CIity begins $125,000 project to prevent collapse of old city hall

Staff Reports
Crews work to dismantle a wall at the Iberville Museum, commonly referred to as the old City Hall building.

Work to prevent the collapse of an exterior wall of one of the most historic buildings in the City of Plaquemine is under way.

The Iberville Museum on Main Street is located in what is commonly known as the old City Hall building owned by the City of Plaquemine. However, the building – now 170 years old - was originally built as the Iberville Parish Courthouse, started in 1848 and completed in 1850.

It was discovered last year that the east wall of the building was bowing out about a foot, and a historical engineer was brought in to determine the needed repairs. The problem compromised the entire wall and the repair turned out to be very complicated and costly. The 2-feet thick wall is presently being dismantled from the gable to the ground and pile jacks are being installed for support while a new block wall is built. Stucco will be added over the blocks to match the existing exterior of the building and once the new wall is complete, the building roofing will be replaced.

“The total project will cost $125,000,” said Mayor Edwin “Ed” Reeves, Jr., “but is absolutely necessary or the wall, and the building, will collapse. We certainly don’t want to lose one of the most historic and oldest buildings in our city.”

Comeaux Brothers Construction was the low bidder for the project, and the project is anticipated to take two to three months, depending on weather. Presently the Iberville Museum is closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a re-opening date has not been set, but the exterior wall repairs will not affect the Museum re-opening.

“It was an opportune time to begin the repairs with the Museum being closed right now,” said Iberville Museum Association Board Chairman James “Fry” Hymel. “We are very happy to have the work being done and thank the City for its support.”

INTERESTING HISTORY OF THE BUILDING:

The Iberville Parish Police Jury contracted with George and Thomas Weldon to build the structure as a new parish courthouse in September, 1848. It included a sheriff’s office, a clerk’s office, two jury rooms, one police jury room, a recorder’s office with a vault for safekeeping and preservation of documents, and a jail and jailer’s room. The building was completed in February, 1850 at a cost of $16,119.

A second jail was added to the building in 1883, and a 15 X 18 vault was added in 1888. The parish completed construction of a new, larger Courthouse on Railroad Avenue in 1906, and sold the old Courthouse building to the City of Plaquemine for $3,000. It was renovated and expanded by the city in 1906 and used as Plaquemine City Hall until 1985. Actually, the wall of that 1906 addition is the compromised wall being repaired.

When the parish completed and moved into the existing Courthouse on Meriam Street in 1985, city government operations moved into the courthouse building on Railroad Avenue, where it remains today.

The old City Hall building (now housing the Iberville Museum) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. It sat idle for a number of years after the city moved its operations to Railroad Avenue, as discussions about its condition and future use continued. The city, under the administration of the late Mayor Mark “Tony” Gulotta, decided to renovate the building, and there was talk of several uses, including a reception hall. In 1999, the city agreed to lease the building to the Iberville Museum Association for $1 and the doors of the Museum opened in June of 2000.

The city has continued to provide maintenance of the building since that time, as the Iberville Museum grew and has now become an important historical organization for the parish, providing numerous exhibits on a variety of aspects Iberville history and serving as a tourist and educational attraction in downtown Plaquemine.