Friday, February 6, 2015

The French Quarter – Jackson Square, a Museum ++

Continuing with our exploration of New Orleans and focusing on the French Quarter…

Bourbon Street and Jackson Square are the two best known locales in New Orleans’ French Quarter.  Jackson Square’s focal points are the St. Louis Cathedral and an equestrian statue of General Andrew Jackson.  As you can see, our weather was perfect for our visit!

Jackson Square was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960.  In 2012 the American Planning Association designated Jackson Square as a one of America’s Great Public Spaces.  This square was designed after the famous 17th-century Place des Vosges in Paris, France, reportedly by the architect and landscape architect Louis H. Pilié.  Jackson Square is roughly the size of a city block. 

Here’s a view of Jackson Square from inside the park area itself.  Iron fences around the square, walkways, benches, and Parisian-style landscaping remain intact from the original design by Micaela Almonester, Baroness de Pontalba, in 1851.  She also built the Pontalba Buildings, which flank the square.

The statue of the Battle of New Orleans hero and U.S. President Andrew Jackson was created by sculptor Clarm Mills.  The Square was named for General Jackson in 1815 and the statue was erected in 1856.  Mills created 3 other versions of this statue, located in Washington D.C., Jacksonville Florida and Nashville Tennessee.

(One of my former work associates confessed to me that when he was much younger and in a drunken state…he’d climbed on this statue in Jackson Square and accidentally damaged it.  He wasn't caught.)

The Cathedral itself dominates the square as well as the skyline of the French Quarter.  The Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France, is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans and it’s among the oldest cathedrals in the United States.  The first church on the site was built in 1718; the third, built in 1789, was raised to cathedral rank in 1793. The cathedral was expanded and largely rebuilt in 1850, with little of the 1789 structure remaining.

The cathedral was designated as a minor basilica by Pope Paul VI in 1964. Pope John Paul II visited the cathedral in September 1987.  Today the parish has over 6000 members.

The Cathedral is said to be haunted by Fr. Antonio de Sedella, more commonly known as Père Antoine.  He was a priest at the Cathedral and his body is buried within the church.  He is said to walk the alley named after him next to the Cathedral in the early mornings.  Accounts of his apparitions by parishioners and tourists claim that he appears during Christmas Midnight Mass near the left side of the altar, holding a candle. 

The pedestrian mall around Jackson Square is very popular!  It was created when three surrounding streets — Chartres, St. Peter, and St. Ann — were closed to traffic in 1971.  Throughout the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) had repainted facades, renovated surrounding buildings, and improved landscaping around the square.

Live music is a regular feature of the square.  Occasional formal concerts are held here, (the Dave Mathews Band and Taylor Swift in 2010), but for a century or more musicians playing for tips and as well as a variety of other entertainers have set up in the square.  Nearby residents sometimes try to get them removed, but that effort never continues for long. 

In addition to all of the musicians, fortune tellers, street performers and artists that set up shop around Jackson Square there are is flock of vendors selling gifts, souvenirs and crafts available for the dedicated shopper.

Note: Being New Orleans, it is no surprise that weird history is also tied to Jackson Square.   Following the disputed 1872 gubernatorial election in March of 1873, it was the site of the ‘Battle of Jackson Square’.  A several-thousand man militia under John McEnery, the Democratic claimant to the office of the Governor, defeated the New Orleans militia, seizing control of the state's buildings and armory for a few days.  They retreated before the arrival of Federal forces, which re-established control in the state.  This uprising was race related and it was just part of the general conflict in the state.  For more information go to:

This is one of the Pontalba Buildings located on one side of Jackson Square.  These buildings were completed between 1850 and 1951.  Much more to follow… This photo is attributed to: "Pontalba", Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.  We didn’t get a clear photo showing the extent of these buildings so I borrowed this one…

We just had to pay a visit to one of the museums located in the French Quarter.  We wanted to see how the well-to-do locals lived in earlier times.  This is the dining room of the “1850’s House”, one of the Louisiana State Museum’s properties in New Orleans.  The table is set for dinner.
This home occupies one of the Pontalba Buildings, this one on the St. Ann Street side of Jackson Square.  The other Pontalba Building is on the St. Peter Street side of the square.  These structures were built in 1850 by the Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba.  She was the daughter of Don Andres Almonester y Roxas, the Spanish colonial landowner associated with the neighboring Cabildo, (the seat of colonial government), the Cathedral and the Presbytere, which was designed to match the Cabildo.  Inspired by the imposing Parisian architecture the Baroness favored, the distinctive row houses were intended to serve as both elegant residences and fine retail establishments.

The parlor was subtly decorated for the Christmas season during our visit…although back in 1850, Christmas was almost purely a religious holiday.

Baroness Pontalba also convinced authorities to renovate Jackson Square, the Cabildo and Presbytere.  In addition she pushed church authorities to enlarge the Cathedral.  When the Pontalba buildings were completed in 1849 and 1851, each contained sixteen separate houses on the upper floors and self-contained shops on the ground floors.

This is an expanded view of the 1850s House parlor.  Families gathered in the parlor to entertain guests and enjoy music, card games, fancy needlework and stereograph viewing.  The furniture in the room dates back to the period that the house was built. 

Residents of this home and others occupying the Pontalba Buildings were well-to-do tenants, usually merchants, who lived here for a few years at a time.  An average of 9 residents occupied each of the 32 homes.  This included the families as well as servants or slaves.  Sometimes it appears the families occupied more than one of these town homes.

The current arrangement of these rooms roughly corresponds to the composition of the second family to live here.  This large bedroom is located at the back of the house where the owner or his wife could observe the work performed by their slaves.  That massive and decorative bed was made from rosewood…and its part of a six-piece set.  Note the cradle on the right…

If I have my research right, this is a portrait of Jenny Lind, a famous Swedish vocalist who stayed in one of the row houses in 1851.  Always the shrewd businesswoman, the Baroness Pontalba not only gave Lind a place to stay so she could draw attention to her newly built houses, but after the singer departed, the Countess auctioned off the house’s furnishings.

FYI…Three families lived in this house prior to the Civil War.  One was a merchant from New York, the second a merchant and former treasurer of the U.S. Mint in New Orleans and the third was a bank president and then President of the Great Western Railroad.

This is the nursery, complete with a cradle, toys and the child’s walker in the center.  FYI…for antique furniture buffs, the dresser and the half-tester bed were made by cabinetmaker, William McCracken.

Note: A half-tester bed is one that has a canopy extending over half the length of the bed.

Baroness de Pontalba (1795 - 1874) was a wealthy New Orleans-born aristocrat, businesswoman and real estate developer, and one of the most dynamic personalities of that city's history.  As her father’s only surviving child, she inherited a considerable fortune.  Her marriage wasn’t successful and she became a virtual prisoner at her family estate.  Having failed to gain possession of her entire inheritance, her father-in-law shot her four times at point-blank range with a pair of dueling pistols and then committed suicide.  She survived!  To learn more about this remarkable woman, you can go to,_Baroness_de_Pontalba.

This is the kitchen for the 1850s House.  Enslaved or immigrant cooks prepared food in this room for many hours each day beginning as early as 5 AM.  They would have shopped daily in the nearby French Market for fresh food.   This is part of the service wing of the house.  Besides the kitchen there were storage areas, additional workspace and housing for the slaves or servants.

The Louisiana State Museum operates 9 properties or attractions, 5 of which are in New Orleans.  In addition to the 1850s House, the other New Orleans properties include The Cabildo, the Prebytere, the Old U.S. Mint and Madame John’s Legacy.  The only other one that we had time to visit was Madame John’s Legacy…and it wasn’t much to visit when compared to the 1850s House.  To learn more about these State museums and attractions, go to

This is the courtyard at The 1850s House.  Back in the early days, these courtyards served as an additional work space for the adjacent kitchen and laundry.  The flagstones covered the gutter which drained wastewater out to the street.  Today, amidst the chaos and tourist traffic in the French Quarter, courtyards like this one offer the visitor a moment or two of peace and quiet.

Here are Laurie and Dawn Marie in the peaceful courtyard.  If we lived in the French Quarter, we’d definitely have to have a courtyard just for our mental health…

Dawn Marie took this photo of Laurie and me!  We do love traveling and exploring…

This is a view of the wide Mississippi River from the levee that protects the French Quarter. 

Jackson Square originally overlooked the Mississippi River across Decatur Street, but the view was blocked in the 19th century by the building of taller levees.  The riverfront was long devoted to shipping docks.  Back in the 1880s the river in front of the city was filled with steamboats, flatboats, and sailing ships from around the world.

This view is looking down from the levee back toward one side of Jackson Square and all of the hustle and bustle of the crowds…

The 20th-century administration of Mayor Moon Landrieu installed a scenic boardwalk, (now paved), on top of the levee to reconnect the city to the river.  It’s known as the "Moon Walk" in his honor.

Note: Maurice “Moon” Landrieu later became a congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives.  After leaving office in 1978, Landrieu served as Secretary of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  He is the father of former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu and also of New Orleans current Mayor, Mitch Landrieu.

This is the steam powered paddlewheel riverboat Natchez.  It docks right on the levee next to the French Quarter.  There will be much more about this ship in a subsequent posting… I can tell you that the line of folks boarding the Natchez for a day cruise on a Sunday in mid-December was very long indeed! 

This cruise ship was docked too far away for me to identify.  However, you might be surprised to learn that a number of cruise ship operations utilize New Orleans as a departure port.  These include Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean…with more than a dozen different cruise options between them.  In addition, American Cruise Lines and the Great American Steamboat Company operate ships that cruise the Mississippi River basin…

New Orleans and Baton Rouge up the Mississippi River are both major seaports.  I really like ships, probably as much as trains.  This trip provided a great opportunity for me to take photos and research the vessels that passed up and down the river.
The “Lady Z” was headed upriver.  She is a bulk carrier that was built in Shanghai for Anangel Maritime Services based in Athens Greece.  The parent company is the Angelicoussis Shipping Group with over 100 ships, 37 of them being bulk carriers.

Viewed from the levee, this is the Creole Queen, another paddlewheel riverboat offering cruises on the Mississippi River. 

She was constructed in Moss Point, Mississippi.  The Creole Queen made her maiden voyage on October 1, 1983.  She is an authentic paddle wheel vessel powered by a 24 foot diameter paddlewheel.  The ship is 190 feet long with a passenger capacity of 800.  To learn more about cruises on the Creole Queen, go to

That’s about it for now… Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Thanks for stopping by to help us explore New Orleans!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 


  1. I love re-reading and hearing all of the Nawlins history. We absolutely loved our 4-5 years there... SO much history and culture. We lived one street south of St. Charles (on Prytania)... I always wanted to live in the quarter with one of those courtyards... ha


  2. You really covered a lot of ground while you were in NOLA and how nice that the weather cooperated. We could all use a peaceful courtyard...

  3. There's no other city quite like NOLA and you did it up perfectly. When I was there by the river one time, I saw a Hispanic ship docked there and the boatswain was piping commands, blowing a whistle with different commands, for the sailors to climb the rigging, and then all stood at attention up and down the masts. One of the most amazing things I've ever seen, how quickly they climbed the lines, etc. and I will never forget it!

  4. I went back to read all your posts on NOLA, one of my favorite cities. Last time, we also went to the WWII museum and spent a day there, but I have not written a post on it, and by now I must have forgotten many details – your post on it was great. I saw enjoyed looking at all your pictures. We went to New Orleans about 3 years in a row, the last time we took a train from Memphis and while there went on a cruise. The time before we stayed one week with our grandson but for some reason I just cannot find my pictures – must have deleted them. Another time as we were walking along the water I thought I saw many French sailors – found out a French Navy ship had docked there. But last year we did not go so looking at your pictures was a treat. You certainly ate some yummy looking dishes.