A new website hopes to map Louisiana’s past, providing a digital point of access to the stores of history that can seem to exist beneath every building.
Susan Fregeau moved to Louisiana from Westmont, a suburb of Chicago, Ill. in June 2014. Even since she moved in, Fregeau has noticed the town changing.
“The downtown has lost a lot of businesses, and it made me very sad. And I was thinking, how could we bring our town back? I started thinking about it as I would a business, because I do business consulting.”
The town, in Fregeau’s estimation, had two key assets. The first is the river, but while construction continues on the new Champ Clark Bridge, trailers and construction equipment are parked on the riverfront. The second is the history of a town now more than 200 years old.
“This was one of the things that I thought would help to maybe bring tourism to the town,” Fregeau said. “This town is great,. We’ve got so much history, and we don’t want to see it go away. So we’re trying to revitalize.”
The foundation of the website project was the work of Betty Allen, who Fregeau described as an “unofficial town historian,” who had collected huge amounts of information about the town and the stories it contained.
The information was voluminous, but not especially accessible, and when Allen had a stroke at the end of May 2018, it became even more important to make her work broadly available.
A website, built up through the work of Susan Fregeau, her daughter Melissa Fregeau and Kathy Smith, with the go-ahead of the Louisiana Historical Preservation Society, suggested itself as a solution to the problem.
Further plans for the project include the installation of QR codes on historical buildings, which visitors will be able to scan in order to pull up the building’s history on the website. She hopes to have the codes up by the time the inaugural “Ribs on the River” barbecue competition draws visitors to town this summer.
Susan Fregeau also hopes to add Louisiana’s information to a National Geographic website which would allow users to take self-guided tours and launch an email newsletter, highlighting a piece of history each month for subscribers.
Those goals sit alongside the continuing project of documenting and publishing the history itself — a process that grows as new people come forward with documents and questions.
“There’s a lot that we haven’t gotten up. This project is going to be continual,” Susan Fregeau said. “I don’t think we’re even an eighth of the way through the information we have, and we keep accidentally getting more, because we’ll go and refer to one thing and find something else.”
“That’s the thing with this project,” Melissa Fregeau said. “There’s so many historic properties in Louisiana that this could go on for a very long time.”
Melissa Fregeau, who has a degree in history from Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., worked on the project over the summer with funding from the LHPS and had planned to return to work when she was called away by an offer to work as a graduate assistant with archival materials at the university.
A single address listed on the website contains the stories of several lifetimes. Both Fregeaus, for instance, pointed to the stories touched on by the website’s page on the Edward G. McQuie home at 405 N. Third St.
The website documents the reported eccentricities of its builder, Edward Goode McQuie. It documents the career of his daughter, Mary Francis “Fannie” McQuie, who Union officers accused of passing information to confederates during the Civil War. As one officer in a position of authority in Louisiana wrote about Fannie McQuie and other Confederates who “crossed the line”:
“While humanity is certainly commendable in some cases, it is a question how far there courtesies ought to be extended to the most inveterate rebels, male and female, in the rebel army, who have been protected here in the enjoyment of all the rights and privileges due to loyal citizens, and they have repaid it by constant abuse of Union citizens.”
And it documents the life of his son, who attempted to kill his wife and then killed himself with a pistol in the fall of 1881.
Many of the features on the site still need to be completed, but at least some information on dozens and dozens of addresses, with scans of historical documents and photographs, can be found at historic-la-mo.com.