ZACHARY — Angie and Jonathan Benda’s home has the spaciousness of a rambling, two-story Victorian residence but with all of the modern conveniences.
Called the Ratcliff-deBretton-Benda Home for three longtime families that lived there, the house is one of four featured on this year’s Fall Festival of Homes Tour hosted Oct. 16 by the Zachary Historic Association.
Charles Ratcliff built the 107-year-old Queen Anne-style home in downtown Zachary in 1904.
“It is in the city’s first subdivision, Brown Subdivision,” said Betty Tucker, Zachary historian and archivist.
It replaced a smaller home on nine acres purchased by Charles Ratcliff’s wife, Sue Julia Loudon Ratcliff, in 1901. She paid $2,250 with money she inherited from her mother.
“The money was more or less like her dowry,” Tucker said.
Charles Ratcliff was a self-made man who was born in 1867 on a farm near Gloster, Miss. According to reminiscences he wrote in the 1950s, he attended school in a one-room log cabin with a mud chimney until he was 12 years old.
At the age of 19, he left Gloster for Baton Rouge with only $1.75 in his pocket.
After learning carpentry, he purchased a team of mules and went into the timber business near Angola.
“Due to the high water, I left there with my mule team and came to Zachary, arriving there on June, 1, 1888,” Ratcliff wrote.
In 1893, he purchased two mercantile stores, which he combined to form one large store.
On June 3, 1903, downtown Zachary was destroyed in a massive fire. The Ratcliffs lost the home Sue Julia Ratcliff had bought along with the family furniture and clothes.
The New Orleans Times-Democrat reported the fire the following day.
“Where yesterday stood the prosperous town of Zachary, in East Baton Rouge Parish, a short distance north of Baton Rouge, with a population of 800 inhabitants and a number of well-established business houses and pretty residences, is today a mass of charred debris, with only four mercantile houses and a few scattered homes, the result of devastating flames which raged throughout the early morning,” the article reported.
Soon after the fire, Charles Ratcliff began building his two-story Victorian home.
“It took only six months to build,” Angie Benda said. “Supposedly they brought wood by railroad and would mill it right here on the property.”
The Ratcliff family moved into the home on Charles Ratciff’s birthday, Feb. 22, 1904.
In 1917, two years after the death of his wife, Charles Ratcliff sold the house for $3,000 to Annie and Adolphus deBretton, who lived there until 1945. Louis and Annie Mae Harrell purchased the home from the deBrettons’ heirs for $6,000 and lived there until the early 1960s.
“They ran it as a boarding house,” said Angie Benda. “Supposedly workers who built Highway 19 stayed here while they were working on the road.”
Boarders paid $12 a week for room and meals. Breakfast was served at a large oak table. The men took a lunch of three sandwiches, a piece of fruit and a slice of pie with them to work. Dinner was served country-style in two large bowls set at each end of the table.
In 1983, Ronald and Mary Sumrall bought the home.
“They told us stories that it was an unbelievable mess,” Angie Benda said. “Old refrigerators lined the hall downstairs. All the rooms had been divided into four.”
The Harrells knocked down all the Sheetrock and removed an addition. “They tried to get it back as original as it had been. They did a tremendous amount of work,” Angie Benda said.
The Bendas bought the house from the Harrells in 1993. “Inside we really didn’t have to do much,” Angie Benda said.
The exterior work was more involved. They replaced the porches and most of the spindles. They removed vinyl siding and replaced it with cypress. They put on a new roof.
“When we got the house, it had three roofs,” Angie Benda said. ““It had the original tin roof and two other roofs over it.”
In 1995, the Bendas scraped and painted the building themselves.
In 2004, they had their small galley kitchen removed and replaced with a large, modern kitchen. Above the kitchen, they had built a large bathroom, closets and a laundry room, all connected to the master bedroom located on the second floor.
Several months ago, the Bendas decided to downsize and put the house on the market. Their children, Larke, 21, and Grant, 24, no longer live at home.
“We don’t need this much room anymore,” Angie Benda said.
In the 18 years the Bendas have lived in the home, they have collected many antiques and fine furnishings. Antiques auctions became their hobby.
“We gradually accumulated,” Angie Benda said.
One of their favorite pieces is inherited. It is a portrait of a beautiful woman on a horse. The woman, a Mrs. King, was a dear friend of Jonathan Benda’s grandmother, who lived in New York City
“When Mrs. King died, she left the portrait to Jonathan’s grandmother,” Angie Benda said. “It is something we love.”