To understand what residents of Grand Isle, Louisiana, want to restore, you need to drive a few blocks off the main highway to find the town’s oldest structures. These historic treasures are tucked away in hurricane-twisted oak trees in the center of Grand Isle. These are the real survivors of this island, having withstood some of Louisiana’s fiercest hurricanes for well over a century.
“It’s a big house, as you can see, they have the original fireplaces,” said Darlene Encalade, who is in the process of buying an old house. The wood frame house, built in the late 1800’s, is framed by old oak trees. Encalade points to an antique four post bed with a canopy in the bedroom and says, “this bed came down here by boat and it is original to the house”. She plans to restore the old house and turn it into a bed and breakfast and museum, adding, “I didn’t want it bulldozed”.
trying to restore history on grand isle
Another old structure is nearby. The large building was a general store and post office connected to a former two-story hotel. A community preservation group called Restore Grand Isle is trying to raise funds to purchase and refurbish the oldest structures on the Island. As we walk through the weathered building, Ronnie Sampey tells me, “I see the treasure that we have left behind from the years that this thing has lived. And what I’d like to do is bring it back to where it was“. Sampey is the president of Restore Grand Isle.
trying to restore the oleander hotel
At the top of the preservation list is the Oleander Hotel, which opened in 1931. That’s about the same time Grand Isle got its first bridge and visitors were able to travel by car to the Louisiana barrier island. At the mayor’s office I saw an old black-and-white picture of Former Governor Huey Long, posing in front of the Oleander Hotel. The photograph shows Long, dressed in a suit, holding a fishing pole as he stands with other local dignitaries. Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle walks through what used to be the hotel’s restaurant. The room has stacks of old furniture and window frames laying on the floor. “It just brings back memories to me,” Camardelle commented. “I could see a picture of my dad and other elected officials drinking coffee. It was white cloths on the tables here,” he adds.
fund raising to restore grand isle
The non-profit Restore Grand Isle plans to purchase and refurbish the Oleander Hotel and turn it into a visitor and cultural center. The restored hotel could also anchor a new proposed historic district. Click here for information on how to donate to Restore Grand Isle.