Vieux Carré Since 1718
The opportunity to tour one of the most important historic districts in America is rare. Enjoy your ride through the 90-square-block Vieux Carré, more commonly known as the French Quarter. Bordered by Iberville Street, Esplanade Avenue, Rampart Street and the Mississippi River, this 300-year-old neighborhood is one of the country’s most important treasures.
Stop often to read your cue sheets and the historical markers. The history and architecture of the small area is incredible. To avoid traffic, do this tour early on Saturday or Sunday morning. The residential area of the quarter should be almost free of traffic and the more commercial area should have limited traffic. Stop for a cup of rich coffee and powdered sugar-covered beignets at Café du Monde, and of course, save room for brunch or lunch in one of the many restaurants.
You might have to dodge a few horse-and-buggy tours on the narrow streets. Just use caution at the intersections as you enjoy the nonstop sightseeing offered by the Quarter.
Start: Jackson Square on Decatur across from St. Louis Cathedral and General Jackson statue. Go toward Canal Street.
NOTE: Jackson Square is the heart of the French Quarter. Established in 1721 as a drill field, what is now Jackson Square was known for more than a century as the Place d’Armes. Located in the center of Jackson Square is a statue of General Jackson on his rearing horse. It was put in place in 1856 and is the world’s first equestrian statue with more than one hoof unsupported.
Bordering Jackson Square are the Pontalba Buildings. Built by Micacla Almonester de Pontalba as luxury apartments with fine ground floor offices and shops, Micacla hoped to reverse the flow of commerce moving from the Vieux Carre.
St. Louis Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in the United States and the third church on this site.
Next door to St. Louis Cathedral, is the Cabildo. During the Spanish rule, this structure housed the governing council, or Cabildo, of the colony. From this building, France, then Spain, then France again, then the United States, the Confederate States and finally, the United States again, have governed. In a second floor room, known as the Sala Capitular, France ceded the territory of the Louisiana Purchase to the U.S. in 1803.
0.3 Right on Bienville.
0.7 Right on Burgundy. This area will be more residential and you will encounter less traffic. Enjoy the architecture, ambiance, balconies and gardens.
1.4 Right on Esplanade. Go one block to Dauphine.
1.4 Right on Dauphine.
2.1 Left on Conti. Go one block to Bourbon.
2.1 Left on Bourbon.
NOTE: Bourbon Street is known for its bright lights, competing types of music, modern hotels, restaurants and a continuous promenade of people. As you get farther down Bourbon toward Esplanade, you will find a more dignified, residential quality to this old street.
400 Bourbon. Old Absinthe House Bar is famous for its drink, the Absinthe Frappe.
941 Bourbon. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. Legend has it that the pirate Jean Lafitte and his privateers & smugglers operated a blacksmith shop as a front for their vast, illicit trade in contraband. The building dates back to 1772 and is one of the few remaining examples of soft bricks reinforced with timbers---a construction form used by early settlers.This area of Bourbon was once known as the home of voodoo queens and doctors. Settlers brought Voodoo to New Orleans from Haiti and Sainte Domingue. The famous voodoo queen, Marie Laveau lived nearby on St. Ann Street at the edge of the Quarter. Little is known of her historically, although dozens of stories, folktales, and rumors persist today. With her power to cast spells and heal physical ailments as well as heartaches, she became quite influential, counting among her clients some of the wealthiest people in the city. No one is sure if her original house even survived. Important, however, was the proximity of her house to Congo Square, where the slaves and “free person of color” congregated in her day and spoke in their native African tongues, danced to their own music and joined Marie Laveau in voodoo rituals.
2.9 Right on Esplanade. Go one block to Royal.
3.0 Right on Royal Street. NOTE: Royal Street is famous for its antiques, its art and the many ornate galleries that overhand the sidewalk. Royal Street was the Main Street of the French Quarter.
1140 Royal. The Haunted House. Madame LaLaurie was from the finest of Creole families and was known as a gracious and charming hostess. Her home became the scene of brilliant social events. But there was a persistent buzz of gossip about the LaLaurie’s servants. A neighbor reported to the police that she had seen Delphine LaLaurie mercilessly lashing a small Negro slave girl, who shortly thereafter fell from the rooftop to the courtyard below. The police took Madame LaLaurie to court but she was merely fined. Then on the night of April 10, 1834, a fire broke out in the big LaLaurie residence. Neighbors crashed through a locked door into a smoked filled room to find seven, wretched starving creatures chained leg and neck in the most painful positions, unable to move. A newspaper, the next day suggested that Madame LaLaurie set the fire herself. Citizens began to mass outside the house. Suddenly, a carriage burst out of the gate and race away, with the LaLauries in the back. The mob howled, then proceeded to tear down the house. The house was later restored but the LaLauries never returned. She died in Europe years afterward: Delphine’s body was brought to the city in great secrecy and buried. Ever since some say, groans, screams, and the savage hissing of whips have haunted the house.
1132 Royal. The Gallier House. James Gallier, Jr., was one of the city’s most prominent architects. Gallier designed the French Opera House. In 1857, he bought a lot here, then designed and built this residence (1857 or 1858). The elegant Victorian home, authentically restored to reflect the taste and lifestyles of a successful urban designer in post Civil War New Orleans.
934 Royal. The Great Creole was the home of General P.G.T. Beauregard, Creole hero of the Civil War. General Beauregard lived in this house with his son Rene for eight years after his return from the War. Note the love-birds on the iron gate.
915 Royal. Cornstalk Fence is famous for its morning glories and cornstalks. It was a present to the wife of Dr. Joseph Biamenti, who missed the rural scenery of the Midwest.
700 Royal. The Labranche House has probably the best known iron work in the Vieux Carre. These galleries were added to the house in the 1850’s.
640 Royal. The Lemonnier Skyscraper. This mysterious building on the corner has long been called the “Skyscraper”. When the fourth story was added to the house in 1876, neighbors feared that the swampy soil would not support its height.
533 Royal. The Merieult House is the oldest house on Royal Street. It survived the fire of 1794 that destroyed most of its neighbors.
534 Royal. Casa Commercio (the house of commerce) was built soon after the fire of 1794, probably for businessmen Lille Sarpy and Juan Cortez. During the 1920’s & 30’s, Lyle Saxon made this his home, while he wrote his wonderful books about New Orleans and her people. Saxon was responsible for encouraging many of his contemporaries to move into the Vieux Carre. His home was a haven for artists and writers and he helped many struggling creative people to develop their talents.
437 Royal. The cocktail was invented here by Pharmacist Antoine Peychaud. Entertaining his friends and fellow Masonic Lodge members after business hours, he prepared a mixture of brandy and his own special blend of bitters (still sold today). Served in a French “egg cup” called a “coquetier”, the drink took the name of the cup, and the English mispronunciation became “cocktail.”
301 Royal. Mallard’s Magasin. Prudent Mallard, who had learned his trade in his native France, came to New Orleans in the 1830’s and opened a furniture shop. Soon the furniture designed and built in Mallard’s Magasin was sought after by wealthy Creole planters and merchants. Mallard’s furniture can be seen in many museums and homes in New Orleans and the plantations on the Great River Road.
3.6 Left on Conti. Go one block to Chartres.
3.7 Left on Chartres. 541 Chartres. Spanish Roof. This structure was build to house the ice making equipment of the Cosmopolitan Ice Company in 1907. The style of roof (flat, with post of yucca or cactus) was typical of much older, Spanish building, like the Caboodle.
823 Chartres. This much photographed house was built in 1835.
1112 Chartres. This old French, stuccoed brick building may be the oldest structure in the Mississippi Valley. The Ursuline Nuns arrived at the colony in 1727, and began the first schools and orphanages, as well as caring for the “casket girls”.
1113 Chartres. Beauregard Keyes House. The author, Frances Parkinson Keyes, bought this Greek Revival house in 1944, saving it from demolition.
4.0 Straight through Jackson Square.
4.4 Right on Esplanade.
4.5 Right on N. Peters. You will be in the French Market area. Turn right on Barracks Street and explore the Flea Market and the Farmers’ Market.
The Flea Market rents stalls to vendors selling a variety of goods, from unique, collectable or hand made “treasures”, to common, “dime store” bargains.
The Farmers’ Market is the nation’s oldest operated produce market and sells vegetables, fruits, spices and seafood, 24 hours a day. Continue several blocks to Jackson Square and Café du Monde.
5.0 Café du Monde