After more than a year of renovations and repairs, the Bayou Lacombe Museum will reopen Feb. 7 with new exhibits on the history of the area, including the Choctaw Indians and the local missionary who worked among them, the Rev. Adrian Roquette.
Housed in a former two-room school constructed in 1912 by John Davis Sr., the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. The museum has been there for more than 40 years.
“The museum originally opened in 1976-77 as a part of a bicentennial celebration by the entire community,” said museum board chairman Karen Raymond.
The building had begun showing its age. Renovations began in 2017 to repair termite damage and to make the structure, the oldest wooden schoolhouse still in existence in the parish, compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
The structure is owned by the St. Tammany Parish School Board, which passed control to the Bayou Lacombe Museum Board in early 2018 to complete the exhibits and interior renovations.
For its first several decades, the museum was operating for the most part with the original board from 1976-77. The daily running and management became taxing for its board and volunteers, leading to a gradual reduction of hours, as well as the disrepair, Raymond said.
“Naturally, the members gradually were more aged than someone operating a museum should be,” she said. “The hours were cut down to one day of the month, on a Sunday, for several hours, and even this schedule was hard for the seniors to maintain.
"With the organization of a new board (three years ago), we reached out to the School Board, who owns the building, to do some needed repairs and upgrades.’"
The newly revamped museum will feature five main exhibits: a history of the Choctaw in Lacombe; a study of the life of Roquette; John Davis Lumber Industry and its influence on the area; rural life in the early 20th century in Lacombe; and the Hall of Heroes, which honors local residents for their military service.
“The board divided itself into five teams, each team organizing an exhibit for one of the five topics we selected as our initial displays,” Raymond said. “As difficult as it is for me to pick a favorite, I would have to say it’s a toss-up between the Choctaws and Father Adrien Rouquette, both of which I have personal ties to.”
Renee Kientz, parish Tourist and Convention Commission vice president for communications and marketing, is happy the museum will go to tell the history of the Bayou Lacombe area to a new generation.
“Visitors come to Louisiana in part to experience its history, and Lacombe has a unique story to tell," she said, including that of the forces that have shaped the area over the past three centuries.
"The museum is a great addition to the historic attractions on the north shore,” she added.
Raymond agrees that Lacombe and the bayous surrounding it play an important part in the history of St. Tammany Parish and beyond.
“Bayou Lacombe in general, played a huge role in the development of both New Orleans and the north shore,” she said.
The Cousin family, she explained, was a major area landowner and provided schooners of lumber and brick to the newly settled New Orleans.
"The family maintained a lumber and brick company at Bayou St. John," she said, "and the schooners transported supplies back and forth Lake Pontchartrain, not only to Bayou Lacombe but also Bayous Liberty, Bonfouca and Cane."
The museum tells the story of these early days of the north shore, she said, and its symbiotic relationship with New Orleans.