History, New Orleans
Fondest memory: New Orleans is one of the more unique cities in the U.S. with a unique history. Don't miss appreciating the city's history while visiting it, which will make your visit more memorable. The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park visitor center at 419 Decatur Street in the French Quarter is a good place to stop. Learn about the history of jazz at the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park at 916 N. Peters Street.
This venerable building along Canal Street is the Custom's House*. Who would have imagined that forty years of construction would be necessary in order to produce this structure?
The Customs House, the third such for the Customs Collection District of Mississippi, had four decades of planning, partial construction, interruption by a Civil War, revising and further construction to create the building seen today along the streets of New Orleans today.
It was 'one of the most important buildings in the United States as it served as the sole port of entry for the collection district which eventually included all the shores and waters of the Mississippi River, the shores and rivers of the U.S. emptying into the Gulf of Mexico east of the Mississippi and all the shores and waters of the Ohio River and its branches'.
Construction on the present building began in 1848. By 1860, the Custom House was said to be the 'largest structure in the U.S. with a footprint of 32,000 square feet greater than that of the Capitol on Washington, D.C.' yet it still had no roof. Despite its condition, employees of the Customs Collection District, the Post Office and U.S. Courts began occupying the unfinished building.
Finally, in 1869, the Supervising Architect of the Treasury, Alfred B. Mullett, took matters in hand, restarting construction. Under his direction, much was accomplished. He was followed by, William A. Potter, who revised plans for a precarious staircase, installed the latest technology and finished the structure in the late 1880's.
*The Customs House is now the location for Aubudon's Insectarium--go to www.auduboninstitute.org for more information.
For a complete history of the Custom House, go to http://cbp.gov/custoday/jun2000/tradtn.htm
This building, constructed before 1772, was once the site of a blacksmith shop*. It's thought to have been run by the Lafitte brothers as a cover for their more profitable business, privateering.
One step inside convinces you that at one time, this building echoed with the sound of forging. Within its dark interior, you'll find a concrete floor and very rustic decor. Currently, it is being used as a bar and restaurant. We ducked in here during a drizzle--it was easy to imagine it as a blacksmith shop.
Jean Lafitte is said to have provided the town with little luxuries that were hard to come by, therefore guaranteeing a blind eye towards his activities. History records that he operated mainly from Barataria Island, south of New Orleans. Officials investigated his camp once, but because he helped Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans, he was pardoned. The town of Lafitte is named after him.
He disappeared after his pardon and was never seen again, becoming one of the more mysterious characters in history. For more info:www.atneworleans.com/bodfy/blacksmith.htm
*Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith shop is located on Bourbon Street
As we ventured through the historic district, we came across this structure which didn't seem to fit in with nearby architecture. When researching it after returning home I discovered the reason.
Madame John's house is a good example of a New Orleans 18th century colonial home. Not many buildings from the 1700's still stand, primarily because there were two devastating fires (1788 and 1795) that destroyed much of New Orleans in this period.
Homes of this style could also be found in the French Indies, the Illinois Country and Canada. The property consists of three buildings: the main house, the kitchen with cook's quarters and the two-story garconniere.* These buildings are separated by an L-shaped courtyard.
Due to frequent flooding, homes of this type were raised off the ground and lower basement was used as a store house, work area and foundation for the upper floors.
*garconniere in french means "boy" and in plantation families it was customary to remove the males when reaching their teens and place them in separate quarters
Hours are Tues.-Sat. 9am-59m; Sun., 12n-5pm. Closed Mondays and major holidays.
Admission is $6 adults; $5 for students, seniors and active military; 12 and under free
Fondest memory: Address: 632 Dumaine St., New Orleans, LA phone: 1-800-568-6968 or 1-504-568-6968
For more information go to: http://lsm.crt.state.la.us/madam.htm. Madam John's house is part of the Louisiana State Museum
New Orleans has some distinguished looking buildings along its well-traveled streets. I've enjoyed delving into the history of some of these structures, some old and some not so--such as The Louisiana Supreme Court building.
The colonial government established by both France and Spain in the 1700's, gave rise to Louisiana's judicial system. Prior to this, the rule of the land was determined by explorers who visited the area.
Two centuries later, justice was dispensed from this formidable Beaux-Arts style building, which occupied an entire block. The structure was built (1910) to house The Louisiana Supreme Court and the Orleans Civil District Court and was used as such until vacated in 1958.
It was wisely restored to become the location for the Lousiana Supreme Court and other law-related offices once again. In 2004, U.S. Supreme Court Justice,Sandra Day O'Connor and Lousiana Supreme Court Chief Justice, Pascal Calagero, Jr. and other justices helped to rededicate the building at 400 Royal Street. Contradicting the belief that you can't go home again!
To read more of its history, go to www.lasc.org.
My favorite text is Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century, by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall. Here are some notes from it. Interestingly, the vast majority of Africans imported into Louisiana came from Senegambia, in French West Africa. East coast slaves in contrast mainly came from islands in the Caribbean. Louisiana Africans came as groups, bringing skills swamp draining, rice farming, and blue indigo dye production, as well as their language, culture, and religion. Woloof, today the main tribe of Senegal, and Bambara, from the Niger River area at today's capitol of Mali at Bamako made up the majority. The Woloof were more likely skilled and domestic slaves, while the Bambara drained the swamps and built the levees of New Orleans. Both groups had established slave systems in Africa, but the treatment of slaves in Louisiana was harsh for a variety of reasons. Since, French settlers were quite literally the rejects from France--criminals, drunks, and others unfit for society in France--slaves mixed with a disreputable lot. Also forced to emigrate to Louisiana, French settlers were given very few resources. The French military system was spread very thin with very few resources as well, and soldiers frequently escaped service to live with the Indians. Louisiana was the least of the French colonies in America, since it didn't provide the easy riches of the fur pelt industry of Canada, nor the easily created plantation economies of the Caribbean. Louisiana was a swamp full of unhealthy dangers, and the river remained difficult to navigate until the 19th century. The French depended upon agreements with the Indian tribes to defend against the English and Spanish incursions, and for the return of slaves and soldiers that ran away. Punishments for soldiers and slaves were so harsh that the Indians disrespected French authorities who treated their own more cruely than they did an enemy.
Fondest memory: Bienville and other governors familiar to us were businessmen that enriched themselves at the expense of settlers. Supplies and slaves destine for the settlers were often taken and sold elsewhere for a profit by this small aristocracy in New Orleans. Essential food and clothing rations for the ragtag army were diverted elsewhere or sold at a multiple of their value to the desperate settlers. As the slaves population grew, so did the plantations, which became the largest in the antebellum south. Slave revolts in combination with Indian allies was frequent. Modern racial bigotry was not, however, existant. Free blacks mingled early on and mixed with both the settlers and Indians. As enslaved Indians and settlers died African slaves labor became essential. After the French Arcadians pushed out of Canada by the British, they refurbished the French language influence, but New Orleans Creole was probably already firmly established. It was the influence of the Lousiana creole--essentially African traditions mixed with Indian and French influences--that spread up the Mississippi and eastward across the south, providing much of the character of modern American music and food. New Orleans, the leading city for slave auctions in the south during antebellum times, was an isolated, lazy, and festive city as it is today. Thus, the reputation for civic corruption has its origins in the French colonial corruption that predated the more stark racial bigotry of the more modern era. The music, cuisine, and even the lingering spirituality of the city have their origins in the Africa. If New Orleans losses its black population as a result of Katrina's devastation, it could well lose this fundamental influence. The other texts I purchased in advance of the soujourn to Natchitoches and the plantations in this region of New Orleans (see my VT pages for Natchitoches).
New Orleans started of as a french city, was then given to the spanish, became french again and ended up with the english USA.
There are still signs telling this history. Streetnames are indicated in french and in spanish.
In 1699, brothers Pierre and Jean-Baptist Le Moyne de Bienville became the first Europeans to ply the Mississippi. When they sailed north, they noted the narrow portage to Lake Pontchartrain and less than twenty years later, Jean-Baptist Le Moyne returned to lay out Nouvelle Orleans.
Early settlers arrived mostly from France, Canada and Germany, while the French imported thousands of African slaves. Colonial mercantilism proved to be an economic failure and the city's smuggling and local trade became the backdrop of New Orleans' extralegal enterprise and unsavory character.
French officials feeling the drain on the national treasury. Yet they did not want the English to obtain the land, French officials negotiated a secret pact - the 1762 Treaty of Fountainbleu - with Spanish King Charles III (a cousin of the King of France), ceding the extensive Louisiana territory west of the Mississippi, including New Orleans, in exchange for help in France's war against England. During this time, French refugees from Nova Scotia (Acadia) began arriving, following the British seizure of French Canada. (The British deported thousands of Acadians for refusing to pledge allegiance to England.)
Spanish officials, also feeling the financial burden of Louisiana, quickly relenquished the land to Napoleon Bonaparte when he offered in 1800 to retake control of the territory. Soon US president Thomas Jefferson saw his nation's need to seize the river capital, to proceed on a path of western expansionism. Bonaparte knew he risked losing New Orleans to the British and, preferring the lands be in American hands, sold the entire Louisiana Territory at a price of US$15 million (The Louisiana Purchase) on December 20, 1803.
The adjustment to American control was less than welcome, in 1808, the territorial legislature moved to preserve Creole culture by adopting elements of Spanish and French laws - especially the Napoleonic Code - elements of which persist in Louisiana to the present.
Fondest memory: It's such a treasure to show one of my all time favorite cities to my daughter. She may not understand or appreciate it now...but she will...and it's a great feeling to know that I have given her New Orleans.
Favorite thing: One of the coolest things about walking around NOLA is all of the historical signs and markers. Most of them tell you the significance of the area. Some of them let you know what the name of the current street was 200 years ago. Obviously, with all the changing of "ownership", you have lots of Spanish and French influence. Monuments also focus on the Civil War leaders.
Founded by the French in 1718, as Nouvelle Orleans , New Orleans has a rich history. French and Spanish influences still remain, mixed with Creole and the after effects of the civil war. These together with varying economic circumstances ( demise of 'King Cotton' , rise of Oil ) have moulded a very intersting city. The ' Crescent ' city ( because of the shape of the Missisippi river winding through it ) An indigenous musical genre called ' Jazz ' has had it's affect too ! Several memories of 'N'awlins' stick in my mind. In character, it is a city with something of 'European' feel to it. Something not really seen in the rest of the US. There are many 'must sees ' - here are some :a stroll along Bourbon Street, visit the old square in the French Quarter, walk along the riverfront and take a boat ride on the Natchez paddle wheel steamer.Take a tour of the Louisiana Superdome stadium. To give you an idea of it's size, the Astrodome stadium in Houston will fit inside the Superdome !! Visit one of the old Jazz Halls, walk around the beautiful Garden District, visit some of the old Antebellum Houses ( pre-Civil war houses ), take a stroll in Audubon Park, visit the Mardi Gras museum .. There is some great shopping in New Orleans with both the Big department stores and great little antique shops, specialty shops etc.
Fondest memory: There are many . Watching the street performers in Jackson Square in the French quarter and listening to free , impromptu jazz was something else.The old antebellum homes of the former plantation owners are really worth visiting. Try Magnolia Hall. Having a evening cruise along the Missisippi while listening to live jazz ( when the Saints go marching in ) was one of the best travel memories I have . Magic !
Favorite thing: New Orleans and street cars go together. They've been around since the 1800's, I'll find the exact date later and provide, and are used by everyone. Rush hour finds these filled to capacity. If you're here at Christmas, you may be lucky enough to see one filled with Santa Clauses.
Favorite thing: The belief is that you go up to Marie's tomb, mark it with three X's (or whatever your magic symbol happens to be) turn around three times, knock three times, place a gift (such as three coins, three oranges, three pieces of candy, etc,) and negotiate your wishes with Marie. Marie II is also believed to be burried here.
These are well kept shotgun houses in the Quarter. The shotgun style was typical construction throughout the city. It consists of one long house, with room after room. Typically, the entry room is the living room, followed by a dining area, followed by the kitchen, two bedrooms and exists to an outdoor court.
These beauties are well preserved by an influx of new residents recognizing the architectural significance of these old dears. I'll show you some other shots in the following photographs where the residents aren't savvy enough or inclined to recognize the potential of these jewells.
Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop. The legendary pirate Jean Lafitte is alledged to have lived in this once operational blacksmith shop and second oldest building in New Orleans (it looks it!) where he is supposed to have sold stolen merchandise and slaves out of the back. I hear he and Oja had a fling here for awhile back in another life. The town has not been the same since.
Today it is on the edge of the commercial side of the French Quarter, and just about as far as the average tourist should investigate. The neighborhoods can get a little rough the farther you go beyound this point.
The French Quarter is one grand contrast after another, and it probably hasn't changed in composition since the days the Creoles and French built it. It's beautiful in a weathered, unkept and colorful way. It is also a mix of wealth on one end, and poorer tenants on another.
Be cautious where you go towards evening's end. Don't walk too far away from the main commercial Quarter sections unless you have several friends with you or if you kow how to protect yourself.
The main sections are safe, except for pick pockets and pan handlers, but that's not a physical danger.
Lafitte's, in my mind, best represents this contrast. It's a safe, interesting and fun place to hang for drinks and chats. It's great for that, in fact. But just as the run down exterior demonstrates, you are nearing the boundary of the upkept Quarter. Don't go much past this point.
Favorite thing: The red building on the corner is an old pharmacy used by the French Quarter locals. It's interior is very similar in design to most of the pharmacy's and drugstores here in the USA from the 1920's and '30's. It also has, shown in the following photograph, and old soda bar. These were common in nearly every drugstore from that period. Ninetynine percent of them however, have been removed from history forever. This was a real gem to find.