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Places (POIs) visited during this tour

Place #1
Distance: 0.26mi , Attraction : Unique Shops
Map Pin
1429 Washington Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130, USA
POI 1 Tour Image
The Rink/Garden District Bookshop
Welcome to Historic America & UCPlaces’ audio walking tour of the Garden District. We’re glad you could join us! I’m Aaron, your guide (but I also respond to professional history nerd). This is the part of the tour where I fit in my shameless plug for our websites – (www.historicamerica.org & www.ucplaces.com – and I invite you to use #historicamericatours on social media while traveling alongside us today.

Now that you’ve arrived - let’s get you oriented.

The small shopping center at 2727 Prytania Street is known as The Rink. You should be able to easily locate it from where you’re now situated. The building itself was once a roller rink (hence the name) and today contains a number of unique shops here in the heart of the Garden District. At the conclusion of our tour, you’ll end up back in this area, and we encourage you to return to The Rink and visit the various sellers. Make sure to peruse the Garden District Bookshop - a personal favorite of ours because we love a good read about local history.

Speaking of local history, this would be a good spot to give you an overview of the neighborhood we’re about to tour together.

When most people think of New Orleans neighborhoods they think of the French Quarter which dates all the way back to 1718 and is downriver from where we are, in the downtown area of New Orleans. The Garden District (where you now stand) dates back more recently to 1833 and is found upriver; roughly 3 miles southwest of the French Quarter in the uptown region of the city.

The Garden District was once part of an entirely different city from New Orleans – a city known as Lafayette. It was born because wealthy, Anglophone Protestants who flooded into the region following the Louisiana Purchase chose to separate themselves from the Francophone, Catholic Creoles who dominated New Orleans’ French Quarter. This neighborhood was their enclave. At first it was sparsely populated and dominated by large mansions with only a few houses per block. The land around each house was developed by the owners into garden space - that’s how the name “Garden District” came to be. As the years wore on, however, these large parcels of land were subdivided into smaller plots and more housing was built during the Victorian era as the city of New Orleans grew to encompass Lafayette. Now both neighborhoods are in the same city. But the quaint, tree-lined Garden District still feels a world apart from the manic bustle of the French Quarter. Here you’ll also see more people walking around with bottles of kombucha and cups of gourmet coffee as opposed to open containers of alcohol.

Our walk today will take you on a journey through this neighborhood to uncover the gorgeous houses, colorful personalities and fascinating history that make this neighborhood a destination unto itself. Let’s begin by walking northeast along Prytania Street to the next intersection.

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Place #2
Distance: 0.05mi , Attraction : Historic house
Map Pin
2624 Prytania St, New Orleans, LA 70130, USA
POI 2 Tour Image
Colonel Short's Villa
You’re now at the intersection of 4th Street & Prytania Street. We’re interested in the home on the southwest corner of the intersection, the one with the distinctively carved iron fence and prominent second story balconies which face the road. This fabulous mansion is known as Colonel Short’s Villa and it’s the first point of interest on our journey today.

The home was built in 1859 for Robert Short – a native of Kentucky who (along with his wife) relocated to this custom built New Orleans dream house shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War. Although the house is marvelous to behold, its most distinctive feature is the ornate iron fence. Look closely and you'll be able to identify its intricate motif of morning glories and cornstalks. It was long said that the fence design was the work of Mrs. Short, who was originally raised in Iowa and missed the cornfields of her native state; she had the fence built as a tangible memory of her girlhood. A more contemporary explanation is that the fence was the most expensive item in the building catalog, and the Shorts simply wanted to flaunt their wealth.

Whatever the case maybe, shortly after they moved in, the war came, prompting Robert Short to return to Kentucky and join the Confederate Army, while his wife remained inside their New Orleans home.

While he was away, New Orleans fell to Union forces and the Short home was seized by federal soldiers. Colonel Short was classified as an “absent rebel” which entitled the blue troopers to evict his wife and utilize the house as they saw fit. Given the grandeur of the home, it was first occupied by newly elected Federal Governor of Louisiana - Michael Hahn. It next became the residence of Union army commander Nathaniel P. Banks, who was a former governor of Massachusetts and Speaker of the US House of Representatives before becoming one of the so called ‘political generals’ of the Civil War (these were men appointed to military posts because of their political connections as opposed to military skill). Here at the house, Banks and his family held lavish wartime dinner parties for the benefit of their fellow union officers & their families. At one such event, Mrs. Banks played the role of the "Goddess of Liberty" surrounded by decorations symbolizing all the states of the reunited country.

In 1865, the house was returned to Colonel Short, who returned with his wife and lived here until his death in 1890. Generations later, the villa underwent a lavish interior renovation and made its triumphant return in 2015 as the most expensive house in the New Orleans real estate market with a price tag of $6.5 million - at that time, a record for local house listings.

Not a bad pile of bricks huh?

Our stroll continues northeast along Prytania street toward our next stop.

As you walk, take a moment to notice the lovely building diagonally opposite the Short Villa on the north side of the intersection. This is the Sully Mansion (look closely and you’ll see a sign on the large, wrap around porch). It’s named for architect Thomas Sully and today stands as one of the city's best Bed & Breakfast locations. In the home’s earlier days, influential Life magazine photographer Charles Bennett Moore lived here and established himself as visual chronicler of the Civil Rights era. His photos spurred the movement for equality under the law by capturing provocative images of protests, demonstrations and police brutality. A one time boxer, Moore said of his behind-the-lens career shift, “I don’t wanna fight with my fists - I wanna fight with my camera.”

I’ll meet you down the road.

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Tour itinerary stops | Additional places you'll see on this self-guided tour

Map Pin Place 1 The Rink/Garden District Bookshop
Map Pin Place 2 Colonel Short's Villa
Map Pin Place 3 Briggs-Staub House
Map Pin Place 4 Toby's Corner
Map Pin Place 5 The Manning House
Map Pin Place 6 Rosegate/The Brevard-Mahat-Rice House
Map Pin Place 7 The Payne-Strachan House
Map Pin Place 8 Montgomery-Hero House
Map Pin Place 9 Walter Robinson House
Map Pin Place 10 Commander's Palace
Map Pin Place 11 Lafayette Cemetery

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