Ellicott Hill tour offers peek into restorations

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 30, 2006

A walk through the House on Ellicott Hill is a walk through several different time periods, from the 18th century to now.

And visitors to the house during Pilgrimage this year will have a chance to see the layers from those various decades in a unique tour that highlights the ongoing restoration of the house.

&8220;We&8217;ll be open for Pilgrimage with a highly specialized tour of the rehabilitation in progress,&8221; said Beth Boggess, a member of the Natchez Garden Club that owns and maintains the house.

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The House on Ellicott Hill has been undergoing a restoration since May 2004 &8212; but part of that time, Boggess said, was spent under an unqualified contractor.

But the incorrect work &8212; which left some damage to the exterior of the house &8212; revealed a blessing in disguise.

Had mistakes not been made, Boggess said, garden club members would not have learned more secrets about how the house was built.

For example, engineers and garden club members now believe the main part of the house was built initially without the basement level. That area on the side of the hill would have instead been filled with a mixture of moss, mud, animal hair and twigs.

The basement likely would have been dug out later, Boggess said.

&8220;It would baffle us without massive construction equipment, but they knew how to do it,&8221; she said.

A qualified contractor took over the work in June 2005, finishing phase 1 &8212; the exterior work &8212; in November.

Interior restoration, including painting, will be ongoing during Pilgrimage but will stop during the tours.

The paint colors follow the guidelines of an archeological paint study done in 1978. Colors were computer-matched to the research.

Restoring elements in such precise detail is important to the show the history of the house, Boggess said.

&8220;It helps the visitor to understand how people lived,&8221; she said. &8220;In interpreting this house, it has to have been considered a premium residence. (According to records), this is the second most valuable house in 1810 after Texada.&8221;

The house was occupied over the years by a Natchez mayor, a physician and other prominent residents.

By 1801, the house had Federal ornamentation, including moldings and other woodwork. And the main front room has at least five different paint colors throughout.

Such rich details showed &8220;look-at-me-status,&8221; Boggess said.

Visitors during this year&8217;s Pilgrimage will also learn the phases in which the house was built and hear about water and plaster damage and how it occurred.

The furniture in the house has been wrapped to avoid damage during restoration, but much of it is still in the house.

But photos of the furniture placement will be on display, as will photos of earlier aspects of the restoration process that help show how the house was built.

Boggess, also an architect, said she has enjoyed learning the secrets of the house.

&8220;If we had not had that false start, we wouldn&8217;t have found any of this interesting stuff,&8221; Boggess said.

&8220;The houses do talk. And we&8217;re fortunate that we have a lot of people who listen to them talk.&8221;

Those strides are what attracted the MacArthur Foundation to Louisiana, Garduque said.

&8220;They used the crisis as an opportunity to address problems with the juvenile judicial system,&8221; she said. &8220;The state showed a good-faith effort.&8221;

Although a little bit awed by the task ahead of her, DePrato said she knows she&8217;ll have access to the resources of the board of regents, which will contract her services through LSU.

&8220;They&8217;re an exciting board and they have so many resources,&8221; she said. &8220;Whatever we do, there&8217;s a college or a university there we can team up with.&8221;

DePrato will be in charge of finding different juvenile justice projects around the state that are successful and either help make them more successful or develop ways to spread their success to other areas.

She said she, along with regents, will spend the next six to eight months developing a plan to determine where the first round of grants will go.

&8220;We&8217;re looking to build on strengths and assets,&8221; Garduque said. &8220;We&8217;ll come in and say, &8216;You&8217;re doing good work, let us help you take it to the next level.&8217;&8221;