Mary and J.W. Thomas House named one of Louisiana’s Most Endangered Places

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Louisiana’s historic sites represent the past, but often these sites become neglected, abandoned or ultimately demolished.  The Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation works statewide to help identify and advocate for our state’s historic places and has announced the 2021 Louisiana Most Endangered Places.

Eleven new nominations have been selected.  Since 1999, LTHP has maintained this growing list. Many sites have been saved while others stand stagnant. LTHP encourages creative approaches and valuable tools such as the National Register of Historic Places or state and federal tax credits to help save these endangered places.

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One of the 11 Most Endangered Places is Natchitoches Parish’s Mary and J.W. Thomas House.

What was once the home of Mary and J.W. Thomas, the first major Black educator in Natchitoches Parish, is a modest side-gabled cottage.

Thomas was originally from Baton Rouge and moved to Natchitoches in 1910 to educate black youth. He opened the Lincoln Institute in 1912 where he served as both a professor and administrator of the school. The institution school began as a three-room frame schoolhouse. In 1919, the Lincoln Institute Board of Trustees deeded its property to Natchitoches Parish School Board.

In 1925, the new six-teacher Natchitoches Parish Training School was dedicated with support from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, offering career education classes including its first high school class that same year. The school continued to grow and build modern school spaces including Central High School in the 1960s. In 1968, the Natchitoches Parish School Board voted unanimously to rename Central Elementary to the J.W. Thomas Elementary School. The last all black Central High class graduated in 1970 prior to school integration.

Thomas was a respected community leader in Natchitoches. He organized community meetings to discuss moral goals of World War I and home food production to conserve resources during the conflict. He engaged the community in activities of the Red Cross, and organized celebrations to welcome home Black soldiers returning from World War I. He was a Mason and involved in the A.M.E. Church. The residence has been vacant since 2009. Rehabilitating the property would honor the legacy of Professor J.W. Thomas and the Lincoln Institute.

Malcolm Cyriaque III, a native of Natchitoches Parish and current resident of Rapides Parish, was the one who nominated the Mary and J.W. Thomas House. His grandparents, Henderson and Ruth Sapp, were the last residents of the house. Growing up, he heard of the legacy of J.W. Thomas and became interested in him and the Lincoln Institute. He learned much about the house and J.W. Thomas’ legacy from locals such as Pete Gregory and Ed Ward. After his grandmother passed in 2009, he wished to upkeep and preserve the home’s legacy. He nominated the home to bring exposure to the location and to the great history behind it. Now he hopes to bring new life into the hous by fixing it up. To assist in the rehabilitation project for the Mary and J.W. Thomas House, contact Cyriaque by calling 318-730-1246.

This year’s list represents a mix of sites ranging from enslaved burial grounds to World War II era buildings.  Listing these places acknowledges their importance to the local community but also our statewide identity and economy. The list is generated from nominations made by the public and aims to attract creative approaches and resources to see the sites saved and rehabilitated for future generations.

“Getting a property added to the Louisiana’s Most Endangered Places List can be a useful tool in the effort to save an important part of a community’s history,” said LTHP Executive Director Brain Davis. “It reinforces the significance of the site and the urgency for action, when applying for a grant or garnering support from the local community.  It also increases the commitment of the Louisiana Trust and its resources in seeing a positive outcome for the site.”

Selections to Louisiana’s Most Endangered Places List are based on their historic significance; the critical nature of their threat; and the likelihood to bring about a positive resolution to their situation or to those of similar sites. More information about the program, including nomination form, and a complete list of sites may be found at http://www.lthp.org/endangered-properties/. Other sites in Natchitoches Parish considered to be endangered include the Flora School (2013-14), Kisatchie Community School (2015 and 2019) and the Roque House (2017-18).

The Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation was founded in 1979 and works in all 64 parishes to advocate, promote and preserve historic places representing our diverse culture. It is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and for more information, visit LTHP.org or follow on Facebook (@LTHPreservation) and Instagram (@LouisianaTrust).