From Ashes to Architecture
Exploring Historic Lake Charles
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Ghosts and German Siding
Because of its history as a lumber town, many distinctive architectural features were born in Lake Charles, including a particular siding design known locally as German siding, which was created from the Louisiana cypress tree. The Lake Charles column first appeared after the turn of the 20th century when these two-story, slightly tapered columns made out of a single board came into use, and there are several great examples of the feature today. “This is essentially the sawmill version of the Greek revival column,” Cormier says.
“Columns, bracketry, dormers, roof styles, porches, windows – you could put whatever your heart wanted on your home,” says A.C. Bourdier, a historian for the Calcasieu Historical Preservation Society. “Some have three columns; some have five columns; some have two columns. We have a Victorian that has seven different architectural styles on it alone.” This particular house, built in 1900, is on the corner of Mill and Ford, has a yard about half a city block long and is beautifully painted, Bourdier says. “It’s the finest Victorian we have in town.”
Another home that Bourdier finds particularly attractive is a large two-story colonial building that was built in 1904 or 1905 and had many owners before being left vacant for several years. It was then bought by an attorney who did an excellent job in restoring it. “I always point it out to all the people I take on tour because it’s the epitome of Lake Charles colonial architecture,” he says. It has a grooved ceiling on the porch painted blue and the famous Lake Charles columns.
Although the buildings themselves are the primary draw to the historic district, the people who have lived and worked here also left a legacy. “You can’t have a tour without ghosts,” Bourdier says. The first anesthesiologist in Lake Charles (who also conducted one of the first dairy inspections) lived in a house on the corner of Kirby and Reid streets – and he may still live there today in ghost form. A house on Mill Street is said to be haunted by a man who rocks in a chair on the porch. Up the block is a house that served as a stand-in prison when the city jail burnt down in 1910. Prisoners were put on the third level of the home, and conflicting stories say that one of these men either jumped out of the window in hopes of landing in a nearby oak tree but missed or was thrown out of the window after a fight broke out among some of the men. In any case, his ghost is said to still haunt the property.