As an avid history buff, Brian Allison was simply wanting a chance to view the historical content at the LaSalle Museum in Good Pine one day in early 2021. He finally reached someone with a key but that fateful day three years ago would prove to be an encounter that would change his life forever as well as the LaSalle Museum.
What he discovered that day was a museum that was once filled with life from years of LaSalle Parish history was dead. The museum was no longer being used and the deteriorated physical condition of the building had the precious items inside in danger of being destroyed and lost forever.
“I have been involved with museums before and knew that what was inside was priceless for the parish,” he said.
“I don’t even know how things got rolling but we knew something had to be done.”
Teaming up with Sonia Johnson and her husband Glenn, the trio began the process of trying to breathe life back into the historic landmark.
“From our research, we found out that it operated as the LaSalle Museum Association until the year 2000, when it was changed to the Jena Cultural Center,” Allison recalled. “It operated with great success as a cultural center, with many activities and events led by Pam Davis and Billie Turnley. However, by 2019 many of the older patrons of those sewing and knitting classes that were held had passed away. The museum basically shutdown in 2019 and it had been vacant ever since.”
The building that the LaSalle Museum resides in is the former Good Pine Lumber Mill office building. Deep inside the building are the vaults used to keep safe the mill’s money where workers would descend upon the building each week for their salaries.
Sonia Johnson was the key holder that opened up the museum for Brian to look inside in 2021. As they walked through the historic building, both began to share their desire to restore the museum and make it better than it ever was.
Step by step, the team began formulating a plan. They soon discovered an account at a local bank where $20,000 was still being held. As wise stewards of the money, they carefully examined the most pressing needs in their restoration process and got to work.
“The first thing we did was reestablish the Board of Directors for the museum,” Allison continued. “We then reinstated the LaSalle Museum Association’s non-profit cooperation with the state, which allowed us to utilized the museum’s IRS 501 (c) (3) status.”
The board then began using the money left by former boards to start repairs that were desperately needed.
“There was no electricity as a storm had taken out the meter head from the building,” Glenn Johnson said. “The building has a working AC central unit, but we had to have electricity to operate it.”
Once cool air and lights were working, work began inside the building, including cleaning up and organizing the artifacts held in its many rooms.”
Allison used his contacts with other museums, including the railroad museum in Tioga that had shut down, and was able to secure more display cases and artifacts. He brought them all to Good Pine where they were put to immediate use. Since 2021, over 500 new items of history have been added to the museum.
“We have so much to do,” Sonia Johnson added. “We have a front porch that is in need of work and the side porch with our handicap ramp is also in need of repair so our elderly and others that need handicap access can visit.”
As anyone knows when performing a restoration project of any sort, $20,000 doesn’t go very far. Still, the group worked diligently and efficiently to be resourceful with the funds to get as much work performed as they could. Every penny spent has been accounted for, an important detail of financial responsibility they all are in agreement about.
“Finally, by September of 2023, we had reached a point where we at least could have an open house in order to bring attention to the museum and perhaps get others involved,” Allison said. “It was a great open house with a large number of people attending and it did in fact help in getting more volunteers and assistance.”
The team of museum volunteers hope that as excitement about the museum continues to grow, more volunteers will step forward and more people will be willing to donate much needed funds to continue the restoration project.
“For instance, the building needs a new roof and it is estimated it will take $20,000 just to put a new one on,” he said. “We don’t have any leaks yet but the roof is in bad shape. So, if we do have a leak, it could potentially ruin so much history.”
“To put it simply, our budget is pinched,” Sonia added. “We are getting heaters installed because although we have central air, we don’t have central heat. We had to stop working during these cold weeks but hopefully, with the heaters installed, we’ll be able to get back to work.”
The long-term vision of the group is to have a working museum, open to the public with regular hours, where the history of LaSalle Parish is preserved and shared, along with providing genealogy assistance.
Eventually, the museum will have internet connections to assist with research, tours, events held inside and on its grounds and opportunities for school groups to come and tour.
“There is so much that we envision for this museum as we make it a place for the young and old alike,” Sonia continued.
Allison said the immediate goal is to have the museum to start opening to the public by this summer.
“We can’t wait to get to the point where we can start hosting events for the public,” he said. “This will be a place one day where someone can research all of the history of La-Salle Parish, from its railroads to individual families. We envision a working museum and a place where people are comfortable donating items knowing they are helping to preserve our great history.”
As the money comes in, projects will continue. Future expansion ideas range from adding items outside of the building to restoring the second story as part of the display and tours.
Until regular opening hours are established, private tours are available. The La-Salle Museum team invites anyone interested in seeing their progress to schedule a time to visit.
For anyone seeking more information, wanting to schedule a tour or to donate money or items for the museum, they are asked to contact Sonia Johnson at (318) 7150596, or Brian Allison at (318) 316-1006. Email addresses are: glennjohnson318@yahoo. com or LaMidlandrr@ gmail.com.
Future plans include having a working website, social media accounts and more. They are also in need of volunteers who specialize in this aspect to assist in setting up those accounts.
“If you have never been here and seen what’s inside, or if it’s been a long time since you have been here, we encourage you to come by,” he said. “We need as many as possible to join with us to help preserve this great historic icon right here in Good Pine.”