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Title: The Great Days of the Garden District
       and the Old City of Lafayette

Author: Martha Ann Brett Samuel
        Joseph Raymond Samuel

Release Date: August 29, 2018 [EBook #57802]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8


Produced by Stephen Hutcheson and the Online Distributed
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The Great Days of the Garden District and the Old City of Lafayette


And the Old City of Lafayette

Martha Ann Brett Samuel
Ray Samuel

Published and Copyrighted 1961
Fifth Printing 1974

By the Parents’ League of the Louise S. McGehee School

Library of Congress Catalogue Card No. 61-18748


The city of Lafayette, during its 19 years of life, was proud and independent. Map shows its location and that of its “back” residential area, the Garden District. (Drawn by Gilbert Tasso.)



There has long been a need for the factual story of the old City of Lafayette and its fine residential area, the Garden District. What better opportunity to attempt to fill this need than to benefit the Louise S. McGehee School! This venerable institution now approaches its fiftieth year, a memorable half century of leadership in education.

Therefore, the Parents’ League of McGehee’s, as the school is affectionately known to three generations of students, considered it fitting to put its members to work on this project with a three-fold purpose: to memorialize the half century of growth of McGehee’s as it continues to expand its facilities to serve the community; to develop an extra source of income for the League’s contributions to the school; and to satisfy the continuous requests made by the hundreds of visitors who take the League-sponsored Garden District home tours.

The authors, who were asked to undertake the research and writing project, are gratefully indebted to many for their kind advice and consent. Old maps, documents, rare books and family records have been generously offered for examination. Illustrations have been lent from private and other collections. Patient understanding and careful correction of the manuscript were invaluable. We would like to thank particularly the following: Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Wilson, Jr., Mr. Cecil J. Murphy, Mr. Leonard V. Huber, The Waldo-Burton Memorial Home, Miss Margaret Ruckert, Mrs. Sue Bauman, Mr. Richard Koch, Mrs. William J. Griffith, Mrs. Dorothy Whittemore and others in the archives department of the Howard-Tilton Library of Tulane University, the Louisiana State Museum Library, the Notarial Archives, Mrs. Benjamin Cromwell Gore, Mrs. Robert Lee Emery, Jr., Miss Barbara Gessner, Miss Lily Gauche, Mr. Frank Boatner, Mrs. Keith Temple, Dr. Bernard Lemann, Mr. Albert Lieutaud, Mr. Harold Leisure, Mr. Carleton King, Mr. Errol E. Kelly, Mrs. John Prados, and Dr. Virgil L. Bedsole.

From the McGehee faculty and the Parents’ League inestimable assistance was received. Mrs. Edmund McIlhenny, Parents’ League President, and Miss Elise McGehee, Headmistress, were extremely generous with their time and counsel. Our thanks to Mrs. Andrew W. Dykers for reading the manuscript; Mrs. Leslie Bowling, who designed and executed the cover picture; Leon Trice, Jr., who took the majority of the interior photographs; Mrs. Bernard Wolfe, capable business manager of the project; and very special gratitude to Mrs. Dallam O’Brien, who designed the book, and to Mr. O’Brien for his help.

Particular appreciation is given, of course, to the present owners of the great houses selected for inclusion in this work, for their gracious permission and cooperation.



October, 1961


The Parents’ League of the Louise S. McGehee School acknowledges with appreciation the work of Mr. and Mrs. Ray Samuel in writing this book on the Garden District in New Orleans. We are indeed grateful to them for devoting their time and talent to this school project.


Italianate villa of James Robb, millionaire railroad man, was showplace of Garden District in the early 1850’s. It occupied entire block of Washington Avenue, Camp, Chestnut, and Sixth Streets. Rare works of art embellished its ornate rooms, landscaped gardens.



It was February 23, in the year 1852; the place, Lafayette City, the independent municipality on the Mississippi River, just above the thriving city of New Orleans. The hazy sun was turning a chilly morning into one of the unseasonably warm late winter afternoons typical of the semi-tropical climate. Throughout the spacious back residential section of Lafayette City, known as the Garden District, the azalea bushes were covered with swollen buds, ready to burst into their annual blaze of glory.

A morning rain had sent a tiny fresher gurgling along the deep, weed-lined gutters, carefully retained between street and banquette by stout “gunwales”, long planks from broken up flatboats. The neat herringbone pattern of the red brick banquettes was set off by the doily-like border of the white pickets fencing the fine mansion of John Layton on Jackson Street.

Tall jalousies guarded the front door of the Layton home. Suddenly they parted, and John Layton, Esquire, himself, walked out, followed by John, Junior, a lad of 12 years. Emerging from the darkened interior, they both squinted at the afternoon haze. Obviously, from their winter finery, hats and light topcoats, this was a more-important-than-usual sortie.

“There she comes, John, c’mon!” shouted Father, grabbing John by the arm and hustling him down the wooden stairs of the gallery, out the swinging gate and into the street to hail the passing omnibus mule car, bound in Jackson Street toward the lively commercial center of Lafayette City, near the river front.

Father physically scooped son aboard the double-decker omnibus “Governor Johnson”, the pride of Lafayette and product of its own Hart, Thomas and Company. It was crowded this day, top to bottom, and all passengers were dressed in unaccustomed finery.

“But, Father...,” panted young John, “... why are we ... where are we...?”

Both struggled into the packed lower section of the “Governor Johnson” and sandwiched into seats. Blowing hard, the elder Layton withdrew a large linen handkerchief and mopped his brow. In February! Then he answered his son.

“It is a day in history, lad. You’ll see. ’Tis a memory of it I want you to have. Whew!” It was close inside the “Governor Johnson”.

The rocky ride on the mule car compounded the effort of John Layton, Sr., to regain composure. Someone opened a window, but little breeze was generated by the four-mile-per-hour clop, clop, clop of the two scrawny mules. Father knew he still owed son an explanation.

“You see, my boy, we live—or have lived to this very day—in Lafayette City, a distinct and separate city of our own people, our own mayor, our own police, God bless ’em all. But this day, as I said, boy, is historic. The mayor and city fathers in their wisdom, have seen fit to join us to the city of New Orleans by law, as we have long been in fact. Nothing but an imaginary line on the downtown side of Felicity Road has divided us before. Now we will become one. You will see. 2 A wedding you will witness, a wedding of two cities.... ’Til death us do part.” Layton père was warming up to the occasion and rather enjoying the attention of the crowd which smiled benignly at his efforts.

By this time the mule car had come to a stop at Magazine Street where several people got on, further packing the omnibus until passengers were hanging on the stairs outside. As the car started up again, faint sounds of music, a brass band, were heard, coming from the center of the city’s activity.

“It’s a great day, isn’t it, Mr. Layton?” said a red-faced man from behind a well-starched collar, sitting next to them, “becoming the fourth district of New Orleans, and all that.”

“That it is, sir, now that we can be sure the new city government will treat us properly. That’s why we held off before, you know. They assume our indebtedness, $504,800, I believe, and we share in their expenses and in the McDonogh fund—all in proportion, as it should be. No one can complain now.”

As the omnibus crossed Laurel, young John glanced anxiously to the right, looking up the street between Jackson and Philip at the quiescent Lafayette Public School building, making sure there was really a holiday. No sign of life there relieved him immensely, for the Principal, Mr. Lewis Elkin, brooked no absentees without due cause, which usually meant near death.

The tired mules, knowing the end of the line and a well-earned rest were imminent, slowed to scant mobility, just as the “Governor Johnson” passed the Orphan Asylum buildings between Chippewa and Rousseau. Young John steeled himself for the standard lecture from Layton père on counting his blessings that he had loving parents, et cetera. Surprisingly, it didn’t come and then John realized that was because everybody was getting ready to disembark.

The mule car stopped at the Jackson Market. Here the street parted to pass on each side of the two-story, whitewashed building which extended almost across Rousseau Street. Passengers poured out of the omnibus, Laytons included, and all joined a large assemblage of noisy citizens, ready for a convivial occasion.

On Jackson, toward Levee Street, at their left, a big United States flag hung from the editorial offices of the Lafayette Statesman, where J. G. Fanning, its indomitable editor, was holding a sort of wake as his days as “official city printer” came to an end.

Asylum for Destitute Orphan Boys, established in 1824, occupied site on Jackson between Chippewa and Rousseau where hospital stands today.


Up Rousseau toward Philip, from where the Laytons stood, they could see banners and bunting swathed all over the Lafayette Courthouse, for the city still would have its court, that of the Fourth District, and would still be the seat of Jefferson Parish, too.

In the next block between Philip and Soraparu, a drab note was added by the still uncleared ruins of the burned out Lafayette Theater, directly across the street from the equally charred remains of Terpsichore Hall, both victims of the same night’s conflagration. John had mixed emotions about the loss of the hall. He had delighted at the antics of the remarkable General Tom Thumb there; but he had also paled before the saber tongue of Monsieur Pierre Clissey, dancing master who taught “the latest dances now in vogue, with special classes for children”. His father had attended a fete for General Zachary Taylor in Terpsichore Hall; so, despite M. Clissey, its memory still held certain charms for John’s young imagination. What he did remember vividly was the great fire in March, 1850. Everybody in Lafayette, it seemed, had rushed to the scene. The fire began in the Lafayette Theater and took the entire block with it. Sparks jumped across the street and claimed Terpsichore Hall and several houses next door. A boy doesn’t forget a sight like that!

The crowd now gravitated around the towering flagpole at the river end of Jackson Market. If there was any place the residents of Lafayette City instinctively considered the center of town, this spot was it, under the 135 foot high flagpole. Although one block from the courthouse, it represented the heart of Lafayette out of pure sentiment. Within the memories of almost everyone, the seat of the city fathers had been the rooms above the market stalls. To this day some citizens still maintained that new quarters for the Council should be found further out on Jackson, mainly because of the ... well ... civic pride prevented use of the word ... “smell”.

Even though most of the slaughter houses had been moved to Jefferson City landing, above Lafayette; and even though the breaking up of flatboats with their objectionable odors had several years before been relegated to comparatively secluded sections along the river, there still wafted in from the water’s edge certain disagreeable olfactory assaults. These seemed to be at their worst whenever the city council was in session, giving rise, among the jocular Irish and German senses of humor, to all sorts of unfortunate jokes concerning the odor of the particular politics under discussion.

The Southern Traveler, published by the Rust brothers, Richard and W. E., had moved into a new building just around the corner of Levee Street, and that, some people felt, might help to sweeten the atmosphere. They were in the process of giving this a fair chance when the amalgamation of Lafayette and New Orleans was proposed. So now, it appeared, the matter was moot.

Anyway, on this particular day, at this particular hour, the two Laytons’ attention was diverted by the arrival, from opposite directions, of two parades. One, headed by top-hatted horsemen, red bands across their chests, issued from lower Rousseau Street. The blasts of the familiar brass band were the unmistakable label of the merry Germans, who for this occasion were arm in arm with their neighbors of the Irish Channel section of Lafayette, the streets closest to the upper limit of New Orleans and nearest the river, Felicity, St. Mary, Adele and 4 Nuns. The German families congregated for excitement at the Lafayette Ballroom, St. Mary corner of Bellechasse. This day produced a delightful excuse for excitement at the Lafayette, not that an excuse was generally necessary. The merriment there was known to last as long as the poker game in the back room, which was eternal. William Toy, the blue-nosed editor of the City Advertiser and ardent temperance crusader, often thundered in print about these “sounds of revelry by night” and by morn, too.

The Lafayette was in contrast to the more sedate ballroom run by Mr. Jacob Kaiser, Josephine corner of Chippewa, across from the back of the Orphan Boys’ Home. This was more of a coffee house, where political meetings were held, and only on Saturday night did its hall echo loud and long. Early Sunday morning the good ladies of the Roman Catholic Church congregation barely had time to clean out the hall before early Mass. This was before St. Mary’s Church was built by the Redemptorists.

The other retinue, made up mostly of squeaky two-wheeled carts toting frosty barrels of conviviality for the celebration, snaked along Rousseau Street toward Jackson. This parade had no brass band, but it had collected more of a crowd than if it had. Mr. Kranz had thoughtfully supplied the refrigerant from his popular ice house on Soraparu, just off Rousseau, and the Lafayette Rum Distillery on Levee, between First and Second Streets, had provided the rest of the refreshments.

Young John Layton was taking all this in while trying to keep from being squeezed by the crowd. It was indeed another sight he’d never forget, even though all of it was not very clear to his tender understanding. He was much more interested in the Kaintucks from upriver with their long rifles and in the be-medalled guardsmen.

Then things began to happen. Mayor Francis Bouligny, his sash of office loosely tied around his corpulence, made his way through the crowd to a small wooden stand beneath the flag pole. He was followed by the other city officials: the treasurer, comptroller, city attorney, surveyor, harbormaster, commissary of streets, commissary of day police, captain of the night watch, tax collector and the 10 aldermen, all performing their last independent functions as officials of the city of Lafayette. Michel Musson, prominent Whig Party leader, was everywhere in evidence.

Traditionally, such an occasion would call for hours of oratory. But the skies were darkening early and a nippy breeze was stirring in from the river; so comparatively short work was made of it. Appropriate words were said over the city of Lafayette, its nineteen years of life, by members of the clergy. Mayor Bouligny read the ad of incorporation into the City of New Orleans as approved by the Louisiana Legislature and signed by Governor Joseph Walker. Lafayette City thereby ceased to exist. The fourth district of the City of New Orleans was now in business, and on with the drinks, boys!

From the levee bells clanged, signalling the departure of the Bostona, Magnolia and several other popular packets at the wharves across from the Bull’s Head, the lusty tavern at the cattle landing, foot of St. Mary Street. The two John Laytons, father and son, made their way toward the soda water establishment run by Mr. M. Michell on Jackson, near Levee, where a cup of hot chocolate, sweet and tasty, 5 would reward the youngster’s patience during the ceremony which he had but scarcely comprehended.

Michel Musson was prominent in Whig politics and served as New Orleans postmaster. He built fine mansion at Third and Plaquemine, now Coliseum. Edgar Degas was his nephew and visited Musson in the Garden District.

His father found friendly conversation inside the tiny shop, fragrant with aromas of vanilla bean and chocolate. As John blew on the steaming cup, he noticed his father chatting with a fine-looking gentleman who was followed by a liveried footman, hat in hand. Layton, Sr., called his son over.

“This is my son John, Mr. Robb. This is Mr. Robb, son.” James Robb! The name was magic to any youngster in Lafayette, especially those living in the garden section. This was the celebrated New Orleans millionaire who was, they said, going to build a real palace right in their own neighborhood. They had walked over to Washington Street one day to see the workmen clearing the space for it. It was to take up a whole square!

“Mr. Robb has kindly offered to drive us home in his carriage,” explained Layton, and the three proceeded out the door, followed by the footman who stepped nimbly ahead outside and lowered the step.

The conversation between the two men immediately jumped to a name familiar to the boy: Poultney. It was familiar because it was the subject of so much “grown-up” talk.

“I hope the Federal Supreme Court will now settle the matter once and for all time,” asserted Robb. “One’s sympathies may be with the Poultney heirs, but the magnitude of the property, so much of Lafayette City is involved, that one must consider the injustice of dispossessing the present owners who bought their small lots in good faith.”

Layton agreed, adding that should the decision be otherwise, a friend of his, Captain G. T. Beauregard, might realize a sum, as he was one of the heirs.

Mr. Robb directed his carriage out Jackson to the river, turning right at Levee Street with its Belgian block pavements, made of granite blocks dumped on the levee from foreign ships which brought them 6 as ballast. The river front as far as the boy could see was lined with flatboats, the ugly but extremely practical box-like floating storehouses, their “broadhorns” shipped and nestling so close to each other that one could walk for miles along their cabintops.

Flatboats lined riverfront in early days, awaiting sale of cargoes.

The flatboats were built to bring cargoes for sale at New Orleans, then the boats were broken up and sold as timber. The flatboat crews, a robust lot, went “on the town” while awaiting the sale of their cargoes, and before returning upriver for another cargo in another boat. John had been warned many times about becoming too friendly with the flatboatmen, although nobody ever recalled their being out of line with other than their own brood and the police.

The main problem the city government had with flatboatmen was keeping them from putting out signs and selling their cargoes “retail” in competition with legitimate Lafayette merchants.

The shiny black wheels of the elegant carriage skidded and creaked along the uneven stones, and John was glad when the driver finally turned right again and entered Washington Street. The conveyance ran relatively more smoothly now. Washington had been “paved” with flatboat gunwales laid very closely together. Just past Rousseau Street, Mr. Robb gave a sharp command and the carriage veered left, and “Oh, no,” thought young John, “It can’t be!”

But it was. The carriage pulled into the lane leading up to the most forbidding spot in Lafayette to the youngsters. This was known as the “Haunted House of Lafayette”, and no boy or girl, no matter how brave, no matter how dared, would approach it, especially in the late evening. That was when “things” happened!

And there they were, driving right up to it. Frightening, that’s what it was. Haunts and ghosts, and pirate treasures, and dead bodies!

Mr. Robb slowed the carriage by command, and he and John Layton, Sr., looked over the state of ill repair in which the once celebrated plantation house now stood.

“I can see no advantage to Madame Livaudais’ offer,” said Mr. Robb, breaking a silence that had helped terrify the young boy.

“Nor do I, Mr. Robb,” Layton replied, obviously taking up a conversation of an earlier period of which the boy had not been a part. He listened as Mr. Robb described the offer of Madame Livaudais to sell to the Lafayette Council, now the Fourth District Aldermen, the entire square of Washington, Sixth, Levee, Fulton, including the house, for $80,000, to serve as a Municipal Hall and market. Layton commented that, since the present location served the government’s need at $1,100 per year, and since a new market on Soraparu was under consideration, it would not be of interest.

John Layton Jr., had clasped the seat of the carriage so hard that 7 his knuckles were white, and as the carriage turned around and headed back toward Washington Street, he couldn’t even summon courage for a furtive glance back at the ruin to see if the reported red lights danced from the cracks in the crumbling and once proud home of the family de Livaudais.

The street lamps had been lit at each intersection as the fine pair pulled the carriage steadily out Washington.

Chippewa Street John knew because he loved to play in Clay Square between it, Second, Third and Annunciation Streets. The last street he had first known as Jersey. Laurel Street, where the heavy doors and the iron bars of the jail, just a block from his school, served as a reminder to the little boys to stay in line. Constance Street, first known to him as Live Oak, was familiar as the location of Holy Trinity Church, corner of Second, where his family worshipped. The new church on Jackson was not yet ready.

Magazine Street was next, and this held special charm for him because on Washington, from Magazine to Camp, Live Oak Square formed a vast, tree-shaded playground where he and his young friends staged many a mock battle, refighting the famous engagement at Chalmette, as told to them by some of the veterans themselves, men who had known Jackson, Lafitte and Dominique You in the flesh! Often the boys surrendered the wonderful grounds to real soldiers who encamped there and had military drills; sometimes, to wagon-loads of picnickers of a Sunday. The moss-draped oaks indeed beckoned to him even in the twilight and seemed to whisper, “We’ll be waiting.”

And in the next block they saw the rough foundation outlines of Mr. Robb’s house, an Italian villa he said it would be. The granite foundation stones being hewn, the stacks of the finest cypress and imported mahogany, the piles of red bricks made of the best lake sand—no ordinary house was abuilding here!

Mr. Robb slowed his carriage, but as it was too dark to make out much, they sped onward, turning right at Chestnut Street for the final lap back home to Jackson.

“What a day this has been in the life of the former city of Lafayette,” thought John Layton, Sr. “I wonder,” he mused that night at home, “if the boy really grasped the impact? Maybe I’d better....”

It was too late for that night. John, Jr., had long before gone to sleep.

Old drawing in Archives of building at Third and Levee, probably a tavern. Lamp at corner was typical of those throughout Lafayette.



The foregoing is meant to provide a setting for the information to follow. The scene described is not based on an actual occurrence, although it is entirely probable, and factually correct as to dates, places and people except for the Laytons. “Any resemblance is entirely coincidental,” as the usual disclaimer says. The merger of Lafayette City and New Orleans did take place under the circumstances described, although no such public event was recorded in the newspapers. This mise en scène has been contrived merely to serve as a vehicle for revealing the surroundings and events of the period, since the essence, the individuality, the physical characteristics of old Lafayette City are so important to the full understanding and appreciation of the present Garden District and its great houses.

It is equally important to go back one more step to learn how Lafayette City came to be; and it is highly interesting to anyone with the slightest historical inquisitiveness. For the area which was Lafayette City, some four miles removed from what is considered the “historical section” of New Orleans, the Vieux Carré, is still closely interwoven with the original colony’s basic story line.

Louisiana was first seen through European eyes by the Spanish conquistadores of De Soto’s expedition in 1540. The Spanish did nothing to make use of the vast territory they first claimed. Almost 150 years passed before the white man again cast an interested glance in this direction. This was the period of French exploration in the 1650’s, when Canadians began to look south from the Great Lakes and wonder if all were true that the Indians told them about the great river to the south which led to the sea through a land of wealth and plenty. This increased curiosity resulted in the famous La Salle expeditions and the claiming of the entire central area of the United States for France in 1684. Still, no colonial interest was aroused. It took the threat of war and the encroachment of English colonies from the East and Spanish from the West to make the French take Louisiana seriously as a possible source of wealth for the throne.

To secure the colony from attack, forts were built in Canada and on the Great Lakes. The distinguished French-Canadian naval officer, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, hero of Hudson’s Bay and other battles with the English, was sent to install a colony on the Gulf Coast and to build bastions to guard the great river.

The first Colony in Louisiana was founded at Ocean Springs, Miss., near Biloxi, in 1699, by Iberville. It wasn’t until 1718 that another Le Moyne, the Sieur de Bienville, succeeded his brother and persuaded the French authorities to move the capital of the colony to a site on the Mississippi River. Not until 1722 did the capital finally move to New Orleans, to the area we now know as the Vieux Carré, the old quarter.

After the founding of the city of La Nouvelle Orléans, a fine example of foresight was shown by Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de 9 Bienville, governor of the colony. He wisely realized that the land surrounding the young city would become valuable, and according to the custom, he asked for a grant of land from the Company of the Indies, the agency which operated the colony for the King. He asked for “the concession of a tract situated above and at the limits of New Orleans, facing the Mississippi River, and in depth running West quarter North West to the Mississippi, in the bend above the Chapitoulas....” This would include an area roughly from Bienville street in the Vieux Carré, up the river beyond Carrollton to Nine Mile Point, and back from the river to the undrained swamps where Claiborne Avenue is today.

Hardly had he been given possession of his land than Bienville received a further ruling that a governor could not receive concessions of property except for “vegetable gardens”. Bienville, therefore, caused the first section of his land from just above Bienville Street, to the lower limit of what was later Lafayette City to be known as his “vegetable garden”. On the rest he settled German families in small farms or plantations.

Some of these immigrant farmers were successful, but most succumbed to the floods and the fevers. Others departed for healthier sections of Louisiana. In 1728 the ax fell again on Bienville’s right to hold property, and it was not until 1737, according to the best evidence, that he succeeded in having his original claim, or what was left of it, sustained. By that time, many parts of his original plantation had been sold to new owners, some even having been sold by Bienville himself. These tracts became proud plantations with lovely homes fronting the river and extensive indigo, and later, sugar cane, fields running far to the rear.

Five of these baronies were those of d’Hauterive, Broutin, Darby, Carrière, and Livaudais, roughly situated between what was known as Felicity Road and almost to Grand Route Wiltz (Louisiana Avenue).

These five plantations, called Faubourgs by the old French people, gradually became consolidated into three small communities fronting on the river, with residences built on lots into which the earlier farm lands had been divided. The communities were called Nuns, Lafayette and Livaudais. Then in 1833 these three communities joined forces to become the city of Lafayette and were so incorporated by an act of the state legislature.

Eleven years later, Lafayette annexed a small settlement on its upper boundary, the Faubourg de Lassaiz, which extended the city to what is now Toledano Street. Further expansion was blocked still later when the citizens of the next upper community, Faubourg Plaisance, voted very definitely not to unite with Lafayette City.

Although the municipal personality called Lafayette City has disappeared, the way of life it launched within the framework of greater New Orleans will remain as long as there is a New Orleans. There was the gay, industrious, hard-working, but pleasure-loving commercial part of old Lafayette; and the spacious, gracious section of the great homes, the ante-bellum and post-bellum houses of the area known as the Garden District.

Why did the uppermost plantation of those which formed Lafayette City become so desirable as a district of imposing and elaborate residences?


Contemporary sketch of Mme. Livaudais’ house set in lovely garden. Plantation home was never completed. Ruins were removed in 1863.

In the year 1816, the river crevassed at the Macarty plantation, several miles upriver from the Livaudais property, and its waters inundated most of the large holdings down to New Orleans. Among them was the great plantation of Jacques François Esnould Dugué de Livaudais, whose father and grandfather had been large landowners.

François de Livaudais had married just about the best catch any man could aspire to: Célèste, the daughter of Philippe de Marigny, the wealthiest man in Louisiana and perhaps one of the wealthiest men in all America. The marriage represented the union of two vast fortunes, and the couple began construction of the castellated, lavish plantation home on their country domain.

Perhaps the floodwaters dampened their ardor for a castle on the Mississippi to rival those of their ancestors in France. Perhaps it was something else. In 1825 the Livaudais were separated. In the settlement, Madame Livaudais received the plantation among other properties and funds. She moved to Paris, where as La Marquise de Livaudais she cut a wide swath, being among King Louis Philippe’s inner circle. Through her New Orleans attorneys she sold her plantation to a group of real estate entrepreneurs for $500,000. They engaged the eminent surveyor, Benjamin Buisson, formerly an engineer of Napoleon’s army, to lay out the plantation into streets and lots.

Thus from just below First Street to just above Ninth Street (now Harmony) and from the river back to St. George Street (now La Salle) this expanse of property, the original Faubourg Livaudais, was divided into squares and placed on the market, with one exception. Madame Livaudais retained the tract with her house on it, including her garden.

This is why the blocks between Washington Avenue and Sixth Street from the river to La Salle Street are wider than the other blocks. They follow the width of Mme. Livaudais’ house and grounds.

The house itself was never completed. For brief periods, members of the Livaudais family appear to have lived in the habitable portions. It was once used as a public ballroom, though which sections of it were adaptable for that purpose have never been specified. Itinerant wayfarers settled within its shambles as years passed. In 1861 it was briefly converted into a plaster factory when that commodity became scarce because of the Federal blockade. Two destitute, frail old crones next made it their home. These female hermits, it was said, refused all offerings of food or money. Little wonder that the ruin became “The Haunted House of Lafayette”, until it was finally torn down in 1863.

The Livaudais plantation became a valuable part of Lafayette City at its incorporation with the Faubourgs of Nuns and Lafayette in 1833. 11 It supplied, besides more river frontage, fine residential sites, covered with the rich silt from the Macarty crevasse. It would indeed grow anything, but particularly, flowers in profusion.

Omnibus line using double-decker vehicles was the first means of transportation between New Orleans, Lafayette, via Tchoupitoulas.

The fragrance and the variety of floral abundance evoked the paeans of poet and author. It was natural that some of the wealthy “American” families and later even a few Creoles should seek these new sites for their great homes. An omnibus from New Orleans ran regularly out Tchoupitoulas. The New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad, chartered by the same session of the legislature which incorporated Lafayette, began regular service from the heart of the growing business and financial section in New Orleans proper up Nayades Street (now St. Charles Avenue) right through this verdant section on its way upriver to the town of Carrollton.

In 1834 a spur route turned off Nayades and came out Jackson Street to the river, along Lafayette City’s most elegant thoroughfare. The wealthy citizens of New Orleans and the successful merchants of Lafayette City began to spread out in the section which quickly became known as the Garden District. Although many fine homes were built on the outer fringes of the quadrangle formed by Jackson and Louisiana Avenues and Magazine Street and St. Charles Avenue, it is generally agreed today that the Garden District lies within these boundaries. However, in the 1850’s the term was not so strictly applied and Josephine and Apollo (Carondelet) Streets were included.

First steam train of New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad on Nayades, now St. Charles Avenue, gave access to Garden District.

The operator of this mule car branch railroad which first served Lafayette City crosstown was the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad Company. In July, 1834, it was franchised to construct a “single railway commencing from the intersection of Jackson and Nayades Streets into said city running through Jackson to the site of the projected market house, thence branching around said market house and running to the river Mississippi.” The rate of travel could not, by law, exceed four 12 miles per hour.

Quaint old picture from Stanton home on Jackson Avenue, with mule car going past Trinity Church towards St. Charles Avenue. Jackson has always been one of Garden District’s elegant streets.

Historically, the Lafayette river front had long been the scene of commerce. The succession of Spanish governors, who took over the colony after 1763, failed to enforce the strict embargo against any but Spanish vessels trading with New Orleans merchants. The British, under the pretext of sailing their commercial vessels up the Mississippi past New Orleans to their own colonies at Manchac, Baton Rouge and Natchez, would tie up above New Orleans in the future Lafayette area, and carry on a heavy trade in merchandise and slaves with the businessmen and planters in and around the city. Directly across the river from the site of Lafayette, in what is now Gretna, the audacious British maintained two floating warehouses and even “built a warehouse on land to facilitate the passage of the floating warehouses of their vessels” according to a contemporary report.

We can visualize the busy river front at this point on the east bank, with merchants plying back and forth in skiffs, and larger batteaux bringing loads of the high quality English goods, including cloth, cutlery, farming utensils—and slaves. New Orleans businessmen who dared not indulge in this illicit trade protested to the Spanish authorities who continued to wink at the British until the American revolution made anti-British sympathies fashionable. Then Bernardo Galvez, the Spanish governor, on April 17, 1777, seized the English boats and warehouses, and the illegal trade stopped. But it is safe to assume that the commercial identity of what became Lafayette’s riverfront persisted, perhaps even its later competition with New Orleans having begun in that early illicit trade.

The good business prospects in Lafayette caused men to say that the city might possibly “capture” New Orleans some day. The Texas cattle trails ended their long treks over the prairies at Gretna. Cattle boats brought the Stock across the river to the slaughter houses with special landings for the pounding, snorting beasts, skittering down the gangplanks into the pens, as if entirely cognizant that the end of the trail had come now for certain.

If one could stand the smell, it was a curious and exciting vista watching the steamboats unload cattle at Lafayette. Satellite industries lined the river front, the tallow renderers, the soap-boilers, the hide merchants, the tanners, the disposers of unused parts, and the bone 13 grinders, whose odoriferous products made tasty vegetables and sweet sugar cane grow, paradoxical as that seemed.

King Cotton considered the wharves at Lafayette one of his royal ports. The puffing, graceful white swans of the Mississippi began to nudge the rows of flatboats from the river front. In the Forties the city council decreed exclusive facilities between First and Second Streets for steamboats, with inclined landing areas. The city supplied heavy, thick planks, bound on each end with iron bands and proudly branded “L”, for the use of the steamboats calling at its wharves. By 1850 twenty piers had been constructed to accommodate the packets.

The “breadbasket” of the upper valley dumped its cargoes at Lafayette wharves also. The first grain elevator on the lower river was built at the foot of Harmony Street. Flour was an important commodity, with busy factors waiting to trade as the clumsy broadhorns, floating on the current, edged into their moorings. So crowded were the flatboat moorings—above Second Street—that flatboat captains received a $10 fine for not immediately removing the large steering oars on each side. Twenty-four hours was the time limit for unloading.

At first, 80-foot sections of the river front had been set aside for the flatboats, once delivered of their cargoes, to be broken up. But this became a nuisance, and by 1845, it was forbidden along the entire Lafayette river front.

There was always a ready market for the timbers from broken up flatboats, or “gunwales”, as the long, heavy fore-and-aft planks were called. Many of the early houses were built of these excellent, weathered timbers from the virgin forests of the upper valley. Most of the streets of Lafayette, until after the mid-nineteenth century, were “paved” with them, as were the sidewalks, or “banquettes”. The long boards would not disappear so quickly into the mud, as would rocks and bricks. Numerous cottages remaining in various sections of New Orleans near the river are built of these sturdy, enduring timbers.

Lafayette City was a complete entity in every respect, with the exception of a bank. There was a branch of the Carrollton Bank to serve its citizens, at the corner of Jackson and Levee, but it was not their own. No doubt a Bank of Lafayette was high on the list of these enterprising citizens, when annexation took place.

Row of buildings at Seventh and Laurel in 1866. Second from right is tannery. Note bridges over deep gutters. Some are still in use.

James H. Caldwell, the theatrical impresario, entrepreneur, the man most responsible for the development of the “American” section, the former Faubourg Ste. Marie, left his enterprising mark on Lafayette. In 1847, the City Council granted him the sole right of vending gas 14 lighting under the name of the Lafayette Gas Light Company. He could lay pipes and conduits at the company’s expense in the city streets. For the privilege, the company had to supply gas to public lamps throughout the city as well as in public buildings at special rates. The first home reported to have gas illumination was that of Mr. E. S. Miles on Nayades (St. Charles) between Sixth and Seventh.

This unique building housed the Sixth Precinct on Rousseau near Jackson, on site of earlier Jefferson Parish courthouse and prison. Egyptian style building still stands, now serves as city sign shop.

Lafayette was the scene of a celebrated legal case involving large and valuable sections of the city, second in local court annals only to the Gaines litigation. The original name of the faubourg which later became known as Lafayette was Faubourg Panis, after its owner, the Widow Panis. She first had this property subdivided into lots and streets. Her daughter Mme. Rousseau, a widow, inherited the faubourg. In 1818 she sold the remaining property for $100,000 to John Poultney, who died before he could pay for it. His creditors, who had advanced him part of the money to make the purchase, paid the notes and proceeded to sell lots in honest belief of clear title. Poultney’s wife, on behalf of herself and her minor children, had renounced their rights to the property. The name of the faubourg was changed at that time to Lafayette, in honor of the French patriot who had visited New Orleans.

Later the Poultney heirs claimed that their tender age and legal incapacity prevented them from accepting the property at the time of the succession. The suit was instigated in 1832 and rambled through the courts until 1855 when the United States Supreme Court upheld the Louisiana tribunal against the plaintiffs. Interestingly, one of the disappointed claimants was the then Major G. T. Beauregard, engineer in charge of construction of the New Orleans Customhouse. Mrs. John Poultney had been Emilie Toutant-Beauregard.

The city was not without its theatrical attractions. The only actual theater built for stage presentations was the Lafayette on Rousseau between Philip and Soraparu Streets. It was in the center of the block, on the lake side, directly across from Terpsichore Hall, the favorite salle à danser. The theater opened in late December, 1848, and according to the Statesman, “has already increased property values near it.” It 15 had 100 feet of depth, was 55 feet wide, 40 feet high, and its stage was 35 feet deep, said the newspaper account. Sol Smith, one of the pioneer actors who penetrated the “frontier” communities from the East, along with Noah Ludlow and his troupe, played the Lafayette and left this comment, dated February, 1849:

“A theater in Lafayette, a suburb of New Orleans, was opened under the management of Mr. Oliver this season. The prevalence of the cholera blighted any prospects there might have been of success. This company was composed principally of new beginners and their salaries were paid in various commodities, such as the manager stipulated to receive of the citizens for tickets. It was a stipulation in each article of agreement (so the manager told me) that every actor should take a portion of his salary in coffins, should he need any!—that is to say, if he should die during the season, he should be buried on account; the style of coffin, number of carriages, and so forth, to be regulated by the amount due at the time of his demise.

“I had a fellow feeling for this manager, and when he asked me to act one night for him, assuring me that I could fill the house at double prices, I could not refuse him, though I doubted very much whether my acting would add anything to his receipts. Manager Oliver was right, however, and I had the pleasure of playing the Mock Duke in the Honey Moon to one of the most crowded audiences I have ever acted to. Of course, under the circumstances, I would take no pay for my night’s services, though the grateful manager offered me a clear half of the receipts.

“The season failed totally, the manager left for parts unknown and next season, after a vain attempt by one Hickey to resuscitate the drama by presenting some horrible representations (or misrepresentations rather) of Yankee character, the theater took fire one day and was burned to the ground. Lafayette is too near New Orleans to give an efficient support to the theater.”

The earliest homes in Lafayette naturally were built on streets closest to the river. As early as 1842, the crusty editor of the Daily Picayune in New Orleans was rhapsodic over the beautiful cottages in Lafayette City with their handsome architecture and lovely gardens. The Lafayette Spectator, by 1850, was equally enthusiastic. “The City of Lafayette”, wrote John McMillin, “at no previous time could boast of so many valuable buildings in progress as at present. Styles, finishes and materials being so vastly improved.” The cottages were becoming mansions at this point, getting away from the flatboat gunwales.

“Such is the demand for lots,” continued McMillin, “in the back part of the city that they are selling for nearly double the price of those three or four squares from the river. Lots on or near the railroad (St. Charles Avenue) sell for $1,800. Those on Jersey (Annunciation), $800 or $900. Cheapest lots are on Jersey and Laurel Streets.

“To become independent here,” he advised, “it is necessary to purchase a few lots only, at a low rate and keep them a few years when the fortunate owner finds himself well off in the world. We believe for the next five years real estate will increase 20% per year.”

In 1852, Lafayette City counted a population of 12,651 with 1,539 slaves added. This was short of the anticipated total because the city had just come through a particularly devastating yellow fever epidemic in which some 2,000 souls had been lost. One journalist felt that the 16 census takers had not been thorough in their tally.

The city burial grounds, the Lafayette Cemetery on Washington between Coliseum and Prytania, laid out in 1833, was hard put to find space for the bodies. Apparently most of the deceased were part of the huge drifting population, newly arrived immigrants, the flatboatmen and others, for only 389 citizens of Lafayette could be accounted for by the census taker among those buried in the cemetery.

The prospects of the Garden District of Lafayette were also favorably mentioned by the editor of the Spectator, a Whig newspaper published there during the mid-century era:

“It is already the seat of fashionable residences. The property in the rear of the district has been greatly sought by merchants and bankers and professional men. Little or none has been held for speculation. It will maintain its value.”

The appearance of the Greek Revival mansions now rising from the vicinity of Nayades and in toward Magazine supported the claim that at this time, New Orleans had more per capita wealth than New York.

It appears from the best sources that the first house of consequence to be built in what is now the Garden District proper was that of Thomas Toby in 1838. He came from Philadelphia, and his father’s ships brought some of the materials for the house from his native city. This house is still standing at Prytania and First Streets. Others who built in the same general neighborhood in the following decade were F. B., T. B., and Charles Conrad, P. N. Wood, Judge R. F. Ogden, Captain Thomas Ivey, and Charles Briggs. The Fifties saw the greatest activity of construction of the great houses of the Garden District.

This section, peopled as it was chiefly by those who conducted their businesses in New Orleans, but who enjoyed the shaded gardens for their residences, rapidly developed a life apart from the teeming waterfront of Lafayette City. Inevitably a rivalry began. The catalyst was the constant annoyance of pounding hooves and the odors of the slaughterhouses and tanneries. Eventually, the early residents of the Garden District were instrumental in getting the Lafayette City Council to pass restrictive measures which removed the cattle landing. The important commerce of this trade moved upriver to the neighboring town of Jefferson, which caused the fiery editor of the Spectator, the outspoken champion of the city’s growth, to howl from his columns that the city had lost a million and a half dollars in trade a year by this act.

He belabored particularly the aldermen from the “rear of the city” who “turned up the whites of their eyes and stopped their delicate noses as they passed by with their white gloves on and exclaimed, ‘What a nuisance!’”

Tomb of members of Jefferson Fire Company No. 22 in Lafayette Cemetery. “Ready at the First Sound” was motto. Relief shows 1832 engine.

Despite these earmarks of a brewing donnybrook, one couldn’t 17 exactly blame the owners of the fine gardens for objecting to “the great numbers of horses and mules running at large, particularly at night, occupying the sidewalks to the danger of the passers-by and racing up and down streets, disturbing the rest of the families.” Not only horses and mules, but goats, too! “If a gate is left open for a minute, choice rose bushes suffer and the rare plants of the most careful training are ruined. Our feed stores are compelled to keep an extra clerk to protect the corn sacks and bales of hay from these bold plunderers.” At least there was a law passed in 1841 which prohibited the keeping of bears in Lafayette City.

One of Garden District’s great houses was the Stauffer mansion on Jackson, corner of Prytania, shown in Archives drawing dated 1870.

In the early days of Lafayette and the Garden District, “the war” referred only to the very real and fresh memories of Jackson’s battle with the British at Chalmette hardly twenty years previously. In the Forties, it referred to the War with Mexico, in which many Lafayette citizens took part. Troops were encamped and trained on some of the vacant lots. The Rev. Jerome Twichell held Presbyterian services for them, and a government warehouse near the river on Washington dispensed supplies to troops coming down the Mississippi for Mexican service.

Then, in 1861, “the war” took on a present and terrifying meaning. Although no actual fighting was reported in or around the Garden District, the coming and going of troops, the warships passing on the river, the shortages because of the blockade, the restrictions of the occupation, the loss of sons, brothers, husbands and fathers, the surrender of proud homes for quartering of Union officers—these and other tangible evidences left deep scars.

Perhaps the Garden District’s most distinguished and colorful figure to wear the gray uniform was Bishop Leonidas Polk, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana and rector of Trinity Church. A West Point graduate, he answered the call to the priesthood in 1831. When war came, after repeated urgings from his former West Point classmate, Jefferson Davis, he “buckled the sword over the gown”, as he phrased it, and accepted a commission as major general. In June, 1864, while he was reconnoitering near Etowah, Ga., this gallant figure was stilled by a cannon ball, leaving memories at Trinity which persist to this day.

After the war two other prominent figures in the Confederacy were closely associated with the Garden District. Jefferson Davis often 18 visited his friend Judge Charles Fenner and died in the Fenner house on the corner of First and Camp Streets. General John B. Hood, “The Gallant Hood”, had his family home on the corner of Third and Camp.

Bishop Leonidas Polk of Trinity Church became Confederate general.

Calvary Episcopal Church’s resolute minister, the Rev. John Fulton, was one of the three Episcopal ministers who defied General Benjamin “Silver Spoons” Butler. In morning prayer this trio omitted the prayer for the President of the United States and all in civil authority. They instead invited their congregations to join in silent prayer. This enraged Butler, and after several verbal altercations with them, he exiled the group to a New York prison.

Butler quartered officers in several Garden District houses, including that of General Wirt Adams on Chestnut and Josephine, now owned by Trinity Church and called Copeland House. For his own use Butler cast his covetous eye on the fabulous Washington Avenue “Italian villa” built by James Robb and later owned and occupied by John Burnside, wealthy merchant and planter. It is told that Butler and his retinue approached the front door, to be met by Burnside. The Union general not only was refused use of the house but was not even admitted. And the refusal stuck. The reason: Burnside was a British citizen. So Butler took the lovely home of Confederate (late U.S.A.) General David E. Twiggs, on Camp near Calliope Street, which still stands today as St. Theresa’s school.

The homes of the elite attracted their share of celebrities to the hospitable, high-ceilinged drawing rooms and parlors, and to the dining tables so immaculately set and served with viands to please a nabob. Culture, travel and education were hallmarks of most of the inhabitants of the great houses. Delightful, spirited discussions on a wide variety of subjects kept visiting authors, poets, artists and correspondents for the eastern magazines enthralled.


House erected in 1860, said to have been built by James Robb for his daughter, at corner Washington, Camp.

House as it appears today, with galleries, ironwork added in 1870’s.

Strangely, these distinguished writers and authors went back to their offices in the East and proceeded to turn out bales of copy about New Orleans but with only side references to the Garden District. Passing mention was made of the luxury and beauty of the homes of this area, but the French Quarter was the subject of all the sketches and engraved illustrations. Rare is the surviving sketch, tintype or glass plate photo of amateur or professional.

Yet the district captivated the earliest of many visitors who put their sentiments down for posterity. The Rev. Theodore Clapp, beloved parson of the mid-nineteenth century, wrote of his arrival in 1822, before Lafayette was so named:

“On a beautiful morning near the close of February we were landed at Lafayette where the boat stopped to discharge a part of her cargo, about three miles above New Orleans. The passengers, impatient of delay, concluded to walk to the city. Leaving the levee, we took a circuitous route through unenclosed fields, which a few years before had belonged to a large sugar plantation. They were adorned with a carpet of green grass, where herds and flocks grazed in common. Here and there we passed a farm house in the midst of gardens, luxuriant shrubbery and orange groves.... The air was cool, inspiring and scented with the flowers of early spring. The music of the thrush and various other species of singing birds, saluted our ears with their sweetest notes. All things, so far as our eyes could reach, seemed like a paradise. These suburbs, then so radiant with rural charms, are now the site of a large portion of the buildings belonging to New Orleans.”

Walt Whitman, a writer for the New Orleans Crescent in 1848, 20 living on Washington Street near the river and travelling to and from his desk in New Orleans by omnibus, must have been impressed by the large live oak trees in Lafayette City. In a later edition of “Leaves of Grass”, he refers to the live oak as “rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself.”

Commenting on the ways one kept cool in summer, Julian Ralph, in Dixie, or Southern Scenes and Sketches, related:

“... when I rode through the Garden District—the new part of the town—my lady friends pointed to the galleries and said: ‘You should see them in the summer, before the people leave or after they come back. The entire population is out-of-doors in the air, and the galleries are loaded with women in soft colors, mainly white. They have white dresses by the dozen. They go about without their hats, in carriages and in street cars, visiting up and down the streets. In-doors, one must spend one’s whole time and energy in vibrating a fan.’”

Writing of the Garden District, Mark Twain said: “All the dwellings are of wood ... and all have a comfortable look. Those in the wealthy quarter are spacious; painted snowy white, usually, and generally have wide verandas, or double-verandas, supported by ornamental columns. These mansions stand in the center of large grounds and rise, garlanded with roses, out of the midst of swelling masses of shining green foliage and many-colored blossoms. No houses could well be in better harmony with their surroundings, or more pleasing to the eye, or more home-like and comfortable-looking....”

“The galleries are loaded with women in soft colors, mainly white.”

George Washington Cable, who is credited with introducing the French Quarter’s charms to the world, was born on Annunciation Square, just below Lafayette City and later grew up and spent many years in various homes in the Garden District. Cable was internationally celebrated in his day for his Creole stories. His house on Eighth Street, between Chestnut and Coliseum, still standing today, was a mecca for visiting authors. Public education had its start in Lafayette City shortly before it was started in New Orleans. However, Cable gives a delightful glimpse of the wild carefree youngsters of Lafayette in the 1830’s before 21 the free educational institutions were established:

Mark Twain and George W. Cable posed for this picture during a lecture tour. Twain wrote of evening at Cable’s Eighth Street home.

“... The mass of educable youth—the children who played ‘oats, peas, beans’ with French, German and Irish accents, about the countless sidewalk doorsteps of a city of one and two-story cottages (it was almost such); the girls who carried their little brothers and sisters on one elbow and hip and stared in at weddings and funerals; the boys whose kite-flying and games were full of terms and outcries in mongrel French, and who abandoned everything at the wild clangor of bells and ran to fires where volunteer firemen dropped the hose and wounded and killed each other in pitched battles; the ill-kept lads who risked their lives daily five months of the year swimming in the yellow whirlpools of the Mississippi among the wharves and flat-boats, who, naked and dripping, dodged the dignified police that stalked them among the cotton bales, who robbed mocking-birds’ nests and orange and fig trees, and trapped nonpareils and cardinals, orchard-orioles and indigo-birds in the gardens of Lafayette and the suburban fields—these had not been reached and had not been sought by the educator.”

Visualize Twain, Cable and Charles Dudley Warner of Harper’s Magazine at Cable’s Eighth Street home. Add Lafcadio Hearn and Joel Chandler Harris for very good measure. You have the principals of a scene which actually took place, well documented by Cable’s children who were also present as youngsters, and described delightfully by Mark Twain in Life on the Mississippi. Briefly, Twain, Warner and Hearn had come to join the host in welcoming the famous “Uncle 22 Remus”. A literary evening ensued, but to the dismay of the children, not only was “Uncle Remus” white, but he didn’t talk the dialect of which he was the undisputed master. Harris was so very shy that Twain read the “Tar Baby” for him to assuage the feelings of the disappointed youngsters. Then the authors read from their own works; Cable played his guitar and sang his celebrated Creole songs. Twain’s amusing passage describing the scene has an equally humorous sketch showing himself reading while the others are sound asleep.

Lovely raised cottage on Eighth Street was Cable’s home, scene of many literary gatherings during late 19th century in New Orleans.

Great sports figures knew the Garden District. The Southern Athletic Club, at Washington Avenue and Prytania Street, now Behrman Gymnasium, was a center of athletic endeavor for the elite of the area, and its volunteer military units had headquarters there. Among the sports luminaries who used its facilities was the great Jake Kilrain. He trained there in 1889 for his bout with John L. Sullivan at Richburg, Miss. In 1892 “Gentleman Jim” Corbett trained there for his celebrated fight with Sullivan at the Olympic Club, and to the Southern he returned triumphant for a victory celebration. The S.A.C. had New Orleans’ first Turkish bath. In 1878, the Lawn Tennis Club had the city’s first tennis court at Jackson Avenue and Prytania.

The most discussed showplace in an area of palatial homes was the Renaissance-inspired house of James Robb on Washington Street, now Avenue. His dream house deserved all the adjectives lavished upon it. The one-story brick and plaster mansion was surrounded by gardens rivalling those of Europe’s royal estates. He brought over a German gardener to design and maintain them. Statuary by European and American masters embellished the grounds.

Some contemporary observers found the severe classical exterior a bit plain, but inside there was a lavishness of detail which made even these carpers wax enthusiastic. The house contained frescoes by the celebrated Dominique Canova, priceless European pictures, furniture, rugs and objects. The most famous art work was probably Hiram Powers’s Greek Slave, the daring marble beauty which had shocked New York. Robb allowed it to be exhibited in several cities before bringing it to his home. Everywhere it aroused controversy. Today it is in Washington’s Corcoran Gallery of Art.


Robb, millionaire businessman, president of the first trunk line railroad to New Orleans, the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern (later part of the Illinois Central) lost his fortune and in 1860 the great house which had been dubbed “Robb’s Folly” was acquired by another millionaire, John Burnside. Under his ownership the beauties of the dwelling were preserved. The noted octagonal room, decorated in the Pompeian fashion, with its arrangement of mirrors which reflected the scene ad infinitum, continued to excite admiration.

In 1890, Mrs. Josephine Newcomb purchased the three-acre square and its buildings for the girls’ college which she had endowed some years before. In converting it into a school, great care was taken to preserve the architectural beauty. When Newcomb College moved to its present campus in 1918, the old campus was acquired by the Baptist Bible Institute, later the Baptist Theological Seminary. They used the site until 1955, when they, too, moved to larger quarters. The Baptists extended Conery Street through the square, divided the property into lots, and sold them. Fine new homes have arisen there.

The people of Lafayette were notably deep in their religious faiths and in love for their fellow men. This is shown by their early church organizations, by their solicitation for the welfare of the indigent and the orphans of the immigrants devastated by cholera and yellow fever epidemics, and by their inauguration of public education, lyceum programs and a library.

It is interesting to note that, with the background of Germans and Irish, it was a Protestant church which first was erected for a Lafayette City congregation. In a building on St. Mary Street, near Fulton (now St. Thomas), as early as 1831 the Methodists were meeting. Some 10 years later the same denomination built a new church on Magazine Street out of flatboat gunwales, and this was known for years as the “Flatboat Church”. Later it became identified with a young pastor, Elijah Steele, who had died of yellow fever. As Steele’s Chapel it united with the St. Mary Street Church and the Andrew Chapel, which had been built on Dryades and Felicity in 1835, to form the Felicity Methodist Church.

Although a parish was chartered for Lafayette Roman Catholics in 1836, they had no church and no priest until 1843. That year Father Peter Chakert, of the Redemptorist order, gathered the faithful in Kaiser’s Hall on Chippewa and Josephine Streets for masses on Sunday morning after the past evening’s dance had ceased. The following year saw the start of their first church on Josephine Street, St. Mary’s Assumption. This lovely little wooden chapel, with its bell which was cast at Des Allemands, was later replaced by the present structure. However, the first building is still standing, moved to St. Joseph’s cemetery on Washington Avenue, where it serves, all white and clean, as a mortuary chapel, 117 years old.

St. Mary’s Assumption first served all the Roman Catholics of Lafayette with sermons alternating in German, French and English. In 1850 St. Alphonsus Church was completed across the Street, chiefly for the Irish, and nine years later, this remarkable tri-lingual parish opened a church for the French people on Jackson Avenue. This was taken down in 1925, but is perpetuated in the Chapel of Our Mother of Perpetual Help at Third and Prytania, the old Lonsdale-McStea house.


Surveyor’s drawing of Livaudais Plantation, or “Faubourg”, divided into squares for sale of lots following purchase from Mme. Livaudais. She retained square with her house and garden, near river. Note how this square governed size of entire row of squares, as they are today.

High-resolution Map

Drawn at the request of Messrs. L. PEIRCE, W. H. CHASE, M. MORGAN and S. J. PETERS,
By B. BUISSON, Surveyor for the Parish of Jefferson—March, 1832.



The year 1840 saw the Presbyterians organized in Lafayette City under the popular Rev. Jerome Twichell. Their church, completed in 1843, on Fulton between Josephine and Adele, was also occasionally used by the Society of Friends. Henry Clay attended services once in the church soon after it was opened. The Prytania Presbyterian Church, where George W. Cable worshipped and sang in the choir, was founded in 1846.

Episcopal services began in a room on the corner of Washington and Laurel streets in 1847. Later that year, construction started for the Church of the Holy Trinity at the corner of Live Oak (now Constance) and Second streets. In 1851, the Rev. Alexander F. Dobb, a dynamic churchman, began working for the construction of a handsome new edifice at Jackson and Coliseum Streets. Trinity Church, as its name was shortened, was occupied in 1853. Unfortunately, Mr. Dobb and his wife died in the tragic yellow fever epidemic of that year and never saw the completed church.

Congregation Gates of Prayer, the Jewish synagogue, originally worshipped in a building near the corner of Sixth and Tchoupitoulas Streets, but in 1854 it moved to a building, still standing though no longer used for that purpose, on Jackson Avenue.

Missions for the German Protestants were provided by the Evangelical, Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopal churches in various locations.

Lafayette City is no more. Its heritage is two-fold: the sturdy Irish-German stock of its riverfront section; and the great houses and cultural heritage of the Garden District, its fine residential section. Of the former, volumes could be written; of the latter, the following pages will attempt to touch the high spots. If this small book encourages the reader to visit the scenes described, if it provides a setting for the better appreciation of the great houses, the many hours of patient research and writing will be well rewarded.

Mansion on Prytania, between Philip and Jackson, typifies great days of Garden District, was once home of authoress, historian Grace King.

Frances Jones was Miss King’s illustrator.


2343 Prytania Street


The Main Building

Formerly one of the most lavish private homes in the Garden District, this mansion now serves as the main building of the Louise S. McGehee School, for almost half a century one of the outstanding private schools for girls in the South. Amid architectural surroundings which bespeak a bygone age of leisure, work and study now prevail as the students pursue their exacting college preparatory curriculum.

Designed in the splendid free Renaissance style by James Freret, the mansion was constructed in 1872 for Bradish Johnson, a young man of wealth and discrimination whose family fortune was based on sugar plantations. Its erection marked the second great period of affluence for the Garden District. According to tradition it was built at a cost of one hundred thousand dollars and its furnishings were as lavish as the house itself. Always beautifully maintained by the Johnsons and the Walter Denègre family, its later owners, the architectural features of the building have been carefully preserved by the school corporation. Of undiminished loveliness are the fluted Corinthian columns, lofty ceilings and elaborate moldings embellished with classical motifs. An outstanding feature of the building is the winding staircase which rises at the rear of the marble-floored entrance hall. This stairway of unsurpassed beauty has been frequently honored as a masterpiece of design and craftsmanship.

A curious fact about the building is that neither a marriage, a birth, nor a death has ever taken place within its walls. However, since its acquisition by McGehee school in 1929 it has been the scene of many scholastic triumphs. The school features an honor system and 28 student self government, the first high school in the city to establish this type of government. Nearly all of the school’s graduates have gone to college and most of the alumnae are active in civic affairs.

Magnificent spiral staircase in marble-floored central hall of former Bradish Johnson mansion has mahogany railing, stained glass skylight. Johnson fortune was based on large sugar plantations. City house was showplace.

A stroll around the grounds on the First Street side gives a good view of the former servants’ wing, which extends to the rear, looking today much as it did when the house was new. The beautiful grounds are particularly lovely in the spring when myriads of azaleas are in bloom as well as the large wisteria vine which drapes the arch of the front gate. Aged and majestic are the many magnolia trees, the largest of which some years ago was declared by E. H. Sargent, then curator of the Arnold Arboretum, to be the most magnificent specimen of magnolia grandiflora in the United States.

Provision for fine private education for girls has long been a tradition in the Garden District. By a strange coincidence, three of the earlier schools were within the immediate neighborhood of what is now McGehee School, and one of these was on the very spot.

In 1853 the Reverend William Duncan, later a professor of Greek and Latin at the University of Louisiana, opened the Young Ladies’ Seminary on the corner of Jackson and Prytania Streets. The seminary offered what was for that time quite an impressive curriculum in languages, arts and physical sciences.

Little is known today about the Carnatz Institute, a “fashionable academy for young ladies”, which in the 1860’s occupied a substantial brick cottage on the present site of McGehee School. This corner of First and Prytania streets had been one of the first settled in this part of Lafayette. Here Charles Conrad, one of a prominent family of lawyers, had his cottage. Nearby were the houses of Alfred T. and Frank Conrad, also barristers. Sometime later General W. R. Miles was said to have owned the Conrad house which subsequently became the Carnatz Institute. In addition to day students this school attracted 29 boarding students from Mississippi, Alabama and Texas. The Institute was advertised as having a “healthy and secluded location with spacious rooms and shaded grounds.” It is not known whether the academy moved or was disbanded when Bradish Johnson bought the property and removed the old house to make way for his new mansion.

Of more recent vintage was the school of Mrs. Francis D. Blake which was located in a large gray house, now demolished, on the downtown lake corner of Prytania and Philip Streets. Mrs. Blake, a daughter of the famous Bishop Leonidas Polk, was assisted in running the school by her sister, Mrs. Lucia Chapman. This school of Sally Polk Blake is of more than passing interest because in the last years of the school the English teacher was the youthful Miss Louise Schaumburg McGehee. When the doors of Mrs. Blake’s were closed, parents of undergraduates asked Miss McGehee if she would undertake to run a school for their daughters.

In 1912 Miss McGehee began her school in a small cottage on Louisiana Avenue near St. Charles. The following year the school moved to more commodious quarters at 1439 Louisiana Avenue. Assuming corporate status in 1929, the school purchased the Johnson-Denègre house and moved to its present location. The carriage house of this mansion was converted into a gymnasium and the stable into a cafeteria.

A program of growth and expansion was undertaken in 1953-54 with the construction of a new building containing elementary classrooms and an assembly room. By 1960 McGehee School had acquired adjoining properties which complete the school’s ownership of the entire Prytania Street frontage on the lake side of the 2300 block. Plans begun in that year call for the construction of a lower elementary building, new cafeteria and gymnasium and a studio-laboratory wing to the upper school building. This project will be financed by a drive for capital funds, launched in 1961.

During its history, McGehee’s has seen changes not only in its physical plant but also in its organizational structure. In 1937 the school was re-incorporated as a non-profit institution, which status it has today.


1238 Philip Street


The classic Greek Revival Style and all that typifies antebellum life in the South are to be found in the stately Lane home. The handsome two-story-and-attic brick building with its front and side verandas was built in 1853-54 for John H. Rodenberg, a dealer in feeds. In addition to the stunning front portico, the view from the corner reveals the charm of the Chestnut Street elevation with the gently undulating effect achieved by the juxtaposition of a pair of shallow bays.

In the years after it was built, the mansion was the residence of the Hardie and Brooks families and for more than 50 years was known to New Orleans society as the Pipes house. For many years it was the home of the late Federal Judge Wayne G. Borah and his family, Mrs. Borah being the granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. David W. Pipes. In 1969 the house was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Harry Merritt Lane, Jr., who have preserved all the notable traditional features of the house while adapting the rear section to accommodate the needs of their active young family of four.

The substantial methods of construction used by early builders resulted in the brick-bearing walls being 18 inches thick. The 14-foot-high ceilings are typical of houses of the period as is the Victorian parlor, 18 by 40 feet in size. The two large crystal chandeliers in this room are reflected in gold leaf mirrors over the twin white marble mantels. Lovely traditional furnishings complete the picture.

The cypress woodwork, doorframes in the so-called “keyhole” design, bronze doorknobs, and heart pine floors are in the best traditions of buildings of the period.


One of the focal points of the patio is a curious bit of Southern Americana, a plant bed made from the brick foundation of an old cistern where rainwater was collected. Every house had one or more of these tanks, made of wood and usually painted green. As a rule the cistern stood quite high, built upon a stilt-like frame, and was located in plain view near the back corner of the house. The sight prompted Mark Twain to write, “There is a mansion-and-brewery suggestion about the combination.”

Here in the garden are many rare varieties of old camellias, grown from cuttings by Mrs. Pipes, who brought them from her family home in the Feliciana section of Louisiana more than fifty years ago. In addition to these fine specimens, this lovely Southern garden abounds in other interesting plant materials. Around the pond are plants of Creole boxwood (Buxus japonicus) which were propagated many years ago to supply the beautiful box hedge which flourishes on the property. The very tall palm tree is one of the few remaining in the Garden District where once they were plentiful, as old pictures show. Hurricanes, time and freezes cut down their numbers. On this tree grows a spreading wisteria vine which seems a shower of lavender in the spring.

Notable also are the sweet olive trees, crape myrtle, pear, Japanese plum (loquat) and coral tree (Erythrina Cristagalli). The latter is nicknamed locally the “crybaby tree” because at certain times the flowers emit a colorless fluid reminding some of tears. Contributing a tropical touch are the showy bougainvillea which climbs the side of the house, and the Hawaiian ti plant.

Semi-octagonal bay with decorative iron railing, twin chimneys of massive gable, are architectural features of south side of Lane house.


2127 Prytania Street


As this edition goes to press, preservationists are fighting to stay the demolition of this handsome raised cottage. Its interesting and varied history dates from 1857-58 when it was erected for Alexander Harris, a cotton broker. In 1871 it was sold to John H. Maginnis, whose family lived there for many years. It was the local headquarters for the American Red Cross from 1939 until 1954 when it was purchased by Dr. and Mrs. Clyde Crasson, who restored the building to its original beauty as a home.

The well proportioned lines of the Greek Revival mansion were designed by James Calrow, who, with his partner Mr. Day, also served as builder. Although the three fine houses he designed during this period show Calrow to have been a man of unquestionable talents, he is otherwise unknown to architectural historians.

Symmetry and grace characterize the imposing portico with its eleven Corinthian columns, echoed by the capitals of the pilasters flanking the front door. While construction of this house was under way in 1858, an interested spectator of its progress was T. K. Wharton, one of the architects of the customhouse. In his diary, now in the New York Public Library, he notes on February 10 of that year that this house “promises to be the handsomest piece of work in the District.” Its style, he later remarked, is “rich Corinthian, very handsome.”

The broad gallery, so typical of the Garden District, is also embellished with the popular grillwork, “iron lace” as it is sometimes called. An astonishing diversity of ironwork patterns is to be seen in the area. This particular design of fruit and flowers is a fine example of both single- and double-faced cast iron used in alternation.

Proceeding up the broad, high flight of center stairs, the visitor 33 crosses the wide veranda and reaches the handsome front door, which in its carved basket of fruit ornamentation repeats one of the motifs of the grillwork. An old-fashioned pull type of doorbell announces a caller. Inside one enters a center hall of breath-taking proportions. Within its area of 67 feet by 12 feet could be placed several rooms of a modern development house. Here again we find the reflection of the classic revival in the elaborate plaster work of cornices and ceiling.

On the right of the entrance hall is a large drawing room of the type called “double parlor” because of the suggested separation into two rooms, each of which was treated identically and had matching mantels. A balanced spacing of all openings in the room plus the treatment of windows as doors in the French mode give harmony to the room. Both mantels are of black and gold Italian marble with bronze trim. The front mantel features the fleur de lis of France while the companion mantel has the crossed bows of Louis XVI and the roses of Marie Antoinette. Both fireplaces are backed with black iron embossed with the fleur de lis design.

Across the hall is the dining room, which is lighted by the original gas chandelier, now wired for electricity. Here the graceful mantel is of white marble. Directly behind this room the Crassons have installed a family room kitchen in the early American style. Originally the kitchen was outside, as was the custom of that day, but the present owners made a more convenient arrangement for modern living by this relocation. The comfortable sitting room has a black and gold mantel with the same Louis XVI motifs as one in the drawing room.

No trace of the original garden which extended to Jackson Avenue remained when the Crassons purchased the property. They are now in the process of restoring this corner to some of its former beauty. In the front of the house, however, huge oaks and palms remain from the past. According to reliable sources, these massive oaks were planted as young saplings on September 14, 1874, the day the carpet baggers were driven out of New Orleans.

Double doors, ten feet tall, are natural cypress. Corinthian capitals of pilasters, molded plaster cornices are typical parlor details.


1220 Philip Street


While it was the home of Isaac Delgado, this exquisite dwelling housed the art collection which became the nucleus of our city’s art museum. Although this is one of the largest houses in the Garden District, a delicacy of proportion and the tree-shaded garden within which it stands serve to minimize its great bulk. A good notion of its size can be obtained from counting the many chimneys which rise from the slate roof. Constructed entirely of wood, it exemplifies the style developed locally just before the War Between the States. Here we find the characteristic fluted Corinthian columns used on both upper and lower galleries and linked by iron grillwork. Gracefully curved upper portions of windows and shutters lend a note of harmony. The semi-octagonal bay which extends on the north side of the house was once the dining room but was transformed into a bar and kitchen in recent years. The north wing of the house has also been converted into a separate maisonette.

Little is known about the construction of the house. It was built in the late 1850’s for Mrs. Augustin Marius Tureaud, believed to have been the daughter of James Mather, who was mayor of New Orleans in 1810. In 1866 the house was sold at auction to Trinity Episcopal Church for use as a rectory. For some reason this purpose apparently was never carried out, and the house was sold again in 1868 to Samuel and Sarah Delgado for $12,400.

Samuel Delgado was a prosperous sugar and molasses broker. Childless, he and his wife took into their home their fourteen-year old nephew, Isaac Delgado, who came from Jamaica. Apparently having exceptional business aptitude, the boy entered the world of commerce almost immediately. In a few years he began amassing the fortune he 35 was to use for charitable purposes. Long before his death Delgado, a bachelor, gave away huge sums. He donated his art collection and $150,000 to erect the Delgado Museum of Art in City Park. It was completed in 1911 and the old man was quite disappointed that ill health prevented his attending the dedication ceremonies. On his death in 1912, he left his millions for hospitals and the trade school which bears his name. His home he bequeathed to the city. For a brief period it served as the British Consulate, and then in 1920 it was sold to David Pipes, who owned the fine house next door which is now the Lane home. Present owners are Mr. and Mrs. Atwood L. Rice, Jr. who purchased the house in 1972 from Mr. and Mrs. John R. Fitz-Hugh. Charmingly furnished, this house is a fine example of how an early Victorian mansion can be adapted to modern living.

The beautifully landscaped garden is planned to feature color in the spring with a predominantly green effect for the hot summer months. Across the front of the yard is a hedge of white camellia sasanquas. From front to back on both sides, the garden is bordered with dwarf azaleas which range in color from deep red (Hexie and Henodegeri) to pinks (Pink Pearl and Coralbells) in the center to white (Snow) in the rear. The large azaleas in the side garden are Pride of Mobile. Among the other plants are camellia, crape myrtle, cocculus, cherry laurel, pear and wild plum, many of which are grouped around an inviting patio.

Charming patio of Rice house adjoins comfortable open porch which is shaded with colorful green and white striped canvas curtains.


1415 Third Street


This great mansion on the corner of Third and Coliseum streets is an outstanding example of the age of opulence. Designed by an unknown architect, the house was completed in 1865 for Walter Robinson, a young Virginian who came to this city to buy Cuban wrappers for cigars and to purchase perique, an especially fine type of tobacco which to this day is grown only in St. James Parish of Louisiana.

The house’s second owner, David C. McCan, a native of Cincinnati, is remembered for his philanthropy and civic endeavor. Third occupant was Peter Pescud of Raleigh, North Carolina. His wife, Margaret C. Maginnis, who reigned in 1874 as the second queen of the New Orleans Carnival, made it a center of gay social activity.

Douglass Freret assisted the present owner, Thomas Jordan, Esq., with a fine restoration.

Viewed from the street, the house presents an impressive sight. The unknown architect set it far back on the lot, sideways to the street, with a Palladian carriage house and iron gates. The impressive scale of the house results from stories of equal height, 15 feet, 8 inches. Double galleries with curved ends adorn the façade. These feature Doric columns below and Corinthian above. Linking the columns are panels of cast iron in a pattern somewhat heavier than usual, which admirably blends with the feeling of solidity which the building gives. On the southern exposure are double galleries framed in ironwork of a lacy design, which effectively lightens and gives delicacy to the whole. Not to be overlooked is the iron fence which, with its handsome shell motifs, contributes to the effect of beauty.

Detailing of the interior, with its elaborate carved door and 37 window trim, fine plaster cornices and ceiling centerpieces, and especially the superb winding staircase, is among the most elaborate in the city. All the rooms are palatial, furnished with choice antiques, many the work of America’s foremost cabinet makers.

Painted ceilings are features of both living and dining rooms, that of the latter executed with great delicacy after the manner of Robert Adam. The wallpaper in the dining room is the famous Züber 1834 “Scenic America”. The chimney piece of this room was designed to contain a wooden eagle found at the mouth of the Mississippi after a hurricane. Carved from cypress, it is believed to be the sternboard of a pilot boat built in Charleston at the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

A fascinating fact about this house is that it was said to be among the first in the city to have inside plumbing, water being supplied from cisterns on the roof, which also provided protection from fire.

Jordan house dining room has painted ceiling, pressed glass chandelier.


1448 Fourth Street


During the fabulous 1850’s when splendid mansions were rising all through the Garden District, no structure was larger or finer than this important house. Although usually identified as the “house with the cornstalk fence”, this house has other features to recommend it.

The tremendous size, the asymmetrical design and the beautiful iron work galleries on front and sides make it an unusual structure. Designing during a period when romanticism was the ascendant trend in arts and letters, the architect Henry Howard turned to the Italian villa style, which he skillfully adapted to the hot and humid New Orleans climate. Built in 1859 for Colonel Robert Henry Short, a Kentucky colonel, the house cost the wealthy commission merchant $23,750. Cost of duplication today would be impossible to estimate.

The mansion presents an exterior which, except for the classical pilasters of the entrance doorway, is a radical departure from the then prevalent Greek Revival. Howard’s expertness in the latter form at this period had been demonstrated in the recently completed Belle Grove plantation at Bayou Goula, one of the most magnificent of all the plantation houses. Some of the features of the Belle Grove plan he used again for Colonel Short. Despite the Italian façade beautifully allied with New Orleans’ beloved iron lace, the interior of the house adhered strictly to the Greek Revival in woodwork and ornamentation. Marvels of workmanship are the handsomely carved door and window frames and the decorated plaster cornices and ceiling centerpieces.

The usual double parlors are found to the left of the entrance hall, but in this instance they are not identical rooms. The rear one extends farther into the side yard in a curved bay with an iron work gallery outside. Giving an idea of the magnificent scale of the house are the 39 approximate dimensions of the parlors, which at their greatest points measure 43 by 26 feet. The ceilings are 16 feet high.

Across from the back parlor is a library which extends out in a similar manner on the Prytania Street side. The wide entrance hall is met at the rear of the parlors and library by a large cross hall which contains the stairway. This is of oak, evidently not the original since that kind of wood was not used for buildings in this locality at that period. This was one of many alterations made by one or both of the subsequent owners: Miss Mary Morgan, who bought it in 1892 from Short’s succession; or Abraham Brittin, cotton broker, who acquired it in 1906.

Around the turn of the century other changes had been made in a determined effort to wipe out every vestige of the neo-classic. Deep red brocade was applied to the walls, and in one room the ceiling was painted red. All woodwork was painted a gloomy brown with imitation wood grain, while simulated wall panelling was used to change the character of other rooms.

Some of the changes, however, were not as heavy and unattractive to present day tastes. The already commodious dining room was further enlarged with a delightful semicircular bay on the Prytania Street end, and with an extremely decorative arcaded conservatory with open terrace at the other end of the room.

Under the sympathetic restoration of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Jay Moran, oppressive dreary paint gave way to light cheerful colors and spurious panelling was torn down with a feeling of expansive grace regained. In 1971 the house was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B. Favrot, for whose large family it is a handsome and congenial setting.

Outside, the distinctive fence of morning glories intertwining cornstalks which was falling to pieces in 1950 when the Morans bought the house, has been restored. When the repairs were underway, an exposed base of a fence post revealed that the iron work was supplied by Wood and Perot, the famous Philadelphia foundry. Through the local agents, Wood and Miltenberger, this firm supplied a good percentage of the cast iron used in New Orleans. It is likely that the “iron lace” galleries on this house were also their work.

Curved bay window at Prytania Street end of tremendous dining room in Favrot house is Newport style feature added near turn of century.


1331 Third Street


Iron lace, delicate but dramatic, casting lovely shadows across the façade of the Bell house, has made this a favorite “shot” for photographers, both amateur and professional. These cast iron galleries, often called the finest in the city, make the house eye-catching, but locally it is also famous for its associations with the New Orleans family of the French painter Edgar Degas.

In 1850 Michel Musson, a prominent cotton merchant and postmaster of New Orleans from 1849 to 1853, purchased the site and is said to have commissioned James Gallier, Sr., to design his dwelling. Construction was soon completed on this interpretation in wood of a formal Italian villa, as its style has been defined by Samuel Wilson, Jr., local architectural historian. Certainly in those days the designation would have been more appropriate than now, the famous ironwork having been added in 1884. The original Gallier plan had two bay windows on the front, similar to one on the garden side of the house, with canopies such as are on the Coliseum Street side protecting the upper windows. The bracketed overhang of the roof on both sides is Italianate in feeling.

Rare daguerreotype shows Bell house before grillwork was added. Mansion had Italian villa influence, bay windows, shaped canopies.


In 1869 the house was sold to James Buckner, who in turn sold it in 1884 to Charles M. Whitney. In addition to altering the front of the house, Whitney also added the Victorian stables which are still preserved complete with brass name plates on the former stalls of his favorite horses, Momus, Comus and Twenty-one. The last was named for a favorite riverboat gambling game. At the rear of the property is a garçonnière (literally “house of the boys”) which is original, as is the ornamental iron fence.

The house is now the property of Mr. and Mrs. Bryan Bell who have furnished it with an excellent collection of antiques and paintings.

As a visitor enters the house, he is at once captivated by the graceful curved stairs, typical of Gallier’s work. This is of the unsupported or free-hanging type. Throughout the house, woodwork of door and window frames is of the famous neo-classic design, popularly called the “keyhole design”, which owes its inspiration to the vogue for Egyptian styles which followed Napoleon’s campaigns in that country. The lovely living room cornices are of plaster, set out from the wall at a slight angle with an openwork design which gives them the local name of “double transparencies”. The wide board floors are heart of pine, sun-cured instead of kiln-dried which gave great durability to the wood.

Lovers of the unusual are always fascinated by the handcarved teakwood mantel in the living room. Added by the Whitneys, it has a secret compartment on either side.

An unusual feature of the house is the huge dining room, which, despite its twin mantels, was always a single room. The large Musson family and the many friends they entertained dictated a dining room of tremendous proportions. The identical bronze chandeliers were originally for gas but later were wired for electricity. Mrs. Whitney, however, not fully trusting the new-fangled electricity, prudently had only half the arms wired. The rest she kept for gas “just in case”.

The spacious side garden of the Bell home uses many typical Southern materials bordering a wide sweep of green lawn. The towering palm is a species of date palm tree. On the trellises by the house are Carolina jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens) vines. At the corner of the house is a large golden dewdrop (Duranta repens), a showy shrub which has bright yellow berries and racemes of small lilac flowers, frequently at the same time. Near this spot is a Lady Banksia rose (Rosa Banksiae), for many years a New Orleans springtime favorite. In summer the famous “Whitney pink” oleanders are especially striking. This variety was propagated by Mrs. Whitney’s gardener and is now one of the most popular in the Crescent City.

Molded plaster cornices are set out from wall in style locally called “double transparency”.

This type of work is typical of that done by European artisans who decorated many great Garden District homes.


2507 Prytania Street


Nearly a century after it was built, this vast mansion, a newspaper editor’s dream house, almost made the front page when a raging fire gutted the interior and threatened destruction. Fortunately the house withstood good times and bad, hurricanes and fire, and stands today lovingly restored.

The quarter square of land at the corner of Prytania and Second Streets was purchased in June, 1852, by Joseph H. Maddox, owner of the New Orleans Daily Crescent, a prominent newspaper of the period. Plans for his new residence were made by a local architect, John Barnett, and in August of that year a contract for construction was signed with John R. Eichelberger. As was often the case in those days, a different architect was employed to supervise the construction. Edward Gotthiel was selected for this job.

Unfortunately, soon after its completion, Maddox became embroiled in a ruinous law suit which resulted in the house’s being seized by the sheriff and sold to John Coleman. Subsequent owners have been F. W. Kirchoff, Alfred Moulton, S. P. Walmsley, C. D. Cecil, Walter S. Simpson, and now Mrs. Brennan.

As envisioned by Barnett and brought to fruition by Gotthiel and Eichelberger, the house emerged as one recognized for its exceptionally fine proportions. A strict scale was adhered to so that all rooms, both upstairs and down, are 22 feet square with the exception of the entrance hall which measures 11 by 44 and the gold ballroom which is 22 by 44 feet.

Viewed from the street the front elevation of broad front galleries with superimposed Ionic and Corinthian columns impresses even the casual observer. A more practiced eye will detect refinements of scale and detail which make it notable.

In 1954, soon after the Simpsons acquired the property and began restoration, a major fire destroyed a large part of the interior. Heartsore but undaunted by the monumental task they now faced, the Simpsons 43 were determined that the house should be restored as closely as possible to its original state. Months went into the search for proper materials and workmen who could execute in the style of a past century. Today this beautiful home, with recent restoration by Mrs. Brennan, is again the object of much admiration.

In the entrance hall the molded cornices around the ceiling are prized “double transparency” style. The rosette was made directly upon the ceiling at the time of the restoration. Others in the house were molded separately and then applied. Following the popular neo-classic trend, the doorframes were made in the “keyhole design”, enhanced by handmade hinges of silver over solid brass.

Many different woods are used to advantage in the house. Hall floors are of pine, but cypress is the flooring for living and dining rooms. Diagonally laid oak boards were placed over the old pine in the ballroom to give a better surface for dancing. The magnificent stairway combines cypress treads with walnut spindles topped with a mahogany rail. Especially beautiful in the living room are the sliding doors made of burl walnut. They complement the handcarved mantel, also of burl walnut, with brass trim and Italian tile hearth.

In the dining room the fire blistered off layers of paint on the mantel tiles and revealed beneath the original design of the tiles. This Louisiana bayou scene is unique.

Most elegant room in the house is the gold ballroom, looking today much as it did in 1870, when the Moulton family commissioned a Viennese artist to decorate it. At that time the ceiling of the coved area was done in tapestry. Since the fire, it has been hand painted in colors as close as possible to the original. The birds are done on canvas, and the field paper is a companion to that on the walls. In this room is a pair of mantels, dark Italian marble rimmed with silver plated brass, with hearths of Italian tiles. When the fireplaces are in use, fascinating designs embossed on the iron firebacks glow and stand out in relief. At the far end of this spacious chamber is a small room, now converted into a bar, which was once the room where musicians sat while furnishing music for soirées.

Native Louisiana birds in swamp setting are fireplace decorations in Brennan house. Fire revealed presence of unique painted files.


1134 First Street


By reason of its beauty alone this majestic house would deserve notice, but history has touched the house, making it a landmark. It is revered by Southerners because the Confederacy’s beloved President, Jefferson Davis, died within its portals. A granite marker placed beside the front walk by the United Daughters of the Confederacy memorializes this sad event.

Very little is known about the actual construction of the house, but it is conceded to have been one of the very first large mansions of the district. Records show that the site on the corner of First and Camp Streets was purchased in May, 1849, by Jacob U. Payne and his business partner, J. P. Harrison. It seems reasonable to suppose that the date of construction was between that time and 1850, the dawn of Lafayette’s great era of building. Since no record of architect or builder has been found, it is a popular local supposition that Mr. Payne himself designed the house, carrying on the tradition of the previous century when many gentlemen considered skill in architecture a necessary accomplishment.

The architect, whether Mr. Payne or some unsung genius, achieved a masterpiece which has both dignity and grace. The use of the Greek Revival style of architecture could not have been more correct. The handsome portico with its double gallery is adorned with great columns, Ionic below and Corinthian above, in the great classic tradition. Massive gables of the house with their twin chimneys are typical of the high quality of materials and workmanship employed. The cast iron capitals of the columns are marked New York, 1848.

The exterior of the house is stuccoed brick and the thick walls within are also of brick. Cypress was used for the beams; heart pine, for the floors. Window frames and doors are of mahogany. The decoration of this house is more restrained than in most of the houses built later when a greater exuberance came into vogue. The cornice design was duplicated in a miniature room depicting a New Orleans interior in the Chicago Institute of Art.

From J. U. Payne, ownership of the house passed to his son-in-law, 45 Judge Charles E. Fenner, and his family. It was in the downstairs bedroom, on December 6, 1889, that President Davis died. Mrs. Edward Gay, granddaughter of the original owner, recalls that Davis, an intimate friend of the Paynes and Fenners and frequent guest in their home, was taken ill at his home “Beauvoir” on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and was brought to her grandfather’s house in an ambulance.

Joyous times as well as sad form the tapestry of this house’s associations with the Davis family. Winnie Davis, the daughter of Jefferson Davis, had her happiest moments here. This lovely girl, christened Varina Ann Jefferson Davis, had been born in the Confederate Executive Mansion in Richmond in June, 1864. Her birth was regarded as a single bright light in the darkest time for the South. Ever afterward she was affectionately called the “Daughter of the Confederacy”.

When she came of age, Winnie was presented to New Orleans society from the Fenner home. Her social success was a tribute to her beauty as well as an expression of the esteem with which her father was regarded. In 1883 Winnie was queen of the Momus ball, the theme of which was “The Moors in Spain”. The following year Winnie, along with the daughters of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and A. D. Hill, was signally honored by Comus. These girls were given the honor of dancing the first quadrille, Miss Mildred Lee being Comus’s partner. Although they were not officially proclaimed queens and maids of honor, the dynasty of Comus courts dates from that ball.

Later, the charming Miss Davis had her turn to reign with full Carnival panoply. Comus made her his queen in 1892. Mrs. Gay recalls how, as a small girl, she stood by the steps to catch a glimpse of Winnie in her white satin gown, styled along modified Oriental lines, as she entered the carriage to go to the ball. A portrait of Winnie in this dress, along with her jewels and the chalice Comus used to toast his queen, are on display at the Confederate Memorial Hall.

In 1935 the house was sold for the first and only time to Mr. and Mrs. William Bradish Forsyth. Present occupants of the house are Mr. and Mrs. Frank G. Strachan. Mrs. Strachan is a daughter of the Forsyths. The large house is furnished with a fine collection of European and American antiques and objets d’art.

On the south side of the house is an enchanting garden pavillion, which was designed by Richard Koch and Samuel Wilson, Jr., who have also been consulting architects for restoration work on the house. The lovely gardens were planted according to the plans of Umberto Innocenti, noted landscape architect of Long Island, N. Y.

Classical serenity of summer house keynotes style of formal Italian garden. Lovely structure is noteworthy feature of spacious grounds.


1417 Third Street


Small and appealing, this remodeled carriage house furnishes a delightful contrast to the huge mansions which surround it. Some thirty years ago Dr. and Mrs. Thomas M. Terry bought the carriage house in the rear of the large house at 2520 Prytania Street. The main house, built in 1853, is attributed to Isaac Thayer, architect and builder, in Samuel Wilson, Jr.’s Guide to Architecture of New Orleans—1699-1959, although local tradition holds that it was the work of James Gallier, the younger. This was the childhood home of John M. Parker, a former governor of Louisiana.

After purchasing the rear portion of the property, the Terrys, under the direction of Douglass Freret, architect, embarked upon a building plan which preserved the interesting features of the original structure and yet added modern convenience. The resulting arrangement has a serenity achieved partly through a flowing use of available space and also through selection of muted, quiet colors. Theirs is a house spacious enough for entertaining yet a compact home for two.

The original outside walls of the carriage house are 13 inches thick, a density which is readily seen in the depth of the doorways in the old exterior walls. Preserved on the exterior are the broad doors which once swung back to permit the passage of carriages.

The entrance hall, with kitchen on the left, is part of the additions made by the Terrys. The hall flooring is beautiful Tennessee marble. Although the brass stair post is not old, the well-worn steps, hidden beneath the carpet, are the original outside steps leading to the loft of the carriage house.

The elegant living room was once the carriage house itself, while the extension on the street end, which now serves as a small study, 47 was used as harness room, it is believed. Together they form a room 20 by 34 feet.

Extending the width of the house in the rear is a 38-foot-long dining room and enclosed porch. Huge sheets of glass installed in the spaces between “iron lace” grillwork of a characteristic Garden District gallery permit sweeping views of the garden while preserving the traditional character of the dwelling.

The charming garden is a prize example of achieving maximum beauty in a more or less minimum space. In competition with gardens of much greater size, it won the New Orleans Garden Society Cup for three consecutive years, at which time the cup was permanently presented to the Terrys. Planned around a large swimming pool, it is skillfully laid out so as to give the impression of much greater size. Among the plantings are found azaleas, camellias, sasanquas, sweet olives, hibiscus, hydrangeas and spring bulbs. The view from the rear of the garden toward the house is particularly pleasing.

The late Dr. Terry was a tireless worker on behalf of the preservation of the Garden District. During his twenty-year tenure as President of the Garden District Property Owners Association, he helped launch an energetic program aimed at preserving and restoring the beauty of this section.

View across swimming pool toward back of Terry house shows how glass enclosed iron galleries, new wing blend house with traditional garden.


2340 Prytania Street


The simplicity and unpretentious charm of this ancient raised cottage set well back amid luxuriant vegetation bring to mind the pleasant rural character of the Faubourg Lafayette of the 1830’s. Strongly akin to the type of plantation architecture which developed in Louisiana, the house was built by a pioneer resident of the Garden District, Thomas Toby.

In 1817 Toby left Philadelphia and came to New Orleans where he introduced the use of long-tailed drays for hauling cotton bales. Soon he had the largest wheelwright and commission merchant business in the South. After the railway up Nayades Street made the new town of Lafayette so accessible a suburban paradise, he chose a beautiful lot, heavily wooded with fine oak trees, on the corner of First and Prytanée (now Prytania) Streets. In 1838 he erected the charming white cottage surrounded by a picket fence which became a point of reference when describing the area. From that day the house has been known as “Toby’s Corner”. Much of the lumber and supplies used in its construction was brought from Philadelphia on the ships of his father, Simeon Toby, who engaged in the East coast trade. Thomas Toby suffered severe financial reverses in helping to finance the Texas revolution and some years after his death in 1849, his widow sold the house.

The present owner George G. Westfeldt, Jr., was the fourth generation of his family to occupy the house. At present the house is the dwelling of the British Consul General, Mr. A. G. Maitland, and his family.

Thomas Toby had come to New Orleans the year following the disastrous Macarty crevasse. Doubtless he was mindful that this circumstance had ruined the Livaudais plantation’s sugar cane crop, and that 49 flood might come again. Certainly a raised cottage, high water architecture if you will, was an excellent choice of style. His dwelling had the typical Louisiana arrangement of brick-piered basement at ground level with a wide flight of stairs leading to the principal floor above. Originally there were galleries only on the front and rear of the house, but through the years other galleries were added as well as a wing on the Philip Street side. Now the outside steps have been removed and the main entrance to the house is through the ground floor hall.

The lack of elaborate ornamentation in the house is a testament to its great age. The pine mantels in the summer living room downstairs and the simplicity of the woodwork are examples. Also notably chaste in design is the cornice of the upstairs drawing room. It has been estimated that one square foot of this molding would weigh 12 pounds. In this room and the dining room the Italian marble mantels are replacements made many years ago. Fireplaces remain in almost every room in the house and are sometimes used in the winter. As in so many houses in this neighborhood, the handmade glass window panes with their delightful irregularities are original.

Outside, the garden has been kept in a naturalistic planting to preserve the plantation atmosphere. The large live oak in the back is a member of the unique Live Oak Society and is listed as the Livaudais oak. The big Magnolia grandiflora trees, the much beloved Southern magnolia, were said to have been planted in the year the house was built. The four Italian sweet olive trees (Osmanthes fragrans) and the large crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) in the front are very old also. The smaller crape myrtles form a collection of “friendship trees” which have been received as gifts from nearly every Southern state. There are many varieties of azaleas and camellias as well as a number of fruit and flowering trees. A beautiful effect is created in fall and winter by the colorful berries of the yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), the Southern holly, which reaches nearly to the roof on the First Street side.

Thomas Toby, native of Philadelphia, was wealthy commission merchant. He lost fortune financing Texas revolution. Portrait by Vaudechamp.


1239 First Street


Roses, their beauty captured in iron, embellish the grillwork of this palatial Garden District mansion. The interesting façade with double galleries is distinguished by the use of “columns in antae”, Corinthian and Ionic columns between the square pilasters at the corners.

The contract for construction of the building was signed on January 3, 1857. For $13,000, so modest by present day standards, the owner, Albert Hamilton Brevard, erected a mansion of many spacious rooms, ornamented in the best classic fashion, with all the carved wood in the house of solid mahogany.

Architect of this splendid, typically New Orleans interpretation of the Greek Revival was James Calrow. Charles Pride was the builder. Originally the lot comprised half a square extending all the way to Camp street, boundaries which are still defined by identical fencing along the block. This decorative fence was a patented design and as such was a forerunner of the unaesthetic chain link fences of today. A century ago it was unthinkable that beauty and utility not go hand in hand.

Two years after the completion of the house, Brevard died and his daughter inherited the property. In 1869 she sold it to Emory Clapp for his bride. In preparation for the newlyweds, special mirrors were ordered from France for the double parlor, where they hang today. Made of rosewood, these mirrors are ornamented with the monogram of the bride and groom. A pair of the mirrors hangs over the marble mantels and the other pair, hung at opposite ends of the huge parlor, reflect the handsome crystal chandelier ad infinitum, a source of delight to visitors.

On the south side of the house are double galleries of the same delicate ironwork. The hexagonal library with bedroom above and the accompanying grillwork gallery were added by the Clapps in 1869. For over 65 years Mrs. Clapp made her home here, taking a loving interest in both house and grounds. Upon her death in 1934 the house was purchased by Mrs. Frank Brostrom. Next owners were Federal Judge 51 and Mrs. John Minor Wisdom, who occupied the house from 1947 until 1972. Present owners are Mr. and Mrs. John A. Mmahat, who have tastefully preserved the various outstanding features of the house.

Both inside and outside walls are of brick. The recessed entrance provides space to fold back the tremendous storm doors. Door and window frames in the house follow several patterns but for the most part are topped with egg and dart molding and a Roman classic design of great charm. Especially elaborate treatment of the woodwork was used in the dining room. Among the many beautiful plaster ceiling centerpieces, the medallion in the library is considered the finest.

From the entrance hall the stairway, which has rails and spindles of mahogany, extends in an unbroken flight to the floor above. The typical double parlor is divided by a large arch, necessary to support the ceiling. This arch of carved mahogany terminates in a decorative corbel at either end. Two fireplaces warmed the area in winter and many windows, all with handmade glass, provided the necessary summer ventilation. The marble mantels are unusual in that they are an unidentical pair. One depicts spring; the other, autumn. Throughout the house are rare antiques, paintings and objets d’art.

The front portion of the beautiful garden has a formal arrangement focusing on a classical statue. There is also a bird bath backed with a long bed containing cherry laurels (Prunus Laurocerasus), yews (podicarpus), myrtles, a seasoning bay tree (Laurus nobilis), a large cocculus, camellias japonica, and azaleas, edged with boxwood. A huge purple bougainvillea climbs the iron lacework on the front, while the back of the gallery supports a Quirqualis indica vine, a tropical plant sometimes called Rangoon creeper. The bed alongside the house has camellias, multifleur, and Confederate jasmine vines (Trachelospermum jasminoides).

An integral part of the landscape design is the limestone balustrade which encloses the garden and runs along the flagstone paving. There are formal boxwood parterres in the back garden and an inviting circular bench which surrounds an exceptionally large sweet olive tree (Osmanthes fragrans). The planting around the fish pond includes podicarpus, sasanquas, bottle-brush (Callistemon lanceolatus), shrimp plant (Beloperone guttata), loquat, viburnums, and barberries. White azaleas in profusion lend springtime beauty.

Elaborate ornamentation over windows and doors in Mmahat house is of carved mahogany. Note ceiling medallion detail, crystal chandelier.


1328 Harmony Street


Strikingly handsome in its simplicity, the Bernard house is often cited as a pure example of a Louisiana raised cottage. Sturdy brick pillars support the wide gallery which is reached by a long flight of steps. Wooden railings are plain while windows to the floor are symmetrically arranged on either side of the recessed doorway.

Long owned by various members of the Bernard family, the cottage exudes family tradition but the builder and construction dates are unknown. Earliest record of the “property with improvements” is 1861. Bernard family lore tells of workmen who were finishing the roof watching Admiral Farragut’s fleet steam up the river toward New Orleans in 1862.

The floor plan of the main floor of the house is typical, a wide central hall, in this instance eight feet wide and 33 feet long, which extends from front gallery to back gallery. Behind the characteristic double parlors on the right of the hall an added wing contains dining room and kitchen. All rooms are large, distinguished in proportion but not formal in character. Modernization has been done in an unobstrusive way by the present owners who also corrected alterations done some 20 years ago so that all changes are now compatible with the structure’s original lines.

This old house has been adapted skillfully to the needs of an active family with the attic converted for boys’ bedrooms and additional rooms in the ground floor basement. The spacious corner lot is landscaped with swimming pool and patio.


2926 St. Charles Avenue


A delightful Southern home with many galleries to catch the breezes, the Coiron house dates from 1882, yet it was designed and built in the manner of dwellings of the 1860 period. The architect is unknown but the original owner was one Thomas McDermott, who resided there for many years with his two maiden sisters.

Older Garden District residents still recall McDermott sitting on the little porch off the dining room every summer evening, smoking his cigar until dusk. One charming eccentricity of the McDermott sisters earned them a place in the ranks of colorful individuals who have made the Garden District their home. When the garden produced no live blooms, these old ladies pinned paper flowers to the hedge on the Seventh Street side of the property.

Subsequent owners of the house were Mrs. Hughella Virginia McCloskey, Henry Mooney, Ernest Scipio Myers, Mr. and Mrs. Morris Legendre, and, by bequest of the Legendres, Christ Church Cathedral.

Extensive restoration work was done by the present owners Mr. and Mrs. George A. Coiron, Jr., after they purchased the house in 1964 from Mrs. Sylvia Reiner, who had acquired it from the Cathedral.

During the renovation, interesting construction details of this finely built house were revealed. Year-round comfort was assured inside the house by the original designer who left air chambers between the inner and outer walls, which are braced some 12 inches apart. Every room has a balcony or gallery.

Above the front door is the number 710, etched in France, which was the original street numeral on St. Charles Avenue before the municipal numbering system was changed in 1895.

A bit of history attaches to the iron fence and gates which were installed in 1934 by Mr. Myers. The rear gate, originally from old Spanish Fort, had been purchased for $35 from a junk man who got it when the popular lakefront amusement park was demolished.


1224 Jackson Avenue


Particularly charming, this raised cottage is one of the few remaining vestiges of the elegance of the homes along Jackson Avenue during the early days of the Garden District.

Research by Samuel Wilson, Jr., architectural historian, establishes that the house was built around the time of the War Between the States by a man named Swain, who previously had resided in a house on the corner of Philip and Chestnut streets. In 1869 it was the property of Louis Schneider. In May of 1881 the house was sold to Isaac West, whose family lived there until 1929, when it was purchased by the Kilpatricks. They in turn sold to Mr. and Mrs. Paul Pigman. Mr. and Mrs. John B. Hobson bought the house in 1962.

The beautiful façade is embellished by a deep cornice, fluted Corinthian columns and lovely “iron lace” in a pattern of lyres and flowers. Instead of the usual symmetrical arrangement of windows on either side of the central doorway, the Hobson house has a gentle bay on the left side. Originally the house had a large rear wing which was destroyed by fire in the 1950’s.

Inside the house are found ornate and elegant plaster moldings and ceiling medallions. A spiral stairway rises dramatically to the second floor from the wide central hall. The Hobsons have furnished the house with a collection of 18th century English antiques.


1427 Second Street


This dignified and handsome Greek Revival house has been the property of Mr. and Mrs. Chester A. Mehurin since 1948. During their long period of ownership, the Mehurin’s have completely restored the house, under the supervision of Koch-Wilson architects, made some additions and also delved into the interesting history of the property.

The house was probably built by Mrs. Jane Fawcett, widow of James D’Arcy, on this ground which she purchased in 1845, in the rear of her other property facing First Street that she had purchased the year previous. According to Mrs. Dagmar Renshaw LeBreton in “A Tour of the Garden District” the D’Arcy-Mehurin house was part of a large plantation home moved here by the D’Arcy’s in the early 1850’s and then added to. Such house moving was not uncommon during that early period, strange as it may seem.

A number of architectural features help establish the date of the house as circa 1850. The ceilings are only 12 feet high and the doors were originally single width. The door moldings are in the same pattern as those in the Pontalba buildings, also created in the 1850’s.

At the time of Mrs. D’Arcy’s death in 1885 the house was under lease to Dr. Henry D. Bruns and was described as “a commodious and well-built two-story and attic frame-slated residence, with hall in the center, and contains parlor, library, dining room, kitchen, etc. and some numerous bedrooms above. Bathroom, pantry, etc., with marble mantels and gas-light fixtures throughout. Embellished yard and garden, two cisterns, sheds, etc. Stylish appearance, choice neighborhood.”

In 1907 the house was acquired by Mrs. Henry C. Miller, whose daughter Miss Lottie Miller conducted a fine private school for girls there until about 1931 when Dr. John H. Musser bought the place. The ironwork on the house was added at that period. The Mehurin’s purchased the house from Dr. Musser’s estate. Many old out-buildings, including a wine cellar, were removed by the present owners so that the present garden could be established.


1506 Seventh Street


Although the architect and builder of this stately mansion are unknown, it was probably constructed in the 1850’s. A delightful rendering in water color of the house as it appeared in 1865 is in the notarial archives of Orleans Parish.

This charming painting shows the house without the library with bedroom above which was added to the south side of the house in 1890. Details such as the columns—Ionic on the lower gallery, Corinthian above—and the curved flagstone walk from the entrance on Seventh street are clearly shown. This rendering indicates that the present large drawing-room was, at that time, a double parlor, perhaps separated by an arch. The former servant’s ell, extending back from the dining room, was so deteriorated that when Mr. and Mrs. Leland S. Montgomery purchased the house in 1961, they demolished that wing and had the present kitchen, breakfast room and playroom added in keeping with the style of the original house. The Montgomerys also had the wooden front porch floor replaced with one of flagstones that came from the front walk.

Interestingly, the original owners of the house were named Montgomery, but no relation to the present owners. The leaded glass of the front door is etched with an “M”, placed there circa 1912 by the third owners of the house, whose name was Morgan.

Many interior embellishments of the house are original to the structure. In the living room the brass and bronze gas chandeliers, now electrified, are original as are the French cornices over the windows.


1236 First Street


Majestically situated on a large corner lot abounding in typical Southern shrubs and towering magnolia trees the Percy house is a fine example of the Greek Revival style. All the components of a classic Garden District mansion are here—double galleries, fluted Corinthian columns, iron grillwork, and a deep but simple cornice above the top porch.

A characteristic floor plan, as indicated from the arrangement of windows and the door in the façade, was to have all major rooms on the south side (the preferred exposure) of a long hall. The present owners of the home, Mr. and Mrs. Billups P. Percy have modified this arrangement by the addition of a library on the north side of the house.

One of the oldest structures in the Garden District, the Percy house was erected in 1847 by John W. Gayle for his young bride. It was passed to its present owners through several ownerships, including the Alfred Le Blance family who resided here for fifty years.

In the interior of the house are to be noted such familiar antebellum hallmarks as black marble mantels, plaster ceiling rosettes and crystal chandeliers. In addition to the English, French and Italian antiques in the house, an item of special interest is an oil portrait of the late William Alexander Percy, Mississippi poet, author of the autobiographical “Lanterns on the Levee” and the adoptive father of Billups Percy.


2336 St. Charles Avenue


This early Louisiana cottage, believed to date from the 1840’s, looks today much as it did when the little railroad on Nayades Street brought wealthy business men from their offices downtown out to their palatial Garden District homes.

The façade of the house is symmetrically lovely, distinguished by the wooden railing in a diamond-shaped design, so seldom found today. Typical of the best features of homes of this period are the wide center hall, high ceilings, double parlors, cypress woodwork with hand-hammered door knobs, heart pine floors and handsome window glass. Window and door frames are in the so-called keyhole design.

The present owners of the house, Mr. and Mrs. Albert J. Ruhlman have furnished it with pieces contemporary with the era of its construction. Particularly noteworthy is the collection of furniture by Prudent Mallard, a native of France who worked in New Orleans from 1840-79. The Mallard sideboard in the dining room is of peg and hole construction, no nails of any kind having been used. Also the work of Mallard are two bedroom sets, one with a half tester, the other with full tester. Among the other interesting Mallard furniture are two chairs and a prie dieu which were once possessions of the master cabinetmaker himself.


1240 Sixth Street


After undergoing varied and not always felicitous usages during its long history, this handsome double galleried frame house is once again what it was originally, a fine private dwelling.

Estimated by Koch and Wilson, architects for the restoration, to have been built between 1866 and 1868, the house for many years was the Music School of the original Sophie Newcomb High School and College. The school’s main campus was in the square directly across the street, as described earlier in this book. When Newcomb relocated, the property was acquired by the Baptist Bible Institute, which divided the huge rooms of the dwelling into six apartments, all with individual baths and kitchens.

After Dr. and Mrs. Joseph Schlosser purchased the house in 1953, many months of planning preceded the restoration. In addition to removing the apartment arrangements, the Schlossers had the house completely rock-lathed, replastered, repainted, replumbed, re-wired and insulated. From 11 to 15 coats of paint were removed from the original woodwork.

The entrance door and the stair railing are solid mahogany. The pair of black and gold Austrian marble mantels in the living room and library came from Uncle Sam plantation. This sugar plantation, owned by Pierre Auguste Samuel Fagot, had been one of the most magnificent in Louisiana. In the dining room the marble mantel came from a house, now destroyed, designed by the celebrated architect Henry Howard.

The Schlosser’s have furnished their home with antiques and a notable collection of paintings by Ellsworth and William Woodward. William Woodward, a native of New Hampshire, was the first professor of Art and Architecture at Tulane and his brother Ellsworth founded the Art School of Newcomb College.



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Transcriber’s Notes

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