Two houses more than a century old sit at the heart of downtown Zachary. They’re filled with old-fashioned furniture, home wares and other items.
For years, these houses — which once belonged to the McHugh and Allison families — have served as museums as part of Zachary’s Historic Village complex along Virginia and Florida streets. Now, they’re up for sale and, city leaders hope, will soon be home to retail businesses that could help rejuvenate the downtown economy.
The City Council declared the two houses, which need some repairs, as surplus this summer to make way for redevelopment. Because no one met the minimum bids set by the city, the houses and many of their contents are now set to be sold in a public auction on Oct. 3.
A third house in the area, the Bauman House, also was surplussed by the council and was later sold to a winning bidder who’s planning to open a business inside.
The city wants retailers to move into the historic houses. The auction comes as the city is pursuing a downtown redevelopment effort that would involve building a new municipal complex, adding more parking spots to the area, attracting more businesses and encouraging residents to spend time downtown.
Several people have already dropped by to look at the McHugh and Allison houses, said Mary Landry, director of the Historic Village. She believes transferring them from city to private ownership is an ideal way to preserve those local landmarks while aiding downtown revitalization.
“The people who are looking to buy these houses love history and will bring them back to pristine condition,” Landry said.
Not many people visit the Historic Village museum these days, she said, despite the buildings' importance to local history.
For example, the Allison House, a Creole cottage constructed in 1898, is the oldest in the Historic Village collection and survived a 1903 fire that consumed much of Zachary. At the time, it was just a small town that revolved around its railroad depot, which still stands today and remains part of the Historic Village.
After the fire, John Wall, the first depot agent, built a Queen Anne-style house on the site of a home that was destroyed in the blaze. It’s now known as the McHugh House because Wall sold it to Jesse McHugh, a mercantile store owner, in 1919.
Both houses are on the National Register of Historic Buildings.
If businesses open in the houses and bring in lots of foot traffic, all of those customers will have opportunities to enjoy the buildings and the stories attached to them, Landry said.
“That’s what I’m excited about — they’ll be able to see the beauty and architecture of them,” she said.
Businesses have already set up shop in other historic houses on Virginia Street. In the Ratcliff House, the Whimsical Alley children’s store opened recently. A short walk away is the Fields House, which has been turned into the Magnolia Fields wedding and event venue.
Whimsical Alley and Magnolia Fields are examples of the type of business city leaders would like to see more of downtown.
“This is phenomenal what they’ve done,” Landry said as she recently stopped by Magnolia Fields to chat with the owners.
Danny Willis, who owns Magnolia Fields with his wife, Skye Willis, and his sister Denise Ortego, said he’s excited about the prospect of having more retailers on the block as well as the overall plan for fixing up downtown.
While many locals assume the houses were donated to the city, that’s not true, with the exception of the McHugh House, Landry said. The city purchased the others over the years to create the multibuilding Historic Village museum.
The furnishings of the houses are a mixture of donated, loaned and purchased items, she said. Many of the loaned items have already been returned to their families.
Landry said she is keeping artifacts most relevant to Zachary history; they are to be consolidated to the old Town Hall, which is slated for renovation.
Southern Heirs Auctioneers is in charge of the upcoming auction, which will begin at 10 a.m. Oct. 3 at the gazebo at the corner of Florida and Virginia streets. A preview event will be held at 5 p.m. Oct. 2.
Items from the city-owned Annison House, a former plantation home on Old Scenic Highway, will be auctioned Oct. 4 starting at 10 a.m.
For more information, call (225) 791-2440.