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Ask Rufus: The legacy of Madam John's Legacy

 

Madam John's Legacy, shown c. 1905, is a 1789 French Colonial house in New Orleans. With its brick above ground basement and wood frame main floor it was designed for the hot wet climate of the Gulf coast. The features of houses of its style were replicated in the early raised cottages of Columbus.

Madam John's Legacy, shown c. 1905, is a 1789 French Colonial house in New Orleans. With its brick above ground basement and wood frame main floor it was designed for the hot wet climate of the Gulf coast. The features of houses of its style were replicated in the early raised cottages of Columbus. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

The Ole Homestead, a c. 1825 vernacular raised cottage in Columbus, bears a striking resemblance to Madam John's Legacy, a 1789 home in New Orleans. Both houses have an above ground brick basement, a raised wood frame main floor and a wide porch running the length of the house. They were built for comfort and protection from the south's hot wet weather.

The Ole Homestead, a c. 1825 vernacular raised cottage in Columbus, bears a striking resemblance to Madam John's Legacy, a 1789 home in New Orleans. Both houses have an above ground brick basement, a raised wood frame main floor and a wide porch running the length of the house. They were built for comfort and protection from the south's hot wet weather.
Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

 

Rufus Ward

 

 

One of the earliest styles of architecture in the south and the style of the some of the oldest surviving houses in Columbus is the raised cottage. It is a style that was introduced into the south Atlantic coastal and Gulf coastal areas from the West Indies probably in the early 1700s. It is a style that evolved to address living in a semi-tropical climate. I can think of 11 pre-1850 raised cottages that have survived in Columbus. 

 

Columbus' earliest raised cottages are vernacular which simply means they were constructed to conform to local climate, culture and materials. They range from the Ole Homestead, c. 1825, which exhibits a Creole influence to the Haven/Williams-Glass House, c. 1843, which has a Carolina Low Country influence. Columbus also has six Greek Revival raised cottages which are a more refined or high style. These range from the Lincoln Home, c. 1846, to the very high style Pratt Thomas Home, 1847. 

 

This mixing of styles results from Columbus being an intersection of settlers moving here from the east with their Georgia or Carolina taste or coming up the Tombigbee from the Gulf with a Spanish or French heritage. This mixing of cultural heritage has given Columbus a unique collection of architecture. 

 

Raised cottages probably evolved in the West Indies and is a style that attempts to address hot wet climate while using local building materials. A raised cottage typically consists of a brick above ground basement upon which is situated a wood frame main floor. 

 

The significance of this style of construction was fully brought to light by the flooding in Texas and Louisiana. Maryanne Weissinger Smith, a friend in Louisiana, sent me a copy of a New Orleans Times-Picayune article from last week. The article was titled, "How to flood-proof a house? Look to colonial New Orleans architecture." The article by architect Thom Smith was about Madam John's Legacy, a 1789 French colonial house, which was built to address in simple ways the hot wet weather of New Orleans. 

 

The lower level was built of brick covered in stucco so that if wet or even flooded it would quickly dry without damage other than getting dirty. In his article Smith said that technique is now called "wet flood-proofing." The upper or main level was constructed of wood frame and elevated 8 feet above the street. It was positioned to catch breezes and has large windows and doors that can be opened for cross ventilation. The house was also constructed with a wide porch running the length of the house for protection from sun and rain. According to Smith "these design strategies are called 'passive' or 'bioclimatic', and were the norm before modern, energy-intensive air conditioning and heating systems." 

 

What really caught Maryanne's eye was that Madam John's Legacy looked a lot like my house, the Ole Homestead with its wide length of the house porch, brick basement and wood frame main floor six-and-a-half feet above street level. Not long after Karen and I bought the Ole Homestead, Ken P'Pool of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History told us our house reminded him of Madam John's Legacy in New Orleans. On a trip to New Orleans about four years ago, Karen and I went to see the house. 

 

Madam John's Legacy is located at 628 Dumaine Street in the French Quarter and is open to the public as part of the Louisiana State Museum. There is a striking resemblance between the two houses, though the Ole Homestead is younger by some 36 years. We found a similar floor plan and even some of the same moldings. What really surprised me was that the house contained a large exhibit of Newcomb pottery with many pieces by Henrietta Bailey. My grandmother, Lenora Hardy Billups, had studied art and decorated pottery at Newcomb, 1908-1913, and she had once told me her instructor's name was Henrietta Bailey.

 

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]

 

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