Freetown-Port Rico named to National Register

by Walter Pierce

It’s been 32 years since a neighborhood in Lafayette, Sterling Grove, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Now Lafayette has its second neighborhood on the Register — Freetown-Port Rico. The National Register imprimatur makes preserving or improving houses and other structures in the area eligible for tax credits of up to 45 percent of construction costs on properties 50 years old or older.

Freetown-Port Rico, nestled between Downtown and the UL campus, is roughly bounded by Johnston, University, Pinhook and Garfield streets.

Freetown’s placement on the Register is the result of a year-long project conducted over much of 2014 and into 2015 by a team from UL Lafayette. Corey Saft, an associate professor in UL’s School of Architecture and Design, and anthropology professor Dr. Ray Brassieur, led a student team that painstakingly documented every structure in Freetown-Port Rico. Eight architecture students and two anthropology students comprised a “field school” over the summer of 2014 and also took a class with Brassieur as part of the project.

“This is really just the beginning,” says Saft. “There are so many important stories from inside this neighborhood that need to be told and need to be remembered. This district captures a quality of tolerance, creativity and vibrance that is really unique.”

As the name implies, Freetown was once the province of free people of color and freed slaves. The neighborhood is located on what was once the sprawling Ile Copal sugar plantation of former Louisiana Gov. Alexandre Mouton, whose plantation home was located where LeRosen Elementary School now stands at the Pinhook-Evangeline Thruway intersection. In many ways, the history of Freetown-Port Rico is the history of Lafayette. It once skirted the rail yards that helped make Lafayette an industrial hub in rural South Louisiana and was home to hundreds of railroad workers, managers and their families. It later became a place of commerce as Lebanese Christian families — familiar Lafayette names like Saloom and Abdalla — moved in and opened shop.

“It is not only the history of Lafayette but a history of social, racial and cultural integration that is being remembered through this designation,” Saft adds. “These are the stories that need to be told and retold as the news seems filled with much less flattering stories.”

Read our November 2014 story, “Freetown Forensic,” for more on the neighborhood and the work of Saft, Brassieur and their students by clicking here.