Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Swiss Chalet House on Jahncke Avenue

The "Swiss Chalet" house at the southwestern corner of the 19th Avenue and Jahncke Avenue was built before 1880 by one of the Hosmers who, in those days, operated the Hosmer timber mill north of town. The eagle that stands at the peak of the front gable is the Hosmer family crest, according to Covington resident Patrick Moore.

Click on the image for a larger version.

The building’s original purpose was to provide overnight housing to Hosmer’s schooner captains who sailed the timber from the Columbia Street landing into New Orleans. The main floor, which is now the second floor, is a series of rooms opening onto a central hall, just as you would expect from a structure that started life as a boarding house or hotel. The first floor was a stable. 

Shipping via schooner diminished as the steam locomotive became the transport of choice for freight,  and schooner fleets began to decline not long after the “Swiss House” was built. It was used thereafter as a private residence. When horses were no longer kept at home, the stable was floored and converted to living space. The stable floor, which is brick, is still visible as the floor of the crawl space. 

The house’s greater claim to fame, according to Moore,  is that it was designed by architect William Alfred Freret. He designed a number of buildings and structures in New Orleans and elsewhere in the US that are on the Historic Register. There are at least two other Freret houses in Covington. Freret designed the reconstruction of the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge in 1880, and added the glass dome. 

The house's legacy includes many years in the mid 20th century when two mature ladies who were sisters lived there and hosted and catered teas in the house for occasions like bridal showers and the like. 

Today the house is divided into four rental apartments.  It houses five bathrooms, four kitchens and three laundries. Recenly a bat colony that had taken up residence in the north gable was removed.

The 4676 square foot building was put up for sale in mid-February, 2019, and was described as the following:

"A true Old Covington landmark, the Swiss Chalet, circa 1875, sits majestically at the corner of S Jahncke & 19th Avenues. Reported to have been designed by famous New Orleans architect, William Alfred Freret, the structure was built by the Hosmer family with lumber from Hosmer Mill. Rooted in Covington history, The Swiss Chalet is highly regarded as an architectural jewel in the community. Currently being used as a 4-unit, multi-family, with fabulous potential to convert back to a single family residence."

The house has had several addresses over the years as street names and numbering systems changed. Around 1859 it was at 303 S Jahncke, and at one time it was at 1817 Louisiana. There are two lots, number five and six, both in Square 16. The lots measured 75 feet x133.2 feet and 72.54 feet by 130 feet.

The 1920 Census listed Laura R Hosmer as the occupant, and the 1947 phone book listed Henry C Bentz as living at 1817 Jahncke.

In an overview of previous owners, the list went as follows:

23 Nov 1832 N. B. Mitchell acquired the lots from Jesse R Jones 

5 June 1838- John W Hyde acquired from N. B. Mitchell

13 Mar 1843-  Union Bank acquires from John W Hyde

16 Dec 1844 - William B Hosmer acquires from Union Bank of Louisiana

12 April 1849 - Mary Jane Hosmer acquires from William B Hosmer

23 Nov 1875 - Arsene Hosmer acquires this house
with ½ sq of land plus Sq 21from James R,  Charles, William F and Laura Hosmer.  Succession of her mother Mary Jane Hosmer

23 June 1909 - Last Will and Testament of Arsene Hosmer leaves all of her property  (square 21 in Spring and 303 S Jahncke) to Laura Hosmer

11 May 1926 - Ruby H Lea, Mary Hosmer Buck and Mabel Hosmer Smith acquired from the succession of Laura R Hosmer.  Appraised value $4000.00 1925.

29 May 1929 - Annie McHalle Espalla acquired from Mrs Ruby Lea Hosmer et al  also Mrs Hosmer Buck wife of Charles F Buck, Mrs Mabel Hosmer Smith wife of Warren H Smith lots 5 and 6 and parts lots 4, and 7.  ($3250.)

14 Aug 1943 -Mrs Ollie Wales Bentz (nee Wales) acquired from Mrs Annie McHale Espalla

4 May 1965 - Succession of Henry C Bentz  property known as old Hosmer place all of lot 6 and parts of lots 4,5 and 7.  Portions of lots 4 and 5 Sq 16 acquired from Willie J Schlenker 25 Sept 1945.

4 May 1965 - Ollie Wales Bentz and Ruth Bentz Chandler acquired from succession of Henry C, Bentz:  Ruth Bentz Chandler interest acquired from Ollie Wales Bentz May 26 1965

17 Apr 1975 -John T Baldwin acquired from Ollie Wales Bentz Lot 6 and parts of lot 4,5, and 7 Sq 16

15 Feb 1979 - Constance Crowley Hagen acquired from John  T, Baldwin ETUX Cob 753 218

12 Aug 1983 - Melinda L Owensby acquired from Constance Crowley Hagen

17 June 1995 - Richard and Marian Moore acquired from Melinda L Owensby

In 1990 Todd Valois wrote a history column about the Hosmer family.\