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The Givens Townhouse

The Victorian townhouse built in 1893 by Mrs. John Givens at what is now 324 Sterling Street remained in the Givens family for 88 years. Its current owners are Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Powers. The house was inherited by Mrs. Baxter Clegg. At her death her niece, Louise Lyle Givens (Mrs. David Reichard Williams bought) the property from Mrs. Clegg’s estate.

The site on which the house is built encompassed at the time of its construction three arpents in Sterling Grove. The land was purchased from Mrs. F.S. Mudd.

Mrs. John Slye Givens was the former Sallie Torian. She was reared on several plantations in the Patterson area owned by her uncle and guardian, Pinckney Bethell. She fled with him to Texas during the Civil War, when General Nathaniel Banks was making his sweep through this area.

In Texas she met a young Confederate officer, John Slye Givens, who courted her for eight years before he could claim her as his bride. He later became a judge and a vast Texas land owner. It was but natural for her to come to Lafayette to live following his death. Her two brothers, William and Walter Torian, were residing in Lafayette. The house Mrs. Givens built in Lafayette in Sterling Grove is a copy of one she saw and liked in Lake Charles. However because the dimensions of her house was reduced by four feet and the fenestration was not there is very little wall space between the windows in the bay rooms.

The house, built of lumber from a mill near Mermentau, is of cypress and heart of pine. The house was uilt at the front of the property, leaving the rear acreage at the time for a barn, four milk cows, an oat field and a pond. At one time there was even an alligator in the pond. There was also at the rear of the house a “chic sale” or outdoor facility, since there was at the time no sewerage system in Lafayette.

The front façade of the house features double galleries beginning at the bay and extending across the width of the house. The two-story house is decorated with fish scale shingles on the bay and all roof gables. The gable ends feature pierced aprons. There are two story galleries beginning at the bay and extending across the front of the house. The Gallery roofs are supported by turned posts with jigsaw brackets and turned ballisters. All windows have louvered shutters except the bay windows.

The front door has beautifully carved details in the lower portion. Originally the glass in the upper portion was bevelled and etched. The front door opens into a wide central hall, which extends to the back porch. This porch extends to the kitchen wing. Opening off the lower central hall are four large rooms. On the left is the parlor. It is a large attractive room measuring 26 by 14 feet. At one end of the room is the bay area with louvered shutters at the windows. At the opposite end are floor to ceiling sliding doors. They separate the parlor from the dining room. A door on the opposite wall of the dining reoom leads to a hall that ends in the kitchen. At one time there was a large pantry in the kitchen kept locked. It was filled with large supplies of sugar, lard, molasses and staples. This pantry was later converted to a floor-to-ceiling cabinet.

Both the hall and dinging room have wainscoting with the upper part being papered. The bathtub downstairs was originally just that. The original tub was a round copper tub. This was later changed to a wooden trough-like tub lined with zinc. Water came into the house from a tall cistern, which was built five feet off the ground. The area under the cistern afforded a cool place in which to play or store things.

There are eight fireplaces in the house, affording a fireplace for each of the main rooms. The fireplaces in the parlor and dining room are of black marble. There is also a black marble fireplace in the front room off the right of the hall. This room originally was the music room. At one time there was an attractive chandelier in this room, which had been purchased from the old Planters Hotel in New Oreans and installed in this room. In later years a door was cut in the wall of the music room to afford passage to the bedroom back of it. All inner doors have transoms. There are large panes in all the windows, a characteristic of the era in which the house was constructed.

The staircase is on the right wall of the downstairs hall. Beneath it is a closet. The current owners, to provide additional storage space, extended the wall of this closet. The current owners, to provide additional storage space, extended the wall of this closet, leaving an opening for the door to the back bedroom. The floor plan on the second floor is identical to that below with four main rooms downstairs. Attic storage space opens off the left back room. Originally the second story hall had an exit at the east end to an outdoor staircase. This was removed when the landing of this staircase was included in an upstairs bathroom. This bathroom was added in the 1920’s. A complete bathroom was also added downstairs in the 1920’s.

Until the 1920’s the house was lighted by kerosene light fixtures. The lovely ruby glass light fixture in the downstairs hall, now electrified, is original to the house. It still casts its rosy glow, when lighted.

Centuries old live oaks, magnolias and shrubbery now fill the property and shade the stately house. The last of the family to own the house was Mrs. David R. Williams, the former Louise Lyle Givens, one of the children of the John S. Givens, Jr. family. All 10 children were born in the landmark house. Mrs. John Givens’ daughter, Louise Torian Givens (Mrs. Baxter Clegg), inherited the house built by her mother. At her death, her niece, Louise Lyle Givens (Mrs. David Reichard Williams), bought the property in 1954 from Mrs. Clegg’s estate. She sold it to Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Powers in June, 1982, following a fire in the house. The Powers have been restoring and repairing the fire damaged house.

They have expanded the size of the upstairs bathroom by extending it completely over the downstairs back porch. This project changed the fenestration at the back of the house. A round window was placed in the upstairs bathroom and the large window formerly there was brought down to the first floor level. The kitchen has been enlarged by removing the wall of the hall between the dining room and the kitchen, thus incorporating the hall in the kitchen. The utility room, formerly at the end of that hall, is now off the left side of the kitchen.

The Givenses are originally of Scotland. Their coat-of-arms is a frigate, a three-masted ship in full sail. Three sons of Samuel Givens came to America in 1738. The three children of John Slye Givens and Sallie Torian Givens came with their mother to Lafayette in 1893. They were Thomas Edwin, Louise Torian (Mrs. Baxter Clegg) and John Slye Givens, Jr.

Thomas Edwin Givens left Lafayette for New Orleans and was never heard of again. Mrs. Clegg, following her marriage, left with her husband for Alleghany, Pennsylvania. And then to Montreal, Canada. She returned to Lafayette in 1910 and served as full-time librarian at USL beginning in 1916. She died in the Givens Townhouse, which she owned. John Slye Givens, Jr. was married in 1903 to Anna Keener Hopkins. They moved into the Givens townhouse. Before establishing his own real estate office, The Givens Agency, he worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad and Anheuser-Busch. Following his death in 1936 at the age 59, his wife successfully operated the office. Nine of his 10 children survived him and by 1945 all nine were graduated from USL and several had gone on to attain advanced degrees. Children born to John Slye Givens and Anna Keener Hopkins Givens were: Louise Lyle (Mrs. David Reichard Williams); Mattie Lee (Mrs. Joseph Michael Belle); Anna Edwin (Mrs. Guy Gonzaga Gardiner) deceased; John Slye, III; Richard Cobb: Sarah Agnes (Mrs. Guy Gonzaga Gardiner); Thomas Hopkins; Frances Lillian (Mrs. Paul Hebert Sewall, Jr.); and Anna Hopkins (Mrs. Lee Daniel Snyder); Royall, died at the age of 11 months.