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Efforts Underway to Save the Old Benevolent Society Building in St. Francisville

Press Release - March 11, 2019

​Old Benevolent Society Restoration Committee


Visitors to St. Francisville enjoy strolling through the Historic District to see the many historic homes and buildings, each with a rich and intriguing story.  But a small, dilapidated greyish-blue building that sits in the Historic District across from the West Feliciana Historical Society Museum is often unnoticed by passersby, even though it played a special role in African American history.  That is about to change.


Built in 1883, the Old Benevolent Society building, located at 11738 Ferdinand Street in St. Francisville’s Historic District, played a significant role in local African American history as the area’s oldest burial insurance lodge. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Benevolent Societies filled an urgent need for medical care and burials of freed slaves that had once been filled by the masters of the plantations.  Over time, the societies provided union and fellowship amongst the black community.  During the late 19th and 20th centuries, nearly every church had a benevolent society that filled dire and pressing needs such as sitting with the sick, feeding the weak, funding medical care, and covering the cost of a decent burial.   


By the 1960’s, desegregation and modern health and burial insurance plans lessened the need for many of these societies to exist.  In recent decades, the local Order of the Easter Star (OES) group have maintained and operated the building for their activities.  Their group, which is affiliated with the Masons, are dedicated women who sincerely reflect the spirit of fraternal love, a strong belief in God and the desire to work together for good and charitable activities.


A group of dedicated preservationists along with the OES ladies have begun an initiative to preserve and restore the Old Benevolent Society building.  Sarah Wilson-Rogers of the OES group chairs the committee, which also includes Dyvar Anderson, West Feliciana Parish IT Director, James Dart, Darch, Cliff Deal, a Museum specialist and curator with the West Feliciana Historical Society; Susie Tully West Feliciana Historical Society Board member; Laurie Walsh, St. Francisville Main Street Coordinator; Hollis Milton, West Feliciana Parish School Superintendent; Stuart Maginnis of Maginnis Construction and Louise Whitaker, Order of Eastern Star.

 

A lack of funds over the years to pay for major repairs and restoration has led to continuing and now rapid deterioration of the building, putting it in danger of “demolition by neglect”.  Due to the current condition, all activities in the building have ceased and several short-term measures have been taken to minimize further deterioration.

 

The Old Benevolent Society Restoration Committee is hopeful that the recent listing of the building on Louisiana’s Most Endangered Places List will help bring much needed attention and funding to the cause. The building was a contributing element in the successful application for the St. Francisville Historic District to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The committee also plans to apply for individual listing of the building on the National Register of Historic Places. 


According to OBS Restoration Committee Chair, Sara Wilson-Rogers, efforts are now focused on enlisting a preservation consultant to provide a detailed assessment of the building’s condition.  This will allow a restoration scope and budget to be established.  A Facebook page and crowd funding site are also being established to jumpstart the fundraising efforts.  The committee is also in the process of identifying and applying for grant grants.


Once restored, the committee would like to add professional exhibits to tell the story of the Old Benevolent Society and its part in African American history, thus expanding the role of the building to that of museum, a place open to the public for local festivals, events and educational children’s programs – a must see stop in St. Francisville. 


The public is invited to follow the progress of this effort on Facebook (Save the Old Benevolent Society) and Instagram (obsr2018).  Donations are now being accepted and can be made via PayPal at www.paypal.me/savetheOBSbuilding, or by mail to OES/OBSR Committee at P.O. Box 2365, St. Francisville, LA  70775.


For more information about the Old Benevolent Society Restoration effort in St. Francisville, please contact Sara Wilson-Rogers at 225-937-3004 or send an email to obsrestoration@gmail.com. To learn more about the Louisiana Most Endangered Places Program and List, visit:

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