Did you know Gretna was part of the National Register of Historic Places?
Mary Grace Curry was the driving force behind the creation of the Gretna Historical District and putting Gretna on the Historical Map. During 1982 she prepared nominations for citations in the National Register of Historic Places of such Gretna landmarks as the David Crockett Firehall and Steam Pumper, Gretna City Hall, St. Joseph Catholic Church and Most Holy Sacrament Convent Complex. Goal accomplished in 1983.
She worked tirelessly for the next two years to have The City of Gretna nominated as a National Register Historic District which was granted in 1985. You may have noticed a brass plaque on many Old Gretna houses numbered in the inventory that states “This Building Is a Contributing Element to the Gretna National Register Historic District – Established in 1985.”
Built in 1859, the two-story wood-frame David Crockett Fire Hall and Pumper was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Later through the works of Mary and others, the old fire house is now the Louisiana State Fire Museum, home of the oldest continuously operating volunteer fire company in the country and a vital piece of the Gretna Historical Society Museum Complex.
Few things have affected the growth and ultimate explosion of popularity of the City of Gretna as the placement in the prestigious National Register of Historic Places.
So, what exactly does that mean?
The National Register of Historic Places is the federal government’s official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects deemed worthy of preservation for their historical significance.
A property listed in the National Register or located within a National Register Historic District may qualify for tax incentives derived from expenses incurred in preserving the property.
Of more than 1,000,000 properties on the National Register, only 80,000 are listed individually with the remainder “contributing resources” within historic districts.
The National Register is now administered by the National Park Service whose goal is to help property owners and interest groups, such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as to protect historic sites in the nation.
Sadly, Mary Grace Curry died unexpectedly of natural causes on April 6, 2020. With her passing, Gretna lost a true and faithful friend who fashioned the Gretna Historic District that was the stepping stone to what the thriving City of Gretna is today.
By the mid-1980’s, many citizens had relocated and businesses were stalled. At the time that Mary had accomplished her goal, the Gretna Historic District was the 2nd largest in the state with over 700 contributing elements involved, creating city pride and a wake up for preservationists.
The Historic District designation drew attention to the downtown area which was the county seat of Jefferson Parish since 1844. Jefferson Parish invested into the downtown government facilities, which led to other investments that benefitted from tax incentives to historic properties.
After Mary’s due diligence came to fruition, a combination of the new Historic District that spotlighted Gretna’s downtown and a young, energetic new mayor, Ronnie Harris, followed by current Mayor Belinda Constant, both preservationists, Gretna developed into a place sought after for residences, businesses, entertainment and life enhancements today.
Thank you, Mary!
Mary Grace Curry was the daughter of the late Clyde L. and Gladys Ehret Curry and the great granddaughter of John Ehret, the first mayor of the City of Gretna. The Ehret’s settled in Gretna in the early 1800’s.
Her mother nurtured Mary with stories she remembered of growing up in Gretna from which Mary’s passion for history was lit. Her parents were charter members of Gretna Historical Society and Mary followed them serving on the museum committee, as chairperson of the historic district committee, archivist, president and as sesquicentennial committee chairperson.
Mary excelled in academics, named Valedictorian for Holy Name of Mary High School, Class of 1965. She earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees in biology from the University of New Orleans and then her doctorate in botany in 1973 from Louisiana State University.
Her curriculum vitae contained a list of biological and environmental articles that included her master’s thesis and Ph.D. dissertation.
For over 30 years, she served Jefferson Parish in various positions, the last years in the Historical Commission’s Archives room at the East Bank Regional Library where she participated in her heartfelt interest, the history of Jefferson Parish and the City of Gretna. She catalogued items of historical significance for placement in the forthcoming official Jefferson Parish Archives.
Boy, this go-getter was accomplished, belonging to scientific and professional societies, as well as past president of Jefferson Historical Society of Louisiana, Chairlady of the Jefferson Parish Historical Commission, a member of Friends of the German-American Cultural Center and past president of the German Heritage, Cultural and Genealogical Society.
She belonged to many lineage organizations, received the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s Jefferson Davis Medal and founded the David Crockett Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
She authored many Jefferson History Notebooks and other publications of the Jefferson Commission. In 1986, Mary penned “Gretna-A Sesquicentennial Salute,” a history of the City of Gretna. She went full circle with her love of history with, “I dedicate this book to my mother, Gladys Ehret Curry who from my earliest recollections made the history of Gretna omnipresent in my life and to my great grandfather, John Ehret without whom no history of Gretna or Jefferson Parish would be complete.”
Well, obviously no history of Gretna would be complete without Mary’s legacy.
Mayor Belinda Constant summed it up when she said, “We are saddened by the tremendous loss of Mary Grace Curry who was such an important asset to the growth of the City of Gretna. Her institutional knowledge of not only Gretna, but of all of Jefferson Parish will never be able to be replaced.”
Have a story you’d like to share? Contact me here.