A ninth-generation Isleno, Estopinal has a personal connection to the complex: His ancestors' original home was moved there in 1999 to save it from the wrecking ball. The four-room cottage was likely constructed in the early 1780s for Isleño settlers. It's one of just a handful of original homesteads remaining in the parish. And like the Collins house, the cottage is an example of a rare building form. It's framed with hand-hewn cypress posts and beams, though instead of the brick infill used in colombage, the walls are formed from bousillage, a mixture of mud, moss, and animal hair that was once used by Native Americans living in the area.



To help with the Estopinal cottage restoration, as well as that of the museum complex's 1840s Ducros Library, a nine-member deconstruction crew now picks through the rubble of the Collins house. They are looking for intact building materials and architectural details that are fit for reinstallation.

The bricks that AmeriCorps members Amanda Gray and Elaine Smith collect will be used to re-create the original, two-sided fireplace that once stood in the center of the Estopinal cottage. Also bound for a new life are four sets of French doors. Site manager Maxwell-Parish and Ryshaad Hall, of AmeriCorps, gently coax them out of their wracked surrounds in the facade of the Collins house. The doors, which still have their wavy glass windowpanes, porcelain knobs, and hand-forged iron pintel hinges, will replace windows and solid-panel doors that were installed at the cottage after a similarly catastrophic hurricane passed over the parish in 1915.



Cypress posts and ceiling beams with decorative beading, two-panel interior doors, and countless bricks saved from the Collins house ruin will be used inside the Ducros Library. That colombage building was named for its former owner, Dr. Louis Alfred Ducros, parish coroner and Ducros Collins's grandfather. Before Katrina, it housed a branch of the public library, as well as archeological artifacts unearthed in the region. Now, the Ducros Library is an empty shell, its books destroyed and its surviving artifacts packed away for safekeeping. The interior brick-between-posts walls have been stripped of damaged plaster sheathing, as well as some modern, mold—covered drywall.



The building stands ready to be restored. And thanks to some careful extractions from the rubble, it will be one step closer. "Preserving some of the original fabric of (the Collinses') very historic home is crucial to the preservation of the complex as well as to the story of this village and of the Isleños," Estopinal says. "Our architecture and our history are really what drive this area. This is who we are."



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