Backstory and Context
Located on beautiful North Campus, the Lustrat House is named for Professor Joseph Lustrat, who was the Chair of Romance Languages at the University from 1897 to 1927. Born in Vichy, France on September 28, 1858, he was the son of Christophe P. and Jeanne Busson Lustrat. An intelligent and driven young man, Lustrat went on to earn degrees from both the Sorbonne and the University of France. After graduating from the University of France in 1877, he served as a French barrister, a position which he held for the next nineteen years. In 1888, he married Eleanore More, who was from Frontingnan, France. The couple had four daughters: Marie, Eleanor, Renee, and Marcelle, who died when she was five years old.
While Lustrat built a life in France, the University of Georgia was in the process of revitalizing the academic community in Athens following the Civil War. The conflict was a clear dividing line between the old and the new, with many younger faculty members advocating for a more progressive approach to education in contrast with the administration’s traditional leanings. The Lustrat House represented the older tradition. Constructed in 1848, the two-story Antebellum structure was intended to be one of two residences for professors on campus in order to maintain discipline within the student body. Though it remained a residence until the 1920’s, the idea of the presence of professors on campus offering order to college students proved a fruitless endeavor.
As part of the effort to modernize UGA’s curriculum, the Department of Romance Languages became an official entity in 1869. Though plans to provide language education appeared as early as 1805, the University had neglected its Department of Modern Language for many years. Abolishing the department in 1869, language education was divided into two separate entities: the Department of German or Teutonic Philology and the Department of Romance Languages. Professor M.J. Smead served as the initial Romance Language Chair, but after three years he was replaced by Professor Cyprian Porter Willcox. A professor of French and German, Willcox taught from 1827 to 1896 and helped build the reputation and efficiency of the language departments at the University of Georgia. Upon his death in 1896, the administration was desperate to fill his position in order to sustain the progress which he made.
Joseph and Eleanore Lustrat decided to move from France to the United States in 1893. They travelled with their three daughters to New York City, and once there, Lustrat had a chance encounter with the Honorable J. Lindsay Johnson. Hailing from Rome, Georgia, Johnson was in New York searching for a French professor to teach at Shorter College, and he thought that Lustrat could do the job. Accepting the position, the family moved to the South, and Joseph taught at Shorter College from 1893 to 1896. The University of Georgia became interested in Lustrat, who had built a respectable reputation amongst his peers, once Willcox died. When he was offered by the University the job of Chair of Romance Languages, Lustrat happily agreed and moved into the house which currently sits on North Campus.
Over thirty years, Lustrat built on the strong foundation laid by Willcox in the language education at the University of Georgia. An instructor of French, Spanish, and Italian, Lustrat also developed strong ties with the Athens community. He wrote a textbook entitled The Formations of Simple Tenses of French Verbs, Regular and Irregular, which was an elementary-level introduction to the French language used in high school classrooms surrounding Clarke County. As a devout Catholic, he led the local parish and was a key figure in the construction of St. Joseph’s Church, which still stands on the side of Epps Bridge Parkway. He also created an Athens chapter of the Alliance Française, which promoted French culture in Clarke County. His passing in 1927 was a true loss for the academic culture at the University of Georgia. Thomas Walter Reed, whose unpublished manuscript of the history of the University of Georgia is well-regarded within the research community, noted he spent many walks with Lustrat, discussing numerous subjects and debating aspects of American and French culture. At the end of his biography on Lustrat, he notes that as he walked through North Campus in 1927, all he could think of was his “kind friend now gone”.
The house in which Joseph and Eleanore resided was transferred to its current location in 1904 in order to accommodate the new library and its administration. After Joseph’s death, Eleanore remained in the home for several years, becoming a beloved and well-known figure among the university community. She even rented some of the rooms to students. Once she moved, the Lustrat House entered a new phase of ever-changing roles. After serving as a place for library administration, the building became a house museum, honoring the legacy of its namesake as well as information about the time in which he taught. The structure then became the Office of the University President for a brief period before settling into its current role, which is housing the Office of Legal Affairs.
Reed, Thomas Walter. History of the University of Georgia. Digital Library of Georgia and Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, ca. 1949. http://dlg.galileo.usg.edu/reed/ (accessed March 10, 2019).
University of Georgia. “Historic Lustrat House.” University of Georgia: Office of Legal Affairs. https://legal.uga.edu/about/office-information (accessed March 2, 2019).