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The Sanders Cottage

04/04/2014 07:30AM ● Published by Aimee Cormier

Gallery: Sanders Cottage [16 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Anne B. Minvielle | Photos by Nicole Bell

In the beautiful city of Franklin on the Bayou Teche, a young couple has added to the scenery by undertaking a restoration project. Jeff and Rachel Sanders purchased a piece of unsightly property located in Franklin’s historic district and turned it into a fine addition to the landscape of the city known for its charm and elegant homes.

Franklin’s Historic District
   Raymond Harris, Jr., Mayor of Franklin, says that the city, named for Benjamin Franklin, was founded in 1808 and was incorporated in 1820.Judith Allain, former chairperson of the Historic District Commission, says that the property is located within the official historic district, which includes more that 420 buildings.
   The Historic District of Franklin is a member of the National Register of Historic Places.  According to Mayor Harris, “We boast about our historic district and the beauty and architecture of it, so it is important that when people come to visit it, that we know the story of the properties such as that of the Sanders.”  Allain adds that Franklin’s historic district is one of the largest in the state, excluding the Vieux Carre.

The Sanders Cottage
   Allain describes the property as a 11/2 story Acadian style cottage with 4 square columns across the front, circa 1840.  She adds that the original porch was elevated up to the first step by the doorways. “The original porch had railings with square spindles and an opening in the middle. There were two front doors. The faux stone façade was added in the 60’s.  The regular size windows across the front were changed to picture windows at the same time,” Allain says. She explains that historically, when there is a change made to a house, the Historic District Commission does not require that owners make restorations to the original form because the changes are part of the structure’s story and its history.

A Diamond In The Rough
   “I did not see what it could be when I first walked in,” laughs Rachel.  Her father-in-law Charles Sanders, owner of S&S Renovators, Inc. is responsible for finding this gem in the rough and bringing it to the couple’s attention.  They had been looking for something to restore in the St. Mary Parish area, and Charlie was heading a construction project on Second St. in Franklin. 
   As Charlie describes it, “I passed this little place on the corner of Iberia and Second every day that I worked on that project, and it wasn’t until the last day of the job that I really noticed it.”  Although its potential was largely hidden by overgrowth, Charlie is an expert at seeing the promise of property and he immediately looked into its purchase.
According to Rachel, “I wanted to keep as much of the house as it was, although there were some things, such as the cabinets in the kitchen, that had to be torn down.  We were able to keep the original floors, which are oak.” Rachel says that when she first looked in, all she saw was a mess of mold and so much that needed to be scraped and torn down in the kitchen, but she saw the potential.

Renovation And Restoration
   When the Sanders considered the drawing board of their new purchase, they saw one large room upstairs with one tiny closet.  Rachel knew she wanted to make that room the master bedroom and bath.  The construction team turned that tiny closet space into something functional for the couple.
   The downstairs contained a living area with dining nook and kitchen.  Charlie recommended taking down a door to a hall leading to a bathroom and two bedrooms, thus creating a more open feel. He also put up wainscoting, which was painted white to match all the trim. Rachel chose shades of gray for her color palette and decorated with jewel tones of green.
   The reconstruction process proved to be quite interesting, especially when workers were tearing up the floor upstairs.  Hidden beneath the floor boards were very old liquor bottles.  Also uncovered were yellowed and decomposing pages of the town newspaper, The Vindicator, dated January 6, 1899. An announcement on one page indicates that this was just prior to publication of the St. Mary Banner Tribune.
According to Charlie Sanders, “The walls are solid cypress. Someone during the years put dry wall over it but probably originally it had cheesecloth over it. We just went with what was there but the frame is solid cypress, and the large beams are cypress. We removed wall paper and reconditioned the walls that were there.”
   Rachel adds that the outside of the cottage was in good shape, with only minor repairs to be made.  “It was just a matter of it being neglected. It hadn’t been occupied for about 6-8 years,” Charlie says.
   One of Rachel’s favorite spots in the house is actually the patio, which was formed from what was supposed to be an added-on family room complete with terrazzo floor.  Charlie says, “I think it was originally a patio, and when they did the addition, it was all molded because the foundation wasn’t prepared to be enclosed. It was a mess of mold and overgrowth.”
   The patio now has an outdoor fireplace of brick and its own bathroom.  It is furnished with cypress pieces varnished with a high gloss for weather protection, and of course, a wide screen television.  In the quiet neighborhood, the patio is the perfect place to unwind and barbeque, one of Rachel’s husband Jeff’s interests.

Welcomed By The Community
   The restoration of the cottage began in November of 2013 and took 5 weeks.  During the entire process, Rachel says that she was amazed by the interest of the townspeople.  “People would come by and have stories. Someone said the house was occupied by the Union troops during the Civil War.” Judith Allain says that the house is thought to have been the Episcopalian manse/parsonage for St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on First Street.
Rachel laughingly adds that some people waited until they had closed on the house and finished the reconstruction to tell her that the house was haunted. “We heard that at certain times of the year someone appears in one of the windows,” she says. 
   The mayor of the city was amazed at the enthusiasm with which the young couple approached their project.  “I had not met Rachel before, but when I saw her work and that of Mr. Sanders, I was impressed.  Previous owners had tried to do something with the place, but just never could seem to get it right.  It is one more property we can be proud of, and it has caused an interest in others doing likewise.  Someone else has bought three more properties and plans to work on them because of what the Sanders have done.”
The City of Franklin’s Planning and Zoning Director Blake Steiner says that part of his job is to find solutions for the blighted property in Franklin and keep up the maintenance of city properties. He says, “The property had been on my blighted property list for a while, so when Mr. Charlie came to me to see about getting permits, it was really a blessing.  We have too often had property in the historic district that has been neglected for a long time and we have had to tear it down because it couldn’t be saved. The last thing you want in a historic district is an empty lot. So we were really pleased with this project.”
   Many people in Franklin have been pleased to pass by the new cottage when out for a stroll in the historic district, and the cottage too is properly pleased that it is ready for a new chapter in its story.

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