The home of Leonard and Becky Rohrbough on Lakeshore Drive in Mandeville stands as a testament to the personalities of three generations of the family that has owned it for more than 100 years, plus changing tastes in architectural styles.
“My mother’s aunt Madeleine and her husband Jasper Lemieux bought the house in 1912,” said Leonard Rohrbough. “They lived here for many years but did not have children, so when my aunt died in 1958, the estate went to nieces and nephews. Eventually my mother Claire and my father Leonard became the owners in 1962.”
On May 12, from noon to 5 p.m., the Rohrboughs open the doors of their home when the Old Mandeville Historic Association hosts its 10th annual Mother’s Day tour.
Visitors will have the opportunity to visit their home as well as six others on the “chenier,“ a ridge of high ground close to Lake Pontchartrain. Tickets are $20 and also afford admission to the Jean Baptiste Lang House Museum, 605 Carroll St., Mandeville, where tickets and tour programs will be available the day of the tour.
The house may look Craftsman, but appearances can be deceiving. In researching it and examining its foundation and exterior walls, the Rohrboughs learned the house was built about 1843 as a Creole cottage.
“It had been altered to look Victorian when Aunt Madeleine bought it, with a bit of gingerbread and large cross-gable in the center of the roof,” said Leonard. “But after a fire consumed the attic and part of the roof, my aunt decided to remove the Victorian details and give the house a Craftsman style instead. That was the style that was popular at the time.”
Madeleine was known in the community as a thoroughly modern woman, fascinated by the latest gadgets. When she bought the house, she installed a boiler room in the back to supply steam heat.
“She also had the first lawn mowing machine that Mandeville had ever seen. I suppose it was her desire to make the house modern, too, and that’s why she switched over from the Victorian details to the Craftsman after the fire,” Leonard said.
In the early 1960s, Leonard and his two brothers moved to the house with his parents, Claire and Leonard Rohrbough. Inspired by the beauty of the north shore and the lake, Claire developed her artistic skills and became a major talent in the St. Tammany Parish art world. She would host painters from around the nation to work with her and other artists from Mandeville to perfect their skills. Dozens of Claire’s paintings fill the Rohrbough house.
“My mother had three sons, and the only way any of us ever got her paintings was to buy them,” said Leonard. “She felt that was the fairest way to handle things, and in fact it was.”
In about 1984, Leonard returned to the house with his wife, Becky (the former Rebecca Brophy), to look after the aging Claire. They brought with them stunning antiques that they had collected while living in New England.
“They aren’t from Louisiana and they aren’t French,” said Becky. “But they date to the first half of the 19th century — the era in which the house was built — and work beautifully in this old house.”
The Rohrboughs faced a dilemma after Hurricane Katrina, when many houses along the lakefront in Mandeville were either being torn down or lifted to dizzying heights. It wasn’t until after FEMA decided to accept Mandeville’s flood maps that the couple chose to elevate their home.
The more detailed Mandeville maps reduced the height that the house would need to be raised, Becky said. “We didn't want to destroy the historic proportions of the house by raising it too high.”
Early maps of the Mandeville lakefront show the footprint of the house, oaks and plantings as they existed in 1868. The house is brick-between-post construction with chimneys, and has a large central room (used as the main living area) with a room on either side (the bedrooms). The rear gallery, originally open, has been enclosed to accommodate the dining room, and the cabinets (small rooms) at each end of the gallery have been converted to baths.
“A leak in the ceiling of one of the baths led to the best find of all while we were renovating. We had to remove the sheetrock and discovered the original faux bois wood ceilings,” said Becky, referring to the treatment of alternating boards that makes it look as if the ceiling is “striped,” or composed of two different species of wood.
No doubt the 177-year-old building will yield more secrets in time, but every now and then the couple learns about the family history from the townspeople.
“One day about 30 years ago, Claire was visiting a small antique shop on Jefferson Street where she knew her grandfather on her mother's side had once operated a buggy rental business for tourists visiting the north shore,” said Becky. “When the owner asked her if she needed any help, she confessed she really just wanted to see the building because her grandfather had owned it.”
“His name was Emile Francis,” Claire told the shop owner, who responded “I have something of yours!” and produced an advertising sign for the buggy business, which closed in the 1920s.
“All those years, the sign sat in a closet inside the building, just waiting to be claimed,” said Leonard.
Old Mandeville Mother’s Day Home Tour
WHEN: 2-5 p.m. May 12
HEADQUARTERS: Lang House, 605 Carroll St., Mandeville
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