CLINTON — James G. “Jimmy” Marston III lives in Shreveport, but his roots are in Clinton in the 175-plus-year-old Southern classic Marston House.
For decades, the once-grand home stood as a reminder of one of Clinton’s great old families and of the town’s years as a commercial center.
At a Marston family gathering in 1984, Jimmy Marston told local preservationist Mildred Worrell, “If I am ever able, you and I are going to fix this house.”
Thanks to successful business holdings, Jimmy Marston made good on his promise and, in 2013, began a massive restoration of the historic structure.
The Marston House was more than a family home.
It was also the Union Bank of Clinton built with two faux bois-finished front doors — one leading to the bank, the other to the family residence.
The building was started in the 1830s by the Union Bank of New Orleans, but because of a business slump, was not completed. In 1835, Henry Marston, Jimmy Marston’s great-great grandfather, made a deal to complete the bank and serve as cashier.
“The home was probably intended as a one-story building,” said Worrell, who serves as director/coordinator of the Marston House project. “There was a huge storm, a hurricane in 1837. Henry Marston took that opportunity to add a story and rebuild the columns. He turned it into a mansion for the bank and his family.”
The north side was the two-room bank with the vault. The family side had a hall with a massive stairway leading to the upstairs bedrooms and a large parlor that opened to a second room that could have been a dining room or a bedroom.
During his years in Clinton, Henry Marston acquired plantations north and south of town and in several parishes in North Louisiana.
Even though Henry Marston loved Clinton, the Massachusetts native was opposed to slavery and what he called “Jefferson Davis’ war.” However, he still ran his plantations with slave labor and sent three sons to fight for the Confederacy.
After the war, most of the family left Clinton for their plantations in other parts of the state. In 1941, after the last Marston to occupy the home died, family members gave the Marston House to the parish. In 1958, it was leased to the East Feliciana Pilgrimage and Garden Club.
“The garden club started having fundraisers for restoration and beautification and furnished the house with discards and donations,” Worrell said.
As hard as the women worked to save the historic house, they were unable to keep it up, and over time it fell into disrepair, and the garden club was disbanded.
Worrell and members of TrueHeart Feliciana took up efforts to save the building and had just used a state grant to put on a new roof and stabilize the windows when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.
“Everything stopped,” Worrell said. “There was just no money.”
FEMA took over the building for its temporary headquarters.
In 2013, with Jimmy Marston’s financial help, Worrell contacted architectural conservator George Fore, of Raleigh, North Carolina, who had done previous work at the Marston House and has often advised on preservation efforts in the area.
“Mr. Fore came and made a detailed evaluation and assessment of the problems, including localized water damage,” Worrell said.
Gordon Willingham — whose Baton Rouge company, Architectural Coatings, specializes in painting restoration — was hired to do the interior and exterior plaster and painting. Marshall Smith oversaw the modernization of the heating and air-conditioning system.
Although the home still needs an elevator and galleries replaced on the back, it has been beautifully restored to be used for community events including exhibitions, club meetings and small receptions.
“Things on a community, historical and cultural scale,” Worrell said.
Willingham says that the actual structure of the house is “phenomenal,” thanks to the workmanship of the original buildings and the old-growth lumber used.
“All of the mitered joints are still as sharp as the day the saw cuts were made,” he said. “You can go in the attic or under the house and find shavings from the block plane that they used. The shavings fell on the ground and are still there.”