William Theodore Jay was a 19th century entrepreneur who made a fortune in sawmilling. He also had fine taste when it came to real estate, since he sited his home, today called the Otis House, on a particularly beautiful bend in the Tchefuncte River. The surrounding property is known as Fairview-Riverside State Park.
Jay had what would become known as the Otis House constructed in 1885, at a time when New Orleans was undergoing a growth spurt and needed lumber for home construction. Living on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, Jay created a sawmill empire in the town of Madisonville and built a home that reflects his success. The home featured twelve-foot-high ceilings, wraparound verandas on the first and second floors, and heart pine floors, all of which visitors can see in their restored beauty today.
Jay sold the home in 1906 to two brothers named Houlton, who created a virtual city (called Houltonville, naturally) that housed 250 sawmill workers. The brothers, in turn, sold the home to a man named Frank Otis. As the last private owner, who is also responsible for donating the home and its surrounding 99 acres to the State of Louisiana, it’s fitting that the estate was named after him.
Tour the grounds of the Otis House, where artifacts from the 1880s through 1930s are on display. On your guided tour, you’ll learn about the home’s ties to the city of Madisonville, and how it fits into the broader context of Louisiana history. Outside the house, hike around Fairview-Riverside State Park, whose cool waters and shady cypress trees make for a perfect afternoon of relaxation.
Nearby attractions include the Northshore towns of Madisonville, Covington and Mandeville. The massive trail system Tammany Trace is also close to the site and the sites and sounds of New Orleans are less than an hour's drive away.
Entrance fee: $4 per person, free for seniors age 62 and older, and children age 3 and under. Otis House is open for tours Tuesdays through Saturdays.