Grant bringing new life to historic National Hotel

Published 11:00 am Friday, September 8, 2023

By Emily Burleigh

With the help of a $55,000 grant, Leesville Main Street is becoming a historic business hub in Vernon Parish.

This summer, the Leesville Main Street Program was the recipient of the Paul Bruhn Historic Revitalization federal grant. The funding is distributed to a handful of cities and towns every year by the National Park Service to bolster economic development in rural communities through the rehabilitation of historic buildings.

Tammy Anderson, director of Leesville Main Street, said historic revitalization is key to bring business back to rural, downtown areas. Fifty years ago, the rise of supercenters, megastores and malls smoked small businesses out.

“Back in the 70s and 80s when retails were starting to move out of the downtown areas and going out into the suburbs and creating all these huge malls, it left a lot of the buildings in main street areas empty. A lot of main streets just ended up tearing down all these old buildings.”

In the present day, the accessibility of goods via the internet is bringing back the desire for local small business.

“Now, it’s come full circle and people don’t want to go out to the malls, especially now that you can order things online. They would rather come back into the smaller mom and pop business instead of those big box stores.”

With the grant, the National Hotel, also known as the Old Esiesman building, will be receiving a facelift. The building was eligible because it is listed on the National Registry of Historic Buildings, a requirement for the Paul Bruhn Historic Revitalization Grant.

Anderson said they chose the building because it is one of the oldest buildings on Main Street, and because it was bought by Leesville Main Street board member Lafonda Stelly.

The previous owners of the National Hotel had no plans to repurpose the building. It was vacant for “years and years” and fell into disrepair, but Stelly wanted to save it, Anderson said.

“We chose it because once Ms. Stelly bought the building, we knew we needed help. This building’s going to need a lot of work, a lot of money needs to be put into it. This building has sat empty for the last 15, 20 years, and we didn’t want to see it just deteriorate.”

The grant has a $10,000 match requirement, so they will have $65000 to repair and refurbish the exterior of the building.

Work has already begun. The outside has been painted and the windows have been replaced. She said custom window panes are being built to align with historic building guidelines, which is a vital part of the revitalization process.

In the mid-twentieth century, the building had a balcony. Anderson was elated to announce that a balcony will be reinstalled on the National Hotel to reinfuse the building with its original essence.

The first floor of the building will be dedicated to retail, she said. The use of the top two floors are top secret, as plans are still in development.

She said the renovations have to be completed within a year to meet grant requirements, so the National Hotel should be up and running by the end of next summer.

“If you want to know anything about a small town, you’re going to go to their downtown main street area, because that is where the history of that town started. … You don’t want to lose the history of your town.”

Leesville is no exception.

The work being done on the National Hotel has energized businesses and private property owners on Main Street, and has led to a “domino effect.” Several owners have begun revitalization efforts on the interior and exterior of other historic buildings.

The Imperial Hardware building is one of the structures being repurposed. It was purchased by Alli and Clint Goins, who plan to turn it into a modern hair salon and space called The Refinery.

Main Street renaissance efforts are supported by programming and events that are hosted by the Leesville Main Street Program.

Anderson said one of the most popular of these is the Main Street Market on 3rd, which has “grown unbelievably” over the last two years.

This is an opportunity for residents of Leesville and the surrounding area to spend their Saturday mornings buying fresh fruit, preserves, produce and craft projects from local artisans.

Main Street Market on 3rd is particularly good for the spouses of those stationed at Fort Johnson, she said. They are not only able to sell goods and produce extra income, but also become more ingrained in the community.

She also noted that several regular vendors have gone on to become brick and mortar businesses, further bolstering business in Leesville.

“That’s one of our objectives, to let those that really want to go into a business, hopefully in our downtown area, that’s what we strive for.”

The market has been put on hiatus since the summer due to extreme heat, but it will be returning in October.