Daniel Goyer believes there is more to travel than the "what" or the "where."

"It's about the 'why,'" he said. "It's about why you're visiting and what makes it important."

Goyer is site manager for Port Hudson State Historic Site and manages Centenary State Historic Site, where he stands on the park's bricked path on a Saturday morning. The Jackson park is close to his heart — it was the sole park he managed for 15 years before taking on double duty in 2018.

Which means he's not only well versed in the grounds' history, he has been a key player in its restoration and presentation. These days, though, the historic site is open for guided tours by appointment only, though the gates are open for visitors to walk and picnic on the unsupervised grounds from Thursdays through Saturdays.

That's the where and when. Now comes the why — why is the story of Centenary State Historic Site important enough for a visit?

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Site Manager Daniel Goyer points out where the East Dormitory once stood at Centenary State Historic Site in Jackson while walking the path to the old school site's surviving West Dormitory building.

Well, it was once home to two 19th century colleges, one of which is now located in Shreveport. It was the site of a Civil War skirmish and served as a Confederate hospital.

It also was home to one of the largest academic buildings among colleges in the South, and it was purchased by the state in 1977, which transformed it into a state historic site.

True, Centenary is a lesser known state park, especially with Port Hudson, Rosedown and Audubon state historic sites only a few miles away. It stands seemingly in the middle of nowhere in the East Feliciana Parish town of Jackson on College Street, still named for the days that the college stood there.

Only the college's West Dormitory building and one of its Professor's Cottages occupy the grounds, but Goyer strives to tell the school's story through its surviving structures.

So, what's the story? The College of Louisiana opened in 1825. It wasn't a military academy but a school that offered classical education in math, science, English, history and the arts.

Its East and West Dormitory wings were built in 1832 and 1837, respectively, of bricks made by local brickmakers.

"Jackson was chosen for the location, because it was close to Baton Rouge but out, away from the city in a beautiful setting," Goyer said. "And it was near some of the wealthy plantations in this area. It was a place for those people to send their sons to be educated."

Only boys made up the student body, which remained the case when the Methodist Church opened Centenary College opened its doors on the grounds in 1845 and added the Main Academic Building. The building fell into disrepair in the years after Centenary's move and was demolished in the 1930s. Still, there's no denying its beauty in framed etchings and photos hanging in the Professor's Cottage and West Dormitory.

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The Main Academic Building once stood as the centerpiece of Centenary College. It was flanked by the East and West Dormitories. The West Dormitory is the only survivor of these three buildings at Centenary State Historic Site in Jackson. 

"It had a large auditorium on the second and third floors, and it sat about 1,015 people," Goyer said. "That's where they held their graduation ceremonies."

He walks into the neatly cut field, where white stakes memorialize the building's parameter.

"The East Wing Dormitory was on the outer corner over there," he said, pointing toward the bricked path leading to the West Dormitory.

The path is a modern construction built adjacent to the bricks of the original path dotted by foundations of columns where stood the East Dormitory's columns. These foundations now serve as a lesson in column building, with each structure showing a progression in construction.

But the East Dormitory couldn't match the Main Academic Building's splendor.

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The columned gallery of Centenary State Historic Site's West Dormitory building. The structure was completed in 1837, with bricks supplied by local brickmakers. 

"It had a 3000-volume library, meeting halls, club halls, science labs and classrooms on the first floor, beneath the auditorium," Goyer continued. "It basically occupied the entire area between the two dorms. It would have been great if it had survived."

But the fact that it didn't pushed Goyer and his former Centenary staff into reimagining some of the West Dormitory's rooms as exhibit spaces, one of which depicts a science lab, complete with 19th century devices for experiments on static electricity and the vacuum process.

That room is on the prerequested guided tour, as is a dorm room depicting a Civil War hospital room and one that's, well, simply a dorm room.

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Guided tours of Centenary State Historic Site in Jackson include this recreated dorm room in the West Dormitory building.

Then there's the first room on the tour, where visitors are shown a film mapping out the site's history. Displayed in this room are such items as a diploma earned by an actual Centenary graduate, artifacts from an archaeological dig and Centenary baseball memorabilia.

"Yes, they had a baseball team, and they played LSU," Goyer said. "But they didn't win."

Each room is equipped with a fireplace topped by chimneys with bricks covered in red paint. The chimneys are examples of how all of the building's brick and mortar was once painted red.

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Guided tours at Centenary State Historic Site in Jackson include a recreated hospital room in the West Dormitory building representing a time when the structure was used as a Confederate hospital during the Civil War.

Back to the fireplace, Goyer walks to the wall flanking the one in the film room, where the plaster is preserved behind a sheet of Plexiglas. Graffiti in black ink covers the wall, most of it signatures of the students who stayed in the room.

"It was tradition for the students to write their names on the wall," Goyer said. "Every wall in every dorm room would be like this."

Students would continue the tradition after Centenary's 1866 reopening after the Civil War. The college also resumed its prewar preparatory program in which girls were allowed to enroll.

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Site Manager Daniel Goyer explains the workings of a device used to study static electricity in the reproduction classroom inside Centenary State Historic Site's West Dormitory building in Jackson.

The student body, itself, topped out at about 300 at one point, all of which eventually moved to Shreveport.

"There was a bell on campus that was used to call students to assemblies," Goyer said. "They took that with them when the school closed, and Centenary College in Shreveport still has it on display today."

Meanwhile, the buildings on the grounds went through a series of transformations, including use as low-income housing. The grounds belonged to a private owner at the time of the state's 1977 purchase.

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A photo of the Centenary College student body is on display in the West Dormitory building at Centenary State Historic Site in Jackson.

Though the grounds are unsupervised today, Goyer makes sure they are maintained and continue to tell the site's story. Planned events throughout the year supplement his efforts, and school groups are always requesting tours.

It's all about the "why," after all, the answer to which is an interesting piece of Louisiana history.      

Email Robin Miller at romiller@theadvocate.com