Preservationists Seek Help
When Absalom Autrey loaded his family in a wagon in Alabama to move to the wilds of north Louisiana in 1848, he could not have imagined the log home he would build becoming one of the state’s architectural treasures.
The large “dogtrot” cabin served as a family home in what is now Lincoln Parish for over one hundred years before sitting idle for decades. In the late 1980s, preservationists recognized the need to protect the unique structure and undertook a massive restoration.
Now the Autrey House is again in need of some tender loving care.
The Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation recently added the Autrey House to its 2019 “Louisiana’s Most Endangered Places List.” Since 1999, the Trust has maintained the list to bring attention to landmarks Since 1999, the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation has maintained the list and advocated to save these threatened sites.
The dogtrot was a common architectural style in the South in the 1800s. With one to one-and-a-half stories, enclosed rooms at each end were separated by a wide, open passage or breezeway. During hot summer nights, family members might have found the open-ended airy passage more preferable for sleeping than the interior rooms.
The Autrey House has large rooms used for sleeping on one side of its breezeway, while rooms on the opposite side included a kitchen and living area. Steps in the breezeway passage lead up to a large sleeping loft, a necessity since Absalom and Elizabeth Autrey had 15 children. The walls are made from huge hand-hewn, half-round logs joined at the corners with square notches. Few dogtrots remain, and the Autrey House is one of the oldest houses in north Louisiana.
Jean Moore, a member of the Autrey House Advisory Board, says the 171-year-old structure on the National Register of Historic Places desperately needs a new roof, chimneys rebuilt, and floor repairs.
“Dedicated volunteers continue to patch and repair with our limited funds,” Moore said during a recent update on the house, “to preserve the structure for future generations.” But the needs far exceed the current resources available, she said.
Some of the volunteers are descendants of the original builder. Moore said, “Vicky Autrey Colvin, the great-great-great granddaughter of Absalom Autrey, and her husband Loyd are the primary caretakers. They work tirelessly to assure the grounds are maintained and are vigilant in identifying problems to prevent minor issues from becoming more severe.”
In 1988, the home’s foundation was stabilized, and additional work in 1991 on the walls and floor restored the home to its 19th century appearance and made it accessible for tours by appointment. The property and a small repair fund are overseen by the Lincoln Parish Museum.
Recently, the foundation, which was plagued by rotting joists sitting on giant native ironstone rock piers, was repaired. The tin roof, which replaced the original wood shingles over half a century ago, springs leaks constantly and is beyond patching and needs complete replacement.
Moore said protecting the house is important for history and the future.
“The Autrey House is our last visible link to the way of life of some of our early pioneers. While the Autrey family was not the first family to settle in what is now Lincoln Parish, their home is the earliest surviving residence,” she said.
“Our community heritage is tied directly to the Autrey family and others who lived lives of industry and hard work, and valued education, family, and faith.”
Moore said estimates from contractors put repairs in the tens of thousands of dollars. The Autrey House Board, under the auspices of the Lincoln Parish Museum, is hoping to raise the funds quickly to protect the structure before any significant damage occurs.
In a 2008 article about the Autrey House, Tulane University professor emeritus Karen Kingsley wrote, “Because dogtrots were built in remote and rural areas their survival is always at risk. So those that have survived and have been carefully brought back to their original appearance should more than ever be valued and treasured.”
The Autrey House sits at the intersection of Louisiana Highways 151 and 152 just west of Dubach. The exterior can be viewed any day; for tours of the interior, call the Lincoln Parish Museum at 318-251-0018 or Susan Roach at 318-257-2718. Tax-deductible donations to join the effort to preserve the Autrey House may be sent to:
Autrey House Museum
c/o Lincoln Parish Museum
609 N. Vienna Street
Ruston, LA 71270
Wesley Harris is a native of Ruston who writes extensively on Reconstruction era crime. His books include Greetings From Ruston: A Post Card History of Ruston, Louisiana and Neither Fear nor Favor: Deputy United States Marshal John Tom Sisemore, available from amazon.com. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Check out his Louisiana history blog at http://diggingthepast.blogspot.com