Most museums are buildings which house collections of historical importance. Here in Louisiana, we do things a bit differently! OUR State Museum isn’t just one building – it is a collection of historical locations throughout the state which hold significant historical focus for each location. While the Louisiana State Museum, as a whole, has 13 different locations and experiences throughout Louisiana, New Orleans is home to the vast majority of them: nine in all. Many of these are located near historic Jackson Square near the French Quarter: some are simply locations to see, others are museums in and of themselves. Just a short streetcar ride from Avenue Inn Bed and Breakfast, discovering these sites is a great way to spend some of your Crescent City getaway!
The 1850 House
523 St. Ann Street
If you visit Jackson Square, you’ll notice two long, red-brick three-story buildings flanking the park on the St. Ann Street and St. Peter Street sides. These historic edifices are called “Pontalba Buildings” (the ‘Upper’ and the ‘Lower’). Built in 1850 by the Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba, daughter of a Spanish Colonial landowner, these buildings were meant to provide shopping on the ground-level and residences in the sixteen houses of each building on the upstairs floors… much like they do today.
The 1850 House is located in the Lower Pontalba Building on St. Ann Street. Inside you’ll find that the residence has been furnished and styled with antiques, silver, artwork, and decor, much like it probably was during the city’s prosperous Antebellum Era, just after the building was erected.
The Cabildo and The Presbytere
701 Chartres Street and 751 Chartres Street
The St. Louis Cathedral is the most prominent building near Jackson Square with its tall spires, light-colored stone edifice. However when you look at the Cathedral, you may notice the two Spanish-style buildings to either side. To the west is The Cabildo, and to the east is The Presbytere.
The Cabildo was actually the name of the Spanish Governing body (the “Illustrious Cabildo”) that was in control of New Orleans in the late 1700’s. The building was erected specifically to house this ruling government (the French-style roof was a later addition). This building was known for being the site of the Louisiana Purchase Transfer, site of the New Orleans City Hall, Headquarters of the LA State Supreme Court, and now is the official home of THE Louisiana State Museum. Here you will find Native American artifacts from the area, artifacts from the Battle of New Orleans, Antebellum Louisiana, the Civil War, the Reconstruction Period, and even a bronze copy of Napoleon’s Death Mask!
The Presbytere was built shortly after the Cabildo, and was (of course) purposely styled to match the pre-existing building. It was built on the site held by the area’s Capuchin monks, and was intended for use as the St. Louis Cathedral… but that never came to pass. It did hold commercial business, and served as a courthouse before becoming part of the Louisiana State Museum. Inside is a collection of Mardi Gras costumes, artifacts, and information about the history of Mardi Gras.
600 St. Peter Street
Just behind the Cabildo stands The Arsenal: a Greek Revival style building which was home to the Orleans Artillery until 1861. Since that time, it was used as supply storage during the Civil War, a military prison after the Civil War, Metropolitan Police Headquarters during the Reconstruction, and finally as part of the Louisiana State Museum. Within its walls are an abundance of area military history.
The Creole House and The Jackson House
616 Pirate’s Alley and 619 Pirate’s Alley
Similar to The 1850 House (but on a much smaller scale), these buildings are typical Antebellum Period residences with three-stores, wrought-iron balconies, storefronts on the bottom level, and residences above. They are built on the orignal site of the French Guard House, which was made into a prison during the late 1700’s. There is a good chance that these buildings are built on the foundations of the old prison itself! While the buildings are not open for tours, you can certainly walk by and appreciate the architecture. Pirate’s Alley is located between the St. Louis Cathedral and The Cabildo.
Madame John’s Legacy
632 Dumaine Street
This 18th Century building actually survived the Great New Orleans Fire in 1795, and stands as an example of residential design during these times. Three buildings make up this site: the main house, a two-story garconniere (or bachelor’s quarters), and the kitchen/cook’s quarters. The main home is actually raised above a masonry basement with two stories, a covered porch,and high-pitched roof with dormers.
Old U.S. Mint
400 Esplanade Avenue
A few blocks down-river from Jackson Square at the east end of the French Market is the Old U.S. Mint. The Mint was built where Fort St. Charles once stood, and was the only mint to produce both Confederate and American coins during its production life (the 1800’s). Inside you’ll find the Louisiana Historical Center, the Performing Arts Center, and The New Orleans Jazz Club Collections of the Louisiana State Museum.
Friends of the Cabildo
523 St. Ann Street
Friends of the Cabildo was created to support the Louisiana State Museum. To help do that, the group offers two-hour walking tours of the Museum’s sites here in New Orleans. Tours are $15 per person ($10 for students), and leave twice daily, Tuesday through Sunday, from the 1850 House. Wear comfortable shoes because you’ll be touring all of the sites near Jackson Square AND making the trek over to the U.S. Mint and back! All tour guides have plenty of area knowledge and have gone through guide training with FOC.
Information regarding admission costs (if any) and days/hours of operation of each location are available at the Louisiana State Museum website.
You can either discover the sites on your own, or choose the guided tour. Either way, there is plenty to see, and you might spend the better part of a day exploring them all! But don’t worry, your welcoming guestroom here at Avenue Inn will be waiting for your return!