It was May 7, 1718 when Jean-Baptiste le Moyne de Bienville founded the wonderful city of New Orleans in the name of the French Mississippi Company. Bienville named the city La Nouvelle-Orléans after Philippe d’Orléans, the Duke of Orléans who was the Regent of France at the time. Although the city only remained under French control for 45 years, ending with the Treaty of Paris, which ceded the city to the Spanish Empire in 1763, the French influence of our founders remains an important part of our culture and our heritage. You only need to spend a few minutes wandering the French Quarter, glance at any of our street (or business) names, or sample our cuisine to find reminiscences of our French origins. Even the symbol of our city, the fleur de lis, comes from our French founders. Regardless of our origins, we’re looking pretty good for a 295-year-old!
For many people, visiting New Orleans isn’t limited to staying within the city proper, but includes venturing into the surrounding parishes where numerous historic sites and beautiful natural environments can be explored. Plaquemines Parish is one such day trip highlight in the area, boasting numerous historical sites, including Fort Jackson, Fort St Philip, and Woodland Plantation, as well as excellent opportunities for fishing and exploring the bayou. The parish is located South and East of New Orleans, and extends from the Westbank of the New Orleans metro area down to the Gulf of Mexico. The name of the parish is derived from an Atakapa word for persimmon, a name adopted by the French settlers building Fort St Philip, the site of which was densely populated by persimmon trees.
Today marks 107 years since Andrew and Josephine Stewart were married. It was nineteen years after their wedding that they were taking a river cruise along the Mississippi and spotted the beautiful, but dilapidated, Oak Alley Plantation. A few months later, Mr and Mrs Stewart purchased the plantation and began what became their life’s work, restoring the property and its grounds to its former glory and opening the home to the public. Without the hard work and dedication of the Stewarts, we wouldn’t have this beautiful historic jewel of Southeastern Louisiana, nor would we have the wonderful Oak Alley Foundation to continue maintaining and restoring the property. Oak Alley Plantation is featured on our Oak Alley and Laura Plantation Tour, so come and visit for yourself!
While in and around New Orleans, you may notice there are quite a few buildings and institutions bearing the name Touro, including one of our major hospitals and an uptown neighborhood. You may even have noticed, if you hail from the Northeast, that there are many buildings and institutions around the country with the name Touro. Turns out they are all named after the same man, Judah Touro, who lived in New Orleans for more than 50 years. He originally came to the city in 1801, becoming a prominent businessman in the city. But after suffering a life-threatening injury in the Battle of New Orleans on New Year’s Day, 1815, he became something of a recluse and focused on capitalizing on his many business holdings in order to further his philanthropic efforts. Among his many contributions to the city were an almshouse, several religious institutions including both Touro Synogogue and a now-defunct Unitarian church, and numerous personal charities, among them victims of a fire in Alabama, a woman with starving children; he even once paid off the debts of an alchoholic man to prevent his large family from being sent to debtors prison on his behalf. But Touro’s most well known contributions remain those that resulted from his interest in supporting the medical community, an interest that arose out of the excellent medical care he received from his good friend Rezin Davis Shepherd following his injury in the Battle of New Orleans. Originally started as an infirmary for soldiers suffering yellow fever, Touro built up a quality hospital system here in New Orleans, and indeed Touro Infirmary remains one of the most respected institutions in the state today. The hospital received national attention during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as the only full service adult hospital to open immediately following the storm.
New Orleans is known for its unique and varied architecture, and one of the most interesting details that can be found on properties around town is the cast and wrought iron work. This is especially true in the city’s cemeteries, where you can find evidence of influences from the French, Spanish, German, and English founders of the city. Just like the beautiful iron decoration surrounding residents’ homes, their tombs were subsequently decorated with similar designs. Several styles are particularly notable, such as merchant bars, which are made up of round or square vertical bars and flat horizontal bars, as well as the picturesque style, which allowed blacksmiths to demonstrate their creativity through rustic, tree like fences in line with the nineteenth century romanticism that built so much of the city. And, of course, because we’re talking about cemeteries in the predominantly Catholic Orleans Parish, there are the iron crosses, found in all shapes and styles. Most notable are the voided crosses (open crosses) and those adorned with scrolls. Many voided crosses also have distinct and unique patterns or motifs placed inside them, so be sure to look closely!
The Faubourg Marigny is a quintessential New Orleans neighborhood. First developed in the early 19th century by an eccentric Creole millionaire, the area was originally a plantation outside the city limits of New Orleans. The area has a slightly seedy history as it was originally the neighborhood where white Creole gentlemen would set up households for their mistresses of color. In the mid 20th century the area fell into decline and became known not for mistresses but for dangerous criminals living in the area. It wasn’t until the later half of the 20th century that the area began to rebuild and redefine itself as the chic neighborhood it has become today, housing Frenchment Street, one of the best collections of live music in the city, as well as numerous restaurants. Strolling through the area today you will find beautiful examples of classic New Orleans architecture, much of it restored to the bright colors and whimsy the city is known for.