Saturday, December 17, 2022

Camp Salmen House

On March 17, 2006, the Camp Salmen House was nominated for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Here is some of the information that accompanied that application:

The Camp Salmen House is of local architectural significance as a rare and superior surviving example to represent St. Tammany's earliest architectural heritage (French Creole). Indeed, it is one of only 26 buildings in the parish dating from before the Civil War.

Historical Significance

Located on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, St Tammany was historically rural, although there were three good-size towns (Covington, Mandeville and Slidell) and several small ones. The earliest settlement was in lower St. Tammany (between today's Interstate 12 and Lake Pontchartrain). For many years the French dominated this area. They arrived in the 1720s and their influence continued well into the nineteenth century. For example, French Creole planter Bernard de Marigny de Mandeville subdivided his north shore plantation in 1835 to create the town of Mandeville.

Photos by Donna Fricker, February of 2006

Given the foregoing settlement patterns, one would expect the parish to contain a fair number of French Creole dwellings and buildings reflecting other pre-Civil War architectural influences. However, St. Tammany experienced rapid and substantial growth in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries due to the area's popularity as a health resort and the lumber, brick making and ship building industries.

Thus, the great majority of the parish's historic resources date from this later period. This is amply demonstrated by a comprehensive historic standing structures survey of the parish conducted in the mid-1990s. The survey identified some 2,336 buildings that were then 50 years old or older. Of these, only 26 are thought to be pre-Civil War and only 14 fully represent the French Creole heritage. (Later Greek Revival houses are Creole in form only.)

The Camp Salmen House is among this select number.

Moreover, it is noteworthy among the parish's French Creole dwellings for its substantial size and architectural presence. The typical surviving Creole house is modest, with a width of two rooms and a minimal cabinet-loggia range in the rear.

The Camp Salmen House is fully three rooms wide with large cabinets under a quite capacious Creole roofline. Among St. Tammany's few surviving Creole dwellings, it is of the first rank. The Camp Salmen House also retains a high degree of integrity when compared to most other French Creole houses in the parish.

Additional Information:

The structure is best known locally for its association with the locally prominent Salmen family and later as part of a Boy Scout camp. Salmen Brick and Lumber Co. acquired the property in 1901. The company sold 72.5 acres to the Boy Scouts of America, New Orleans Counsel in 1924. The Boy Scouts retained ownership until 1984. The present owner, St. Tammany Parish, purchased the property in 2001 for projected use as a nature preserve. The parish is committed to preserving the house as well.

The Camp Salmen House is referred to sometimes as the "old trading post." Conveyance records in 1885 and again in 1899 mention the nearby ferry landing (the shape of which still survives) and a store on the property. For the record, the candidate is clearly a residence.

Architectural Notes

The Camp Salmen House (built around 1830) is a medium size French Creole residence of brick and frame construction with transitional Federal/Greek Revival details. It overlooks Bayou Liberty in a rural setting on the former Camp Salmen Boy Scout property on the edge of Slidell. Modifications have been on the whole relatively minor; the house easily retains its French Creole architectural identity.

The front range of rooms, the core of the house, is of common bond brick construction. Behind it is a wood frame cabinet-loggia range. The generous attic and front gallery are also wood frame. This combination of bearing wall brick and wood frame is unusual. Some sources have suggested that the brick core is older than the rest of the structure.

However, the accessible architectural evidence does not support this. The base of the brick core is constructed to provide for the attachment of the floor beams of the rear rooms and the floor beams of the front gallery. Secondly, the decorative detailing and architectural work is consistent throughout. Finally, the three rear doorways of the core are configured in a way that is consistent with the attachment of the cabinet-loggia range.

The middle doorway (which opens to the loggia) has an original set of French doors. The side doorways (which open into the cabinets) are constructed as interior passages. In sum, the overwhelming weight of evidence is that the entire present house was constructed at the same time. The circa 1830 date being used for this nomination is based on the architectural evidence.

The brick core rests on an extremely thick foundation. The foundation consists of four walls laid up in common bond. Originally the core was divided into three roughly square rooms by wood frame partitions. Two of these rooms (the northern most and the middle) were heated by fireplaces served by the house's single interior chimney. A third room to the south was unheated.

In the twentieth century a partition wall was removed, creating a single room 30 feet wide. There is still a rough, unfinished, notched beam in the ceiling showing where the partition was. On the rear range, the cabinets are unusual, being both very large (the larger is 9' by 17') and of unequal size.

The house's capacious gable end roof has a fairly simple rafter and post structure. (An earlier French Creole house would have a much heavier, overbuilt roof structure.) The huge attic was never finished or inhabited.

The Camp Salmen House is well detailed. The ceilings all feature exposed beaded beams and beaded boards inside and out. (The ceilings in the cabinet-loggia range are largely covered at present, but it is clear that the exposed beaded beams and boards survive.)

The mantels in the previously mentioned heated rooms wrap around the chimney in the French manner. Both feature delicate pilasters and molded shelves. The one in the northern room also has a slight cornice marking the top of the chimney flue. The house's single surviving original French door set (in the rear center of the brick core) has ten lights to each door and is attached with ram's horn hinges. The thick board shutters (which also serve as interior doors) have decoratively molded battens. Shutters are attached using shaped strap hinges (affixed with screws).

The front gallery's chamfered posts are pegged into the plate. They are spaced irregularly. Two near the center are paired as if to mark an entrance. Oddly, the narrow opening they create does not line up (exactly) with the central front doorway. Of final note are the tiny vaulted openings that mark the base of the brick core on either side. These were, no doubt, for ventilation.

The house has sustained the following alterations (in addition to those mentioned above). The eight-light French doors in the three front doorways are mid-nineteenth century. They are patched-in and appear to be salvaged from another building.

Of the six front gallery posts, three are original, two are in-kind replacements (one at each edge), and one is a plain unpainted board. (The latter is placed a little to the side of the original slot.) In addition, "ghost marks" indicate that the gallery once had railings. In the twentieth century the cabinets were converted for a kitchen and a large bathroom.

This work involved installing lowered ceilings and recovering the walls. Finally, the loggia has been enclosed with plywood in a jerry-rigged fashion and the brick walls have been plastered on the exterior.

These alterations have not unduly diminished the Camp Salmen House's status as one of the primary surviving French Creole residences of St. Tammany Parish. It easily retains the bulk of its character-defining features and hence has a strong French Creole identity.

The structure was entered into the National Register on April 24, 2006.  

 See also:

 Salmen House Restoration

Lodge Restoration Updates