simple, unadorned bousillage house set back from the road. However, this unassuming building is the Badin-Roque House and has a rich cultural history that dates to the 1700s. It is also currently in danger of being lost forever. The house has great significance to Cane River Creoles of Isle Brevelle. In the early 1800s, the house was purchased by Nicolas Augustin Metoyer (1768-1856), the founder of St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in 1803.

A devoted Catholic, Metoyer was a prominent and respected planter who was the first-born of a Frenchman and a former slave whose 10 children are the ancestors of Isle Brevelle’s Cane River Creoles. The house was used by French Daughters of the Cross nuns who came to the parish in 1857, at the request if the Bishop, to educate the Metoyer family children and others in the parish. Thus, the house was both the first Convent, and later was used as a Catholic schoolhouse until a new building was built near the St. Augustine Church.

Family Doctors

In addition, the structure also has a rich architectural heritage. It is only one of four surviving examples of poteaux-en-terre (post-in-ground) construction in the United States. Three buildings are located in St. Genevieve, Mo., and were recently protected as part of a newly established National Park Service site earlier this year. The fourth is the Badin-Roque House, owned by the St. Augustine Historical Society. The style of building is very rare due to the rate of decay in the buried ends of the posts. Badin-Roque is no exception—the building is currently in poor condition. It wasn’t much of a surprise when the Louisiana Trust for Historic Places named the Badin-Roque House as one of Louisiana’s most endangered historic properties in September.

Members of the local community had already been discussing the building’s condition and what to do about it. Most importantly, the St. Augustine Historical Society had already been working quietly behind the scenes with a variety of partners to develop a plan to preserve it. In 2017, the St. Augustine Historical Society partnered with Cane River Creole National Historical Park and the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT) to apply for funding through the Lower Mississippi Delta Initiative.

The funding is a program within the National Park Service for partner organizations along the Mississippi River corridor that focus on preserving culture and promoting heritage tourism. The original scope of the project was to complete a preservation plan to assess the extent of the damage so appropriate repairs could be planned. The preservation plan follows federal historic preservation guidelines, since the property is nationally significant and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sparks Engineering out of San Antonio and EnvironMental Design of Beaux Bridge were selected as the engineering and architectural consultants, both having extensive experience in working with historic buildings. They conducted a site visit along with staff from NCPTT in April 2018 to evaluate the structural integrity of Badin-Roque. With any older building, they found a significant amount of decay and rot, particularly on the vertical posts that extend into the ground. The report also found insufficient storm water drainage that allows water to pool at the base of the building, furthering decay of the post foundation system. Along with the findings and recommended treatment, the completed preservation plan provides cost estimates for repairs in the range of $145,000.

However, with the help of some additional funding from the Lower Mississippi Delta Initiative, those costs have been lowered. “We were incredibly fortunate that some last-minute partnership funding became available for this project. We used those funds to purchase a large quantity of cypress lumber, prune adjacent trees and complete pest control for termite and carpenter bees,” said Carrie Mardorf, Superintendent of Cane River Creole National Historical Park.

With those costs already covered, the St. Augustine Historical Society is now fundraising through a GoFundMe page specifically set up for the Badin-Roque House repairs. The hope is that local residents, community businesses, historic preservation professionals and the Creole community can come together to provide the needed funding.

SAHS Board of Directors stand with Carrie Mardorf after its October 2018 meeting when the Preservation Study of the Badin Roque Houses was presented to the Board. Left to Right: Dr. Mark Guidry, SAHS President, Clyde Roque, Theresa Demery, Carrie Mardolf, Gloria Jones, Van LaCour, Vera Severin, and Gail Jones. Photo Courtesy of Ethel Marie Guidry.

“Since 2013, the SAHS has been seeking a way to save Badin-Roque!” says Dr. Mark Guidry, President of the St. Augustine Historical Society. “I am forever grateful for the leadership of Carrie Mardorf and the assistance of Sarah Marie Jackson of NCPTT, in getting us the preservation study. We now have a clear road map of what needs to be done to save the house. In an era where grants are few and limited, we will reach out to all our partners to save St. Augustine’s first Convent – a place of local, statewide and national significance. It’s time to raise money to prevent collapse. We want it here for the future generation to know their history and heritage.”

“This project was truly a partnership effort. There were a lot of people who came together to make this project happen and we all want to see it succeed. We’re hopeful that this momentum can continue to build so that the repairs can be completed in the near future,” said Mardorf.

To donate to the Badin-Roque GoFundMe page, go to www.gofundme.com and search for Badin-Roque or donate directly at https://www.gofundme.com/SAVE-CANE-RIVERs-1857-CONVENT. You may also contact SAHS Fundraising Campaign Leaders Tommy Roque Sr., Anita Metoyer Evans and Dr. Rand Metoyer. All donations will be used to support its repairs and maintenance.