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Surprise Donor Saves Historic Louisiana Cemetery and Jail

City Of London Cemetery Pilots New Scheme To Reclaim Old Graves For Re-Use
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Colfax, Louisiana is a town in the middle of our state that has enjoyed 148 years of existence.  Colfax is home to the beautiful gardens at the R. W. Norton Art Gallery, Fonseca’s restaurant (delicious and huge burgers), and the world famous Louisiana Mudfest!  Don’t let all of the modern day attractions fool you though, this little lady has some history – and, thanks to a last minute donor, when you visit you’ll be able to enjoy the old and the new treasures of Colfax.

Some 21 years after the very foundation of the town, the citizens of Colfax knew they needed what all civilized cities needed – a jail and a cemetery.  In 1890 construction was completed on a 2 story brick building at the edge of the town’s new cemetery.  At a cost of $2,975 (closer to $81,000 in today’s dollars), it was a great deal for the townsfolk.  It would turn out to be one of the soundest investments they would ever make in a building.  In the time since then – the jail building has served as several different, very important institutions that have each served Grant Parish.  The storied building has been an American Legion post, a hospital of sorts, and even a barn for the sheriff’s bull! However, after 127 years – the jail had become a bit of a problem for the citizens of Colfax.  The concern is that kids will want to explore the old jail and may be injured in the process.

The grim reality that they were facing was this: come up with the money to repair and restore the building to it’s former (and safer) glory, or tear down one of the super-rare few standing buildings from the late 1800’s on Grant Parish.  The choice boils down to respecting Louisiana history, of ensuring the safety its citizens.  Thanks to preservationist and engineer Robert Wolfe and his wife, Mimi – a third option has emerged!

Because of a sizable donation from Mr. and Mrs. Wolfe, the non-profit Grant Preservation Board of Louisiana now has the funds to preserve the jail for future generations.  This is not the first time the Wolfes have single-handedly saved a piece of Louisiana, and American history.  They also bought and restored the LaSalle Hotel, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Perhaps the most surprising part of this story is what Robert and Mimi actually paid to save the building in Colfax.  A commercial appraiser officially stated that the old jail was only worth somewhere between $2,500 to $3,000.  It was purchased for one dollar over that value and donated to the town.  In Mr. Wolfe’s estimation, it will take close to $100,000 to completely remodel and restored.  The next step is to petition for the building to be added to the National Registry of Historic Places.

Learn more about the long history of Colfax (including the Colfax Massacre) by checking out the History of Grant Parish Facebook page here. 

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