December 25, 2009: Christmas at My House
December 9-19, 2009: A Trip to Fort Lauderdale
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Page Index
December 20
Natchitoches, Louisiana

    Getting to Soldini House
    Outside Soldini House
    Inside Soldini House
    Around Natchitoches
    An Update
    The Trip Home

December 20, 2009
A Visit with Justin and Gary
in Natchitoches, Louisiana


 

Some weeks ago, when we knew that we would be going by Natchitoches on a weekend day, we asked our friends Justin and Gary if we could stop in and see them. While they live in Dallas, they spend their weekends in Natchitoches where they are restoring Justin's grandmother's home and also running a store that sells all sorts of decorative objects themed around just about any holiday you can think of.

They've been doing this for some years now, but this was the first time that our plans dovetailed with theirs.

The visit to Justin and Gary was an event in and of itself, even though it occurred as part of our Florida trip, and so this is why I am giving it its own page in this album. You can follow us into Natchitoches and have a look at their house, their neighborhood, the town and their store on the this album page. It might help, though, if you watch "Steel Magnolias" again first; it was filmed in Natchitoches and some of the pictures we took were of locations used in the filming of that movie- including the house that Justin and Gary occupy!

 

Getting to Soldini House


I called Justin and Gary when we got up Sunday morning in our Lafayette motel room, and they gave me very good directions right to their house. I knew the first part of the trip- we just had to drive up Interstate 49 to the Natchitoches exit, which is Highway 6 heading east.

Before we head into Natchitoches, we should probably clear something up. Natchitoches, Louisiana, is often confused with Nacogdoches, Texas. The confusion is understandable, since the names look very similar and the towns are not that far apart:

Both towns were originally Spanish settlements, although Natchitoches eventually came under the dominion of France and became part of the United States by way of the Louisiana Purchase. Nacogdoches was originally part of Mexico, then became part of the Republic of Texas and finally became part of the United States when Texas was admitted to the Union. It seems that the greatest confusion, though, is in how the two towns' names are pronounced. Texans are always mispronouncing the name of the Louisiana town; I can't say what Louisianians call the Texas town. But, to set the record straight, the Texas town is pronounced "Nak-a-do'-chess" (emphasis on the third syllable). The Louisiana town is a bit harder (and not at all what you'd think); in fact, there is a video on YouTube devoted entirely to how to pronounce the town's name. The pronounciation is "Nak'-ah-dish" (emphasis on the first syllable).


Once you are off the Interstate, it is a few miles east on Louisiana Highway 6 and you are in the town of Natchitoches.


Justin and Gary live in a house on the corner of Rue Demeziere and Rue Jefferson, the latter being the street that runs along the west side of the Upper Cane River. We were able to find their street and their house with little problem. This would probably be a good time to explain about about the river, which runs through all of Natchitoches.

Natchitoches used to be a port on the Red River, which begins in West Texas, runs east along the Texas Oklahoma border (just a few miles north of Fred's house) and then turns south through Arkansas and into Louisiana. It eventually empties into both the Mississippi and the Atchafalaya, both of which empty into the Gulf of Mexico at different points. The Atchafalaya basin is the typical Bayou area that's well-known in song and story. With the removal of the Great Red River Raft, the river completely bypassed Natchitoches.

The Raft was a series of log jams created by many decades of erosion. While navigation was blocked for over a hundred miles north, the raft consisted of many pockets of debris strung along the river with open water left in stretches along the way. These pockets accumulated on an average of four-fifths of a mile each year on the upper end, with the lower end washing itself downstream at about the same rate.

The Red River Raft was the second largest jam in North America, the first having been on the Ohio River. Captain Henry Miller Shreve had designed "snag-boats" to dismantle the jam on the Ohio and it was he who received the contract to clear the Red. Beginning in the mid 1830s, Shreve's progress was very slow until the invention of dynamite gave him the power to clean the river completely. By 1840 the new current, formed by large stretches of open water created by Shreve, sought an easier avenue through Rigelot de Bon Dieu and completely by-passed Natchitoches.

The oldest port west of the Mississippi was now land locked, except during high water times of the year. In the spring of 1915, an appeal was made to the Natchitoches Parish Police Jury to construct two dirt dykes or dams across Cane River for beautification purposes. One dam was to be located at or near the upper mouth of Cane River in Ward One, and the other dam was to be located in Ward Nine above and near the mouth of Old River.

The ordinance was opposed by property owners along the Red River as far south as Colfax and did not pass. But, in a special call meeting of the Police Jury, October 28, 1915, an ordinance was passed authorizing a bond issue of $20,000 for the purpose of building two earth "bridges" over Cane River. These were built and, although there were some attempts to take them back down again, these events failed, leaving the beautiful constant level lake the residents of Natchitoches enjoy today.

You can return to the trip index or continue with the next section below.


 

Outside Soldini House


Following Justin's directions, we turned north on Jefferson when we got to the river and then, after a few blocks, turned west on Demeziere to park behind Justin and Gary's House.

The Soldini House belonged to Justin's grandmother. It was designed by Italian architect Athaneze Trizzini for his partner, Joseph Soldini, who designed other homes in Natchitoches. Soldini was originally a bricklayer; he purchased the lot from Mrs. Charles Greneaux and built the house in 1847. In 1858, he sold it to chichester Chaplin, Sr. the house was originally a one-and-a-half story Greek Revival house with a gallery across the front and back. In 1925, it was totally remodeled into the vernacular Italian Renaissance style seen today. It has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, as evidenced by the plaque near the front door.

The house can be seen in the opening sequence of homes in Natchitoches featured in the movie "Steel Magnolias," which starred Sally Field, Darryl Hannah, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine and Olympia Dukakis. It is actually at the corner of Demeziere and Jefferson, just two blocks south of the house used as Sally Field's residence in the movie.


When we arrived and came around the front of the house, Justin and Gary came out to meet us. Before we did anything else, I wanted to get some pictures of the house and of Justin and Gary. You can have a look at three of the best of these pictures if you will click on the thumbnails at right.

Although we didn't go around the rest of the outside area right away, we did later. Around at the back of the house we could see that a couple of carports have been added. The extension on the house is the new kitchen; it was previously the slave wing of the big house (at the time, the actual kitchen was in a separate building just behind where the carports are now.

Also around back is a green house that was built in 1939 when Justin's grandparents were married. It was to be a "garage apartment" for them to begin life in; they did that and just never got around to moving away. They raised Justin's father and his two aunts there, and Justin grew up there as well. (About where its front steps hit the ground was where the original kitchen for the big house once stood. That separate kitchen burned down in the mid-1930s, but by then the slave wing conversion had been completed and it was no longer needed anyway. The corner lot also has a number of beautiful old trees as well as a loquat tree and a couple of lemon trees. The lemon trees provide huge lemons that have a wonderful sweeter taste than the small ones in the grocery stores; Justin and Gary sent us home with a bagful of them.

The guys seem to have adopted an orange tabby cat that likes Justin and Gary well enough but who doesn't take to strangers easily. Late in the afternoon, just before we left for home, I took two more pictures of us. The first one has Gary, Justin and Fred, and you can have a look at it here. The second one, taken by Fred, has me and Gary and Justin, and you can see that picture here.

You can return to the trip index or continue with the next section below.


 

Inside Soldini House

Justin and Gary have done wonders with Soldini House. They have completed some major renovations and are now in the process of arranging the rooms. The furniture and accessories they have used have come largely from their families; both Justin's and Gary's families have roots in the Natchitoches area and elsewhere in Texas, and they have accumulated a great many pictures, century-old antique furniture pieces and other decorative objects. They have used their skills (both work in creating large commercial displays for stores and other businesses) to arrange most everything "just so."


But it isn't just the things (mostly family heirlooms and memorabilia) that make Soldini House immensely interesting (and one of the premier stops on the various home tours that Natchitoches is famous for. Indeed, many of the pieces of furniture, artwork, china and other items are quite beautiful, but one could see much the same in many, many other old homes around the country. What made this house and its contents so interesting were the stories behind each and every piece, stories that Justin and Gary have researched and documented. These stories involve their families and their family histories and they were extremely interesting.

Gary was eager to show us around, and we were just as interested in learning more about the house, its contents and their families. So Gary gave us the whole tour- a tour that he has apparently given many times before. His encyclopedic knowledge of the house has been well researched, and we were very interested to know of its history (some of which I have included above). Gary began the tour on the front porch, telling us about Soldini House and how he and Justin came to own it.

Then Gary took us inside for an intimate look around. I wish now that I had had the foresight to film Gary's entire presentation. It would have been very interesting for you, and would have provided much detail to go along with the pictures I took. Gary's tour was so entertaining that I told him that sometime, when they have everything the way they want it, he should have a professional come in and film him doing the tour. It would be a wonderful thing to have, particularly should they ever decide to build a Web site for Soldini House (there are, I have found, numerous such Web sites for historic old homes- some very commercial and some very individual).

In any event, I caught only snippets of Gary's narrative in a couple of the movies that I did make. I concentrated on taking a few movies to show the layout of the house, and numerous pictures of some of the more interesting or beautiful object that grace the various rooms. While I can't give you the complete tour, at least I can give you a taste of what Soldini House was like inside.

Just Inside Soldini House
The first movie that I made I took from just inside the front door of Soldini House. This movie shows the two front rooms- the living room and the parlor (living room on the right, parlor on the left). After I took this movie, I walked across to the opposite side of the living room, near the bottom of the stairs, and took a picture of the front door and entry.

Now that you've seen the relationship between the living room and the parlor, let's look at some pictures taken in each room. First, there are some thumbnail images below for the pictures taken in the living room. Click on these thumbnails to view the full-size pictures:

After wandering around in the living room and listening to the immensely interesting narrative that Gary provided, we headed across the house, past the stairway to the second floor to the parlor.


Here, Gary continued his narrative and I took a few pictures of the room and some of its contents. If you will click on the thumbnail images at right, you can have a look at these pictures.

From the parlor, we walked through a doorway towards the back of the house, and found ourselves in a small bedroom. This room was, apparently, used originally as servant's quarters, since there was a small bathroom attached to it. Gary and Justin have put a beautifully-decorated small bed along the south wall of the room, just inside the doorway from the parlor. There are some other interesting furniture pieces in the room, and the doorway to the bathroom (through which you can reach the dining room) is along the north wall of the room. Over the bed is hung a mid-century map of Natchitoches.

From the back bedroom, we walked through the bathroom into the formal dining room, which is actually in back of the living room.


In the picture of Fred in the formal dining room at left, you can see the French doors behind him that lead into the living room. The formal dining room is dominated by the large dining table, and there are breakfronts and chests along the other walls of the room, where Justin and Gary keep most of their old china, silverware and candle holders. The walls are adorned with pictures of Justin's grandparents and great-grandparents (grandfather Walter Everette Alcock, Sr. and grandmother Henri D Williams Alcock, the latter affectionately known as "Bobo").

Take a look at the picture at left. You'll see that Fred is looking at a dress that is on a display stand. Click on the dress and you'll see that it is a wedding dress. Now look over at the wall behind Fred, and you'll see a picture of Justin's grandmother Bobo. If you click on her picture, you'll see that she was photographed in that very same dress! (Right next to Bobo's picture is her husband, Walter Everette Alcock, Sr.)

Just over the small china cabinet behind the wedding dress is a portrait of Justin's great-great-grandparents on his grandfather's side- George and Lucy Green Alcock. Click on that photo to see the full-sized image.

In this last photo of the dining room, taken from the opposite end, you can see the doorway that leads down a short hall underneath the stairs to the front door.

Next, we walked through that door and down the hallway towards the front of the house, turning to take the stairway to the second floor. From the landing where the stairway makes a right-angle turn, I stopped to take a picture looking from that landing down into the living room, and you can have a look at that picture here.

Upstairs at Soldini House

I began filming the second floor from the top of the stairs. Standing there, I could look down the hallway that divides the second floor. You can see a picture of this hallway from the far end if you click here.

The movie takes you first to your right at the top of the stairs and through the southeast bedroom. From there, we go back through the southwest bedroom. Then it is out into the hallway and further down to the back of the house, turning north to go through the bathroom (at the northwest corner) and then, turning right again to go towards the front of the house through two more bedrooms along the north side, ending up back at the top of the stairs.
 

There were a lot of interesting furniture pieces and decorative objects that I noticed while I was making the movie, so I went back around in the same direction and took some pictures of them. You will have seen many of these in the movie itself, but if you click on the thumbnail images below, you can have a detailed look at them:

When we finished upstairs, we went back down to the living room and then back again through the hallway to the formal dining room. From there, there is a doorway back to the newer addition on the house, this addition containing an informal dining room and kitchen. I do not know when this addition was made (or even if an older kitchen was converted), but it provides an area where Justin and Gary can fix their meals and eat without having to mess up any of the formal rooms of the house.

When we got back there, we found that the table was set for lunch. As we passed through the room into the kitchen to meet up with Justin, who was preparing lunch, I snapped another picture of a very nice set of china on display. Justin was in the kitchen cooking up jambalaya for us, and it smelled delicious. He showed us around the nicely-appointed kitchen, and I took the opportunity to photograph both Justin and Gary in their kitchen.

Shortly, we sat down to a delicious lunch. Just before we began eating, Fred snapped a picture of Gary, myself and Justin, and you can have a look at that picture here. I am quite fond of Creole food, including jambalaya and gumbo, both of which Justin and Gary served us. It was the kind of meal that always makes me wish I can eat more than I'm usually able to at one sitting! We caught up with each other during the meal, and it was extremely pleasant. Justin and Gary suggested that after we finished we go out and see some of Natchitoches, and so that will be the next thing we do.

You can return to the trip index or continue with the next section below.


 

Around Natchitoches

When we were done with lunch, we decided to first go for a walk in the neighborhood near Justin and Gary's house, so we just walked north on Jefferson for about five blocks and then turned around and returned to Soldini House. It seemed as if almost every large home along Jefferson was a Bed and Breakfast inn- including the "Steel Magnolia" House just two doors up from Justin and Gary's. (It's called the "Steel Magnolia House" because it was used as Sally Field's house in the movie "Steel Magnolias." Unlike many movies, that one was actually filmed in and around Natchitoches; only a very few interior scenes were filmed in Hollywood.) So, along our walk, I took a number of pictures of some of these charming old homes and gardens, and if you will click on the thumbnail images below, you can have a look at them:

We returned to Justin and Gary's house and piled into their van for a trip downtown (actually only a mile away). Our first stop was the store that Justin and Gary run that sells all kinds of decorations and things themed on holidays. It was really neat inside, full at this time of all sorts of Christmas decorations. Decorating for holidays being one of the major pastimes in Natchitoches, which is nationally-known for its Chrismas light displays and holiday festivals. The Christmas Lights festival was featured in "Steel Magnolias." You can take a look at the inside of the store here and here.

Inside the Store
I made this film standing inside Justin and Gary's store while they were explaining some of the work they had done when they were restoring Soldini House.

Justin and Gary's store is only half a block from the main street (Jefferson), which borders the Cane River/Lake and park, so we walked down there next. It was this area that was used as the setting for the final scenes in "Steel Magnolias." In those scenes, the kids are hunting Easter eggs. It's also the scene in which Sally Field's grandson slaps Weezer, after having been primed to do by Olympia Dukakis. And, if you remember the scene, Darryl Hannah goes into labor and her husband comes in his Easter bunny suit and pickup truck to take her to the hospital.

Cane River/Lake and Park
I made this film standing on the sidewalk along Jefferson Street, panning across the park and lake below me. You can actually pick out the areas used for the filming in "Steel Magnolias." The movie is spoiled a bit by the presence of some of the tents and preparations for the Chrismas Lights festival. If you would like to see some still shots of this area, perhaps to compare to the movie, you can click here and here.

You can return to the trip index or continue with the next section below.


 

An Update from Soldini House


I just recently talked with Justin, and he was kind enough to sent me some pictures of the latest addition to Soldini House. This summer, he and Gary, all by themselves, put in a large fountain just south of the front porch in the side yard of their house. The installation looked extremely professional, but as you can see
here, they did all the work themselves. The finished product is quite impressive; the fountain can be seen by anyone sitting on the front porch as well as by passers-by on Jefferson Street. Click on the thumbnail images at right to see the result of Justin and Gary's hard work!

You can return to the trip index or continue with the next section below.


 

We Leave for Home

We had a very nice visit with Justin and Gary. Fred and I have been meaning to get over to Natchitoches for a long time now to see what takes Justin and Gary away from Dallas almost every weekend. Now we have an appreciation for all the work they have been doing with their house and with the store. And the attraction of the small town of Natchitoches is another reason to get away from Dallas. I hope that one day soon Fred and I can get over there for another weekend, perhaps staying at one of the beautiful bed and breakfasts that we saw.

But late in the afternoon it was time for us to head home. No maps are necessary for the familiar route home. It was just back out to the Interstate, north to Shreveport and then two hundred miles on Interstate 20 on into Dallas. We arrived home around 9pm on Sunday evening, after a great trip to Florida and an excellent visit with Justin and Gary.

You can return to today's index or use the links below to continue to the album page for different day.


December 25, 2009: Christmas at My House
December 9-19, 2009: A Trip to Fort Lauderdale
Return to Index for 2009