New Orleans Garden District
New Orleans, LA - Events of Monday, May 5 to Tuesday, May 6, 2013
New Orleans was settled by the French in the early 1700s. When Americans began to migrate there in the early 1800s following the Louisiana Purchase, the French Creoles thought they were uncouth and didn't want them living in the French Quarter. The Americans weren't real crazy about the Creoles either, so since the Livaudais Plantation to the west of the city was being sold off in parcels, wealthy American newcomers began buying land and settling there.
The name Garden District comes from the fact the area was originally laid out with only two houses per block with large gardens surrounding each house. As time went on, the area became more urban, and many of the large lots were subdivided. As a result, Victorian gingerbread houses built in the late 1800s are intermixed with Greek Revival mansions built in the early and mid 1800s. The Garden District name stuck even though most of the large gardens are gone.
The city tour we took back in 2009 went through the Garden District, but we only got to see a few houses, and then it was from inside the tour van. We wanted to get a better look at some of the houses, so we began to investigate walking tours during this stop. There are several guided walking tours of the Garden District available, but Margery found information for a free, self-guided tour online from bigboytravel.com. Margery put together our own version of a walking tour using information she gathered from the bigboytravel.com website. She printed up a map and information on some of the houses we would see in the form of a small pamphlet we could carry with us.
We headed to the Garden District on Monday morning. The nice thing about doing our own tour was, not only could we go at our own pace, but we could also take Freeway with us. Since it is a residential area, there is plenty of free, on-street parking in the Garden District. We found a good parking spot on Prytania Ave., which was right along our tour route.
Our tour route covered an area about 4 blocks long and 3 blocks wide. We walked a total distance of 14 blocks around and through that area and saw over 100 houses and other landmarks. Only about 25 of those were written up on the bigboytravel website. We'll show about a dozen of the ones we thought were most interesting.
We were parked right beside a large, pink house. We don't know much about the house itself, but we thought the Greek-style relief sculpture of two horses at the top was impressive.
On one corner near where we parked was a house built by Bradish Johnson, whose family fortune was based on sugar plantations. The home was built at a cost of $100,000 in 1872, which is equivalent to $1.5 million today. Incidentally, most of the homes for sale in the Garden District have asking prices that range from $1 to $2.5 million.
Bradish Johnson House 1872
The Johnson House is now the home of the Louise S. McGhee School, which is a private girls' school for grades K-12. The school not only owns the Johnson House, but it also owns most of the other buildings on the block. Tuition is around $16,000 per year.
Walking to the west down Prytania Ave., we next came to the Davis-Seebold Residence. This house, which was built in 1858, is now the home of the Women's Opera Guild.
Margery and Freeway in front of the Women's Opera Guild
Next on our tour was the Briggs-Staub House built in 1849. This house was built in the Gothic style, which raised the ire of the neighbors because they were mostly Protestant, and the style of the house reminded them of the Catholic Creoles who lived in the French Quarter whom they didn't like.
Briggs-Staub Gothic-style home 1849
As we said, there are several guided walking tours available. We ran across a few of them while we were on our own self-guided tour.
One of several walking tours we saw in the Garden District
Another way to tour the Garden District is by carriage.
Carriage tour of the Garden District
The next house is Colonel Robert Short's Villa at the corner of Prytania Ave. and Fourth St. built in 1859.
Colonel Robert Short's Villa 1859
The interesting thing about Colonel Short's Villa is the wrought iron, cornstalk fence that surrounds the house. It is said Colonel Short bought the fence for his wife, who missed the cornfields of her native Iowa. We don't know if the fence comforted his wife or not, but it may have helped the Yankees feel more at home because they seized the villa to be the home of the Federal Governor of Louisiana during the occupation of New Orleans. The villa was returned to Colonel Short following the Civil War.
Down the block and across the street from the Colonel Short's Villa is the Garden District Book Shop. The building that houses the shop was built in 1884 as a wooden-floor, roller-skating rink.
1884 roller rink, now a book shop
Around the corner from the book store and down Washington Ave. is the Lafayette Cemetery #1. Established in 1832, the cemetery is named for the City of Lafayette, which is what the area was called before it was annexed by New Orleans in 1852. The cemetery takes up an entire city block.
Lafayette Cemetery #1
Many of the tombs in the New Orleans area are above ground because of the high water table. Also, many of the tombs contain more than one body. After a person has been dead for at least two years, their remains can be removed from the coffin and placed in a special bag. The bag is then placed either at the back of the tomb or in a compartment in the bottom of the tomb, and the tomb is then ready for another family member.
Down Washington Ave. at the end of the block and across the street from the cemetery is Commander's Palace Restaurant. Emil Commander built a large saloon on the site in 1882. The saloon became one of the top restaurants in the nation. Lunch entrees run from $21 to $30. Don't even ask how much dinners are. Needless to say, we passed on lunch.
Commander's Palace Restaurant
Our tour had us turn the corner onto Coliseum St. and head back toward the east. A short distance down Coliseum St. is the Koch-Mays House. This Victorian-style house was built in 1876 for James Eustis, who was a U.S. Senator and Ambassador to France. Today, it reportedly belongs to Sandra Bullock. An interesting feature of this house is the way it has several sections that step back to maximize the amount of sunlight each part of the house gets.
Koch-Mays House reportedly belongs to Sandra Bullock
Down at the corner of Coliseum St and Third St. was the Walter Robinson House. When it was built in 1959, it was the first house in New Orleans to have indoor plumbing.
Robinson House was the first in New Orleans to have indoor plumbing when it was built in 1859.
Next, our tour took a two-block jog to the right down Third St. where we came to the Montgomery-Hero House built in 1868 by Archibald Montgomery. This is one of the few houses that has retained a lawn almost completely surrounding the house.
Montgomery-Hero House 1868
A left turn onto Camp St. and another left onto First St. brought us back to Coliseum St. At the corner of First and Coliseum is the Payne-Strachan House, which was built in 1849. Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, died in this house on Dec. 6, 1889.
The last house on our tour we are going to show is the Pritchard-Pigott House. With its four massive, white columns, it is an excellent example of Greek Revival architecture.
Pritchard-Pigott House in the Greek Revival style
Just because the original lots have been subdivided doesn't mean there are no gardens at all. Jasmine was blooming all over the Garden District filling the air with its intoxicating scent.
Margery with jasmine in bloom
One house had exotic-looking shell ginger.
The next photo shows bergmansia flowers (angel's trumpet).
We had a very enjoyable time on our self-guided tour of the Garden District. We learned a little more about the city of New Orleans and its history. Freeway had a good time, too. He got to smell lots of new, city smells.
On Tuesday, we hung around the motor home most of the day. Margery went over to the campground laundry and did a couple of loads of wash. The washers and dryers are free, which was really nice since we didn't have sewer hookup and couldn't use our onboard washer/dryer. Paul checked air pressure in the tires and made a couple of other preparations for our departure the next day. In the late afternoon, we ran over to DiMartino's and picked up another muffuletta for dinner. On Wednesday, we headed out to our next destination. We'll tell you all about it in our next post.