The Ellis House on Church Street
Jackson — Elaine and Randy Ellis are still finding things in the old home on Church Street they have spent the past 24 years preserving and restoring.
“We were cleaning a closet just this year and found some grass rugs that David Floyd says date from 1840 to 1860,” says Elaine Ellis.
The Ellises occasionally call on Floyd, director of the LSU Rural Life Museum, to interpret some of the thousands of items found in the home that has been in Randy Ellis’ family since it was purchased by his widowed grandmother, Josie Dawson Ellis, in 1921. Randy and Elaine Ellis acquired the house in 1990.
Those attending the 49th Jackson Assembly Antiques Show and Sale from March 28-30 can tour the restored home and see the Ellises’ large collection of local and family history.
“Grandma Ellis worked at the East Louisiana State Hospital. She paid $200 down and money each month until she paid for the house,” Elaine Ellis says. “She raised five boys here by herself. All five boys went to LSU.”
Josie Ellis and her oldest son, J.B. Ellis, lived in the house for years after the four younger sons left. She died in 1982. He died a few years later.
Randy and Elaine Ellis took over the house to keep it in the family. To make it livable was a massive job.
First, they had to clean out some 70 years of photos, magazines, news clippings, family memorabilia and other items of daily living.
Their first project was to clean up the yard, which was completely overgrown. That took two months. Then they tackled the house.
The project was so massive that the Ellises boxed up much of the stuff and put it in storage.
“People in those days kept everything,” Elaine Ellis says.
Jim Hendrickson, president and show chairman of the Jackson Assembly, believes the house actually dates to the middle of the 1830s. He made an extensive study of Jackson’s early homes.
“A professor at the College of Louisiana bought the property in 1833,” Hendrickson says. “When it sold ‘with improvements’ in 1836, it was for a horrendously lot of money. I think it was during that time that the home was built on the property.”
He believes the house was originally a one-room raised English cottage with front and back porches, typical of many of the early homes in Jackson.
“Somewhere along the line, the house was expanded,” Hendrickson says.
Very early additions created four rooms downstairs with stairs leading to two rooms in the built-out attic. Later additions included a lean-to kitchen and a small bathroom with a shower.
After the big clean up came the big restoration.
The Ellises removed the old kitchen and bathroom and added a new kitchen and bath, as well as a back porch. They also added central air and heat.
In the process of renovating, they made a wonderful discovery — original mantels, doors, hardware and other items removed in earlier “improvements” were stored under the house. There were also bricks that were once part of two chimneys that had deteriorated.
They found two sets of doors that had been removed from under two front windows. The Ellises reinstalled the doors that now open to the front gallery as they had done decades before.
One of the biggest surprises was that the house had four roofs — a very early wood-shingle roof, a later shingle roof and a cover of rolled roofing, all topped with a tin roof.
“We took them all off and put on a new roof,” Elaine Ellis says. They also replaced the two chimneys.
The front door opens to the living room that contains several pieces of furniture original to the Ellis years at the house.
A small cabinet holds a collection of LSU memorabilia from Josie Ellis’ five sons.
The living room leads to a small dining room at the back and, at the right, to the room the family calls Grandma Ellis’ bedroom.
Behind the bedroom is the study, which is filled with items found in the home. “We added bookcases to have a place to put some of the stuff that was here,” Elaine Ellis said.
The Ellises, who are retired, live in Baton Rouge but enjoy spending time in the Jackson home. They and other family members will welcome visitors to this year’s antiques show.
Elaine Ellis hopes some of the old plants in the yard will come back after the harsh winter.
“They have been here a long time,” she says with a laugh. “They’ll come back if they want to.”