Some of the homes in Jackson have seen better days. An unoccupied home near Farish Street may have portions of its roof rotted away and the front eave hanging down. Another home, off Terry Road near Highway 80, unquestionably the abode of somebody who had considerable money during the population explosion of the 1950s, doesn't show its former glory. Today, the home has a sinking front porch and blasted windows.
Many of these homes have fallen into such neglect that they are beyond repair, but all of them feature something redeeming. Much of the material is not only salvageable, but in great demand by contractors and restorationists, says New Orleans Green Project Assistant Director David Reynolds.
"It's all about preserving your heritage," Reynolds said. "The wood in some of these old homes is not the kind of wood you can find anywhere else in the state, at least not these days."
Reynolds holds an ancient cypress 4-by -4. "Look at that grain," he said lovingly. "You can't find that anywhere today because that's first generation wood. Look for knotholes. See any? That's because there aren't any. This wood is ancient. You know where it came from? It came from an old house falling in on itself."
Reynolds runs a grass-roots non-profit that began life a decade ago as a paint recycling center in New Orleans. Today, the company excels in selling recovered or unused building materials. At any given time, Reynolds' warehouse may contain a 100-year-old cast-iron spiral staircase, a 2,000-year-old oak timber or a 2-week-old can of that special color paint that would work perfectly in your bathroom. The savings on these objects stagger the mind. You can find a $200 ceiling fan for $20 and a can of lovely pastel blue for under $5.
Reynolds is a Jackson man now, with a home in Fondren and a weekly commute to New Orleans. He's convinced that Jackson is rich in its own architectural history, and he's determined to salvage as much of it as he can.
"You got some real old homes here in this city—some real old, well-built homes," Reynolds said. "Some of the older ones could maybe have at least 80 percent of themselves recycled. And the crazy thing is some of the most incredible materials can be found in some really inexpensive neighborhoods."
It's an idea Reynolds said he's taken to the Jackson City Council once, though he says he was blown away by how cool the council seemed to be to the prospect: "They had a big deal going on at the time with some kind of helicopter or something, and they didn't have time for this kind of stuff. I don't begrudge them that, but I know the city is determined to demolish houses, and I'd hate to see some of that material just end up in a landfill. It's a rotten waste if you ask me."
Reynolds says he can pull useful material out of just about any home, not just a tumbled-over antebellum. Every house has a portion of recyclable material—even the most modern homes made of spit and knotty pine studs is at least 20 percent reclaimable—and it costs little to nothing extra to reclaim it.
It's a tantalizing idea to local contractor Huey Davis. Davis does everything from roofing to home additions and says he wouldn't mind getting some of his materials second-hand, especially if it means saving costs.
"When it comes down to it, I guess there isn't any difference between a stabilizing (plank) out of an old house or one out of Home Depot. They do the same thing," Davis said. "If I could save money on that, you bet I'd do it, but I haven't heard of any place to get that kind of thing here. You have to know somebody who's got it and is looking to sell it."
Reynolds agrees. He wants to offer training classes on how to recognize, pull and store reclaimable goods, and offer a method to market the salvaged materials.
"At the moment, Jackson is maybe two generations away from people who are in the habit of taking things apart and reusing them. Right now, you have to team up with a couple of people in the surrounding area who can make use of the lumber, and any contractor trying to recycling these days is in a bad spot in Jackson because you need trained people on your side doing the demo," Reynolds said.
It's getting more fashionable to have venerable building materials, and Reynold's bristles at any suggestion that his effort is just feel-good fluff. "This is not hippie, commie stuff," he said. "It is not regressive to be efficient and effective. We're keeping crap out of the landfill and, dammit, I'm employing 14 people and paying them not too shabbily, with benefits, by the way. Deconstruction—this whole green project business—is not only about taking things apart; it's about preserving the things you've got."
For more info about reclaiming and recycling building materials, call 601-713-1252.