Home: Cane Country

The original land for the historic house that fronts Rue Washington and hugs the Cane River at its back was purchased in 1810 for 800 Spanish piasters (pieces of eight). In 1830 a four-room cottage was built of solid pine and handmade brick on the land that is now a part of the Historic District in Natchitoches. Today it remains a proud part of the historical town that is considered the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase.

The house began its life with two rooms downstairs and an additional two on the second level. “There was a porch across both the front and back of the house but no kitchen or bathroom,” homeowner Cecilia Smith says. “The kitchen was probably a separate building in the rear yard. The two rooms downstairs were a parlor and a ‘stranger’s room,’ so called because in days before hotels or inns were plentiful, it was not unusual for a homeowner to take in a stranger for an overnight stay.” The rule was that as long as the room had an exterior door, it was considered proper to rent a room in a private home to a stranger. Access to the upstairs bedrooms was from the stairs on the back porch, and each of the four rooms in the house had its own exterior entry door. Both rooms upstairs were bedrooms.

“Today the significant historical cottage doesn’t even hint to its rebirth when viewed from Rue Washington,” Smith continues. “My husband and I purchased the property in 1999 from a member of the Perini family that built the first cottage. Our idea was to give new life to the historical property with a rear addition that would take full advantage of the view of the river.” It was definitely a labor of love for Cecilia and her late husband, James E. Smith, a prominent orthopedic surgeon from Shreveport. “We loved the idea of combining the old with the new and taking full advantage of the 65-foot waterfront lot.”

The couple had distinct ideas of what they wanted when they called in Natchitoches architectural designer James Hearron to work with them. “It was my basic mission to respond to the challenge of designing something exciting and innovative that would respect the past while taking full advantage of the site to provide an addition that would offer comfortable living,” Hearron says.

The new addition radiates from the 29-foot-by-29-foot great room, with a peaked ceiling that reaches 23 feet high, providing a dramatic view of the house from the river and a panoramic vista from the new structure of the picturesque slopping lot that ends at the waterfront. “The great room is my favorite space in the addition, “ Smith says. “Sunlight floods the room in the morning, and the space completely lights up when a full moon rises on a clear night.”

The 10-foot-wide deck across the rear of house is an ideal spot for relaxing or entertaining at the end of the day. The couple carefully planned the lush grounds.

“My husband and I planted every azalea, sweet olive and gardenia in the yard,” she says. “The many original iris bulbs in the garden came from Briarwood, the home of Caroline Dorman, who was a friend of Hilda Perini Heim, who sold us the house and is related to the original family who built it. She was also a close friend with Cammie Henry of Melrose Plantation.”

Inside the dramatic addition, Hearron designed a state-of-the-art kitchen with granite countertops and terra cotta tile floors. Master cabinet craftsman Jimmy Floyd built the handsome kitchen that is open to the great room. “I have always enjoyed how you can cook and never feel cut off from visiting with other folks in the house,” Smith says.

The master suite is tucked on one side of the addition, providing complete privacy. Triple windows overlook the porch and rear garden. “Here again I enjoy waking up to the sun coming up in my bedroom and the nighttime view of a full moon,” Smith says. “The house is filled with wonderful memories.” She says her favorite time is during the Natchitoches Christmas Festival of Lights with its unique colorful parade and festivities. “It’s wonderful to live in a historic Natchitoches house that also offers the best of everything up-to-date.”

(See related story pg. 100: The 2011 Natchitoches Christmas Festival of Lights begins Nov. 19 and ends Jan. 6, 2012, www.christmasfestival.com.)

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