Wayne Amos’ grandparents’ house was always the gathering place for Sunday dinner — his grandmother, Hilda Labbe Voorhies made an unforgettable chicken fricassee — and family get-togethers, he said, but “the house,” as it became known in the family, represented much more to him.
He watched as construction equipment converted the swamp behind the house into the lake at the corner of State Street and Dalrymple Drive, he said.
He remembers seeing an earth mover pick up a load of dirt that included an alligator and watched, fascinated, as it wiggled its way out of the machinery and splashed back into the water.
“To a young boy, especially, that was the best thing in the world,” he said, and may have played a small part in his studying engineering as an adult, though it also was the family business.
Louis J. Voorhies, his grandfather, who had the house built in the late 1920s, served as the city engineer for the city of Baton Rouge for many years, Amos said.
When all the men of fighting age joined the Armed Forces during World War II, everyone else moved back to the house, along with the grandchildren, Amos said.
Hilda pulled up the flowers growing in the side yard to make room for a chicken coop — and the chickens that would sustain the family through rationing.
“We were very fortunate to have access to meat on a regular basis,” Amos said.
Another part of the yard became their Victory garden.
While it was a scary time, it also was exciting. All his cousins lived in the same neighborhood, he said, and those years included many memories of adventure and fun in and around the house.
After he retired as city engineer, Amos said, his grandfather ran his own city planning business in an office he built on the property, helping many smaller townships around the Baton Rouge metro area modernize their sewer and water systems.
The house left family hands in 1958 when Hilda Voorhies died, Amos said, but he still told his own children stories about his adventures there, aided by picture albums.
Wayne’s son Keith Amos and daughter, Laurina Conger, grew up with the stories.
“We had never been inside, but it felt like a part of our history,” Keith Amos said. Every time they drove by the house, he’d tell the same stories to friends. The legend spread far and wide by word of mouth, he said, until he moved to California.
He became a hair stylist, then moved back to Baton Rouge about 12 years ago, Keith said.
He was making conversation with one of his clients, an interior designer, about a restoration project she was working on with Linda Temple, a Baton Rouge homeowner, when it soon became apparent she was talking about the same house.
It was through the interior designer that he met Temple, who invited he and his father over to see the house.
“We lost touch after that for a few years,” Keith Amos said, and had been thinking often of trying to make contact again, but had no way to do so. The Voorhies grandchildren were planning a reunion in New Orleans for March of this year, with family coming in from all over the world — the same family who had either grown up in the house or heard stories of growing up in the house.
Temple opened the home to the family the weekend of the reunion for a Champagne brunch, Keith Amos said.
They took the opportunity to recreate some of the photos that the cousins had taken as children, where it was possible.
“It was as if a family time capsule was opened and Linda had the only key. What a beautiful and loving gift to us all,” Keith Amos said. “The love and memories were so evident in the many eyes welled with tears.”
Temple said she always has loved the house, but knowing how much it meant to the family that built it has made her portion of the story of the house that much richer.