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Visiting the Town Hall at Avesnes-sur-Helpe, France: 18th century elegance; and an early link with Long Island, NY

Updated on February 13, 2013
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Avesnes-sur-Helpe Town Hall, Nord, France
Avesnes-sur-Helpe Town Hall, Nord, France | Source
Map location of Avesnes, Nord department, France
Map location of Avesnes, Nord department, France | Source

Sedately overlooking the Downtown area

This building is the Town Hall (Hôtel de ville ; or; Mairie ) at Avesnes-sur-Helpe, in France's Nord department; the town also gives its name to the administrative arrondissement in which it is situated.

While the practical centre of the town's municipal adminstration, it is a heritage building in its own right, as are many of France's town halls, and dates from 1757 and 1758.

Features include a Classical, stone frontage, and an ornate and conspicuous double stairway at the entrance to the building. Atop the clean lines of the frontage is mansard roofing, which extends well above the Classical pediment.

Associated with Avesnes-sur-Helpe is Jessé de Forest (1576-1624), who because of religious persecution against Protestants left his native town and eventually emigrated to the New World. Historically, the town is in the Hainaut region (1). Alert readers may recall that Hainaut is the name of a Belgian province, but, in history, the term referred to an area which also extended also into what is now part of northern France. Avesnes-sur-Helpe itself did not become definitively part of France until 1659, having previously been attached to the Spanish Netherlands, where the persecution of Protestants was rife. With his family, Jessé de Forest thus sailed from Vlissingen in 1622 for what was known as New Belgium (French: Nouvelle Belgique ), Vriginia. One of his sons, Henry, settled in Long Island, New York; through his daughter, Rachel, Jessé was to become an ancestor of the 20th century Roosevelt political family.

The Town Hall at Avesnes-sur-Helpe is situated at 13, place du Général Leclerc . My memory of this public square is of a very quiet locale, because of a relative absence of traffic in this small town, with this building continuing to overlook the square sedately as it has since the 18th century.

February 12, 2013


(1) The immediate area around the town is defined by a named derived from the town's name: Avesnois .

Also worth seeing

In Avesnes-sur-Helpe itself, the Collegiate church of Saint Nicholas (French: Eglise collégiale de Saint-Nicolas ) is a monumental structure dating partly from the 13th century; the former Palace of Justice (French: Palais de Justice ) is an imposing, Classical building; fortifications may be seen at the town, some of which, already existing from the 16th century, were strengthened by the military engineer Vauban in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Solre-le-Château (distance: 14 kilometres) has an interesting church building with a bulbous, leaning tower.

Sars-Poteries (distance: 5.4 kilometres) its ceramic tradition attracts many visitors.

Eau d'Heure Lake , Cerfontaine , Belgium (distance: 42 kilometres); this scenic lake is Belgium's largest.


How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. Brussels is the nearest large airport Avesnes-sur-Helpe (distance: 120 kilometres). Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada


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