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Old House in Old Natchitoches as photographed by Marion Wolcott

Updated: Aug 19, 2023

Brick, white-washed two story house, with angled dormer, three chimneys and iron balcony.
Marion Wolcott, photographer for the WPA, captured this old-looking building in Natchitoches, Louisiana in 1940. According to the HABS records (Historic American Building Survey), the building was located at 120 Washington Street (LOC). This was an old building inside the oldest town in Louisiana... but how old was it?

Old House in Old Natchitoches as photographed by Marion Wolcott

In 1940, photographer Marion Wolcott of the Works Progress Administration visited Natchitoches, Louisiana along the Cane River. Her photographs helped to spur federal interest in the Creole people of French, Spanish and African heritage along the river, which eventually culminated into the Cane River National Heritage Area.

Wolcott's eye sought places that looked old, colonial, or unique inside and around "the oldest town in Louisiana," as she described Natchitoches, and three of her photographs captured this house at "120 Washington Street." The address was recorded by the Historic American Building Survey Program. Described as "the balcony house," it looked as if plucked from New Orleans with its brick construction, high windows, multiple chimneys, and wrought iron decoration. On some of the photos, a sign can be read: "Room & Board."

Being the nosy person I am, I wanted to see if this place was still extant, so I typed in "120 Washington Street" in Google Maps. That address doesn't exist anymore. I looked for Natchitoches City Directories but there aren't any online (I think). Luckily, the Library of Congress is a benevolent entity. I searched the address on Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps between 1892 to 1922 and discovered that the house stood between Lafayette and Pavie Streets on the west side of Washington Street (which turns into Front Street south of Lafayette).

In 1892, the house had six chimneys with a detached, bricked kitchen that sported three chimneys. By 1899, the house functioned as the U.S. Land Office but the detached kitchen building had disappeared - this is an interesting discovery as the U.S. Land Office had the task of distributing public and abandoned lands. By 1904, this building was subdivided into three separate units that housed businesses; then, by 1909, these units had become "Dwellings." By 1922, it was simply listed as a home.

Today, the parking lot for a bank occupies the structure's location. No offense to the bank, but darnit, I prefer the old rather than the new.

Wolcott's discerning eye was correct; this was an old house, but HOW old is still unclear to me.

Close up of brick building in Natchitoches with wrought iron balcony taken by Marion Wolcott
Wolcott took a close-up of the building at 120 Washington Street in Natchitoches, Louisiana in 1940. Note that the sign above the window says "Room & Board" (LOC).
Brick, white-washed two story building with angled roof and iron balcony, two chimneys taken by Marion Wolcott in Natchitoches.
Here's another angle of the building on Washington Street in Natchitoches, Louisiana as photographed by Marion Wolcott in 1940. This is a reverse image; the photographer was looking north, not south.
Sanborn map from 1892 of old brick house in Natchitoches. Rectangular blocks in pink indicate brick. Yellow blocks indicate wood.
To figure out how the age of the building that Wolcott photographed, I'd have to pore through tax and deed records. Since I don't have ready access to them, I looked up the Sanborn maps for Natchitoches and found the old house in the earliest map I could locate: 1892. Notice that the house has a detached kitchen and the interior was "D. & Tinw." I'm thinking daub and tin?
Sanborn map of building in Natchitoches. Red rectangle means brick.
By 1899, the house at 120 Washington Street in Natchitoches still had its chimneys but not the detached kitchen. It was being used by the U.S. Land Office at this point, which distributed public and abandoned lands.
Sanborn map from 1904 with brick building and additons in back.
In 1904, the house at 120 Washington Street in Natchitoches had become a commercial building. Note the overhang and the additional square footage added to the structure.


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