Terrebonne’s oldest home set to be destroyed

The dilapidated house is still standing, though it’s seen better days — nearly two centuries worth.

Built in 1822, the year Terrebonne Parish was founded, the 191-year-old, Acadian-style house on West Park Avenue was home to Clarence and Sadie Hebert for nearly 90 years.

Sadie was 11 and Clarence was 5 when the Heberts moved from U.S. Sen. Allen Ellender’s potato farm in Coteau to the house their great-grandfather Marselier Hebert built from cypress on 22 acres of leased land. The annual rent was $100.

The family lost the front part of its land in 1958 when Park Avenue was paved. In need of extra money, Sadie and Clarence also sold part of the land in the rear to the government so Alma Street could be built.

After the siblings’ deaths — Sadie died in March 2008 at age 89; Clarence died in October at age 88 — several remaining family members inherited rights to the house and property across from Bayou Terrebonne near the Roy Street Bridge.

Preservation efforts failed

There had been talks about preserving the house for years.

Terrebonne government isn’t responsible for the house because it lies outside the historic district of downtown Houma, and it wasn’t designated as a historical landmark by the state.

Still, parish officials and Houma Historical Society board members said they’d like the heirloom cottage to be given historic status and moved to a site where it can be preserved.

“We would be more than happy to have the home and we would refurbish it, but we don’t have the money to move it,” said Rachel Cherry, executive director of the Southdown Plantation Museum.

Pat Gordon, Terrebonne Parish zoning director, said the home was on the condemnation list for a while, but officials removed it because of its potential historical value.

“I’m hoping that they can try to preserve it,” he said. “They can move it elsewhere and do something a little more productive with the property.”

But nobody has been willing to put up the money it would take.

James and Roy LeBoeuf Jr., two of the Heberts’ great-nephews, said the property has been sold. They have until Aug. 16 to clear out what’s left of the house before it’s destroyed.

Even if the money became available to move the house, James LeBoeuf says it’s too far gone to preserve.

The roof is nearly gone, the interior walls are severely warped, and the flooring has all but bottomed out.

A simpler time

But the LeBouefs, who grew up across the street, remember a rich way of life at the old house that has disappeared from most places.

As cars and trucks roar past the old home on one of Houma’s busiest thoroughfares, it’s hard to imagine the way of life that Clarence and Sadie lived. Time practically stood still in that house, while the rest of the world changed.

They lived off the land as much as possible, doing without running water, indoor plumbing and other amenities. They grew their own food, cleaned clothes with a washboard and kept each other company.

They were the embodiment of a poor, French farming family who survived by their own labor, James, 52, said.

“That’s just how they wanted to live. It was simple.”

Even as they watched their neighborhood change, the siblings continued drawing water from cisterns and using an outhouse.

When temperatures rose, all they could do was open windows, which had no screens to ward off insects.

“This is the place that forgot time,” James said. “And not the other way around.”

While the rest of the world was changing, Roy said Sadie and Clarence had no interest in being a part of it.

“I remember getting up on Saturdays and going over to watch them kill the pigs for the boucharie,” Roy said. “I was too young then to help. But I watched.”

Roy, 42, said this way of life didn’t seem that unusual when he was a kid.

It wasn’t until he got older that he realized the rest of society was much different.

“By then, you started appreciating the simplicity of the way they lived,” he said. “Coming over here became like stepping back in time.”

Debbie Chauvin, owner of a real estate business across the street, has a soft spot for the old house as well.

Chauvin said she remembers meeting Clarence soon after opening Weichert Realtors in 2004.

“I went over and brought Mr. Hebert a hot meal,” she said. “He was so humbled. He just had to give me something in return.”

That something was a bag of pecans from a tree in his backyard. When she worked late, she said she could always count on Clarence to keep an eye on her as she walked to her car.

James said he feels bad letting the house go. On the bright side, he’s bringing a lot of the remaining cypress with him to build a new home in Mississippi.

“It tears me up to have to get rid of it,” he said. “But I have to take it in stride and go on with my life.”