Built in 1896, T’Frere’s House rests – or looms, depending on the angle – defiantly anachronistic at the very end of Camellia Boulevard in Lafayette. The Victorian home and B&B feels like a snapshot you can walk through: like a tintype you find full of faces without names. It’s lovely for anyone fond of history, as long as you don’t mind the ghosts.
The two-story Victorian is on the market for $899,999, and it comes with more than just bragging rights.
T’Frere’s manager Donna Duck was intrigued by the house before she even scaled the porch steps, opened the front door and set foot into the grand hallway. She would often peer into the windows, waiting for a glimpse of an apparition. But these ghosts have a more subtle approach.
“You hear it; you don’t see it,” Duck says. “When I first started working here, I knew the place was haunted, but I never thought I would come in and feel like there was a spirit or anything like that. I just wanted to come in and do my duties, until I started hearing the noises myself.”
The house, formerly known as the Oneziphore Comeaux House, landed on the historic registry in 1992. According to the Preservation Alliance of Lafayette, Comeaux was the youngest in his family, and nicknamed “Petit Frere.”
The grand hallway divides the parlor and the Leah room, which has a double bed from the 1880s with the carpenter’s initials carved into the back.
This is the room where T’Frere’s most famous permanent guest, Amelie Comeaux, is said to have given birth to the two babies she had with her husband – before dying on the property, mysteriously, at 31 or 32 years old. T’Frere is French for “little brother,” and it is said that Amelie was an older sister of Oneziphore Comeaux.
Should you visit St. John Cemetery in Lafayette, you may stumble upon Oneziphore’s grave, but you won’t find Amelie’s. Some familiar with the house say she contracted the same yellow fever that took her family and stumbled to her death trying to sip some water. Others say she took her life or was pushed into the well that was once on the property, following an affair. At the time, any of this would have banned her from being buried on sacred ground. The B&B’s Amelie Suite is an add-on located over the presumed location where her body was found.
Maybe it is her muddled history that keeps her here. Stories from employees and guests follow a similar pattern of playful interruption.
Where Do the Ghosts Go?
Amelie isn’t the only ghost Duck says she hears running upstairs, chatting or laughing. She started cleaning the house about four years ago and worked her way up to manager. And she takes care of the house regardless of occupancy. Every room is equipped with an espresso machine and CC’s Coffee for guests, but she will brew you a cup in the kitchen, if you’d like.
“What got me was the 1890 room. It just had a heavy feeling. So, one day, I was up there cleaning, and I had asked one of the girls who used to work here did she feel like someone was watching her there, and she said ‘yes,’ and I put the broom down,” she said.
The 1890 room is upstairs. If you look at the house from the exterior and see the widow’s walk, that’s the room. One by one, Duck says, families contracted yellow fever and died there. The room is ice-cold and has the aire of a conversation that’s stopped, despite the house having no central air. You can step outside for fresh air onto the widow’s walk and see traffic coming from Camellia Boulevard or down Verot School Road.
Duck is Catholic. Although she said she doesn’t believe in ghosts – but she knows what she felt. She’s had Father Pelissier of Wisdom Church at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette bless the space in Latin a few years back. Incoming manager Katherine Cobb picked up on it, too. “I haven’t experienced it yet, but I’m highly aware there’s probably another force here. I hope I don’t experience it; I’ll be honest with you. I go into each room, walking with authority,” Cobb says.
It’s a given that old houses shift, creek and expand in the humidity. But they don’t sporadically giggle or have shades that simultaneously roll up after a manager rolls them down, as Cobb says she has seen.
“I’ve lived in many homes in New Orleans, and I know we are not alone. And I don’t want foolishness. Doors will just open. I’m hoping the energy mixes. The different shades rolling up freaked me out,” says Cobb.
Past Meets Present
The house maintains many of the elements of its original structure, beyond possibly housing some of its original residents. It’s peppered with color from stained glass windows and punctuated by creaking pine floorboards.
It’s no wonder the structure is a popular photoshoot location. Duck says boudoir shoots are common in the additions of the house. These rooms, like the Louisiana room and the Mardi Gras room, were built where the quintessential Victorian wraparound porch was located. They feature modern and crisp décor, and, sure enough, a lack of paranormal activity.
Bridal shoots in the lush, leaf-laden courtyard are common at all seasons, Duck says. Businesses host parties there – during the day. Pre-COVID, Duck says, T’Frere’s would host a cocktail hour, Halloween parties and Christmas parties. As someone with an immune deficiency, she’s been meticulous in her care of the place.
“With COVID, we might have nobody or just one room occupied. I spray Lysol, use Clorox wipes, and spray everything just because COVID is going on. With an immune deficiency, I know I have to protect myself. I wash the sheets with bleach and vinegar. It’s lots of upkeep to do,” Duck says.
The care poured into the home is apparent throughout. It’s thoughtfully adorned with George Rodrigues prints and some original paintings whose creators’ and subjects’ identities have been lost to time. The house itself is a testament to things saved from being lost to time: a porch meant for afternoon coffee, with banisters supporting a tin roof.
“We keep the historical aspect up,” Duck says. “From the laundry room up, it’s all the original house.”
T’Frere’s rests where the southside of Lafayette connects Yougsville via the Ambassador extension, and it’s only a matter of time until someone purchases it. Whether the house’s charm and stories will survive the transference is still to be seen. The bed and breakfast has borne witness to Lafayette’s evolution from farming community to small city, and it’s survived as a private residence or under private ownership ever since. Its lore lives in its walls. Each suite is its own keyhole into the past, and the stories of its ghosts – real or imagined – encapsulate that rougher, slower, more deliberate way of life.
Until the house finds a new owner, guestbooks are signed, photoshoots are coordinated, and the future of T’Frere’s hangs in limbo.
“I wish someone else would take over and treat it as a bed and breakfast,” Duck says. “I wish someone would come in and treat it like we treat it.”