House museums offer a fascinating glimpse into the past of any location. Unlike traditional museums, often housed in modern facilities with carefully curated exhibits, a house museum is like a frozen piece of time. I've been so fascinated with them in the past that I've not only joined the North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM) and the Australian National Trust, which allows me free entry to many museums and historical sites all over the world, but I've also volunteered as a tour guide at a historic property in Melbourne, Australia.
Learning about the history of the house and the occupants over the years feels a little more relatable than learning about dates and important events. It also makes you feel like you're walking through history. What I love about this collection of ten New Orleans historic house museums is that you don't have to go far from your French Quarter hotel to find them.
1. The Historic New Orleans Collection
Located in the French Quarter, this 1889 two-story Italianate brick townhouse includes a formal dining room, two parlors, a study accented with Louisiana cypress, and two courtyards. In 1938, General L. Kemper and Leila Hardie Moore Williams bought and revitalized the property and resided in it from 1946 to 1964.
The Williams Residence is a legacy of the owners' commitment to preserving the French Quarter. Inside, meticulous decoration features original mid-20th-century furnishings, antiques, and artwork that reflect the couple's Louisiana roots and global travels. It was established as one of the New Orleanse historic house museums in 1973 and remains the only French Quarter house open to the public with its original furnishings. In addition to the house, the collection features various exhibits related to the history of Louisiana throughout the year.
2. The Hermann-Grima House
The Hermann–Grima House is one of the most meticulously restored New Orleans historic house museums. Constructed in 1831, this Federal-style mansion with a courtyard garden is a National Historic Landmark and one of the best-preserved examples of Federal-style architecture in the French Quarter. Notably, it features a functional open-hearth kitchen where cooking demonstrations are offered twice a month from November to April.
Additionally, it has the only remaining original and intact stable in the French Quarter. The house and its outbuildings give visitors a glimpse into the 19th-century life of its owners and the enslaved individuals who lived and worked there. For film fans, you may have seen the interior as Madame Lalaurie's Mansion in American Horror Story: Coven.
3. The Gallier House
Gallier House, designed by architect James Gallier, Jr. in 1860, is a historic New Orleans family home known for its innovative features like indoor plumbing and a double skylight. It reflects the refined taste of the Gallier family through period decorative arts. The house's history also acknowledges the contributions of enslaved individuals and domestic servants.
The house hosts cultural events like the Gallier Gatherings lecture series and exhibitions throughout the year, with themes such as summer dresses, Creole death and mourning, and holiday decorations. Notably, it appeared in AMC's Interview With the Vampire as the residence of Louis, Lestat, and Claudia.
4. The Pitot House
The Pitot House, built in 1799 by Spanish merchant Bartholome Bosque, is one of the New Orleans historic house museums in the Fairgrounds district. Over the years, it has been home to eleven different families, served as a convent for the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, and been cherished for its architectural and historical significance.
Located on one of the area's earliest European settlements, predating the founding of New Orleans, the house stands on land originally granted to French settlers in 1708. Notably, it is primarily associated with James Pitot, who purchased the home in 1810 from Edgar Degas' great-grandmother, Mme. Marie Tronquet Rilliuex. Tours of the property provide insights into colonial life, including Native American tribes, European settlers, and the significant role of James Pitot, New Orleans' first mayor after the city's formation in 1804.
5. The Longue Vue House and Gardens
While primarily known for its beautiful gardens, this estate also offers tours of the historic mansion, giving visitors a look at 20th-century New Orleans life. While it may look like a much older-style house, the land was purchased in the 1920s, and the current house was completed in 1942. The owners, Edward and Edith Stern, couldn't decide which style of façade they wanted, so each side of the house differed.
The west-facing façade of Longue Vue House takes inspiration from Palladian design; the south-facing façade is based on the Beauregard-Keyes House in the French Quarter. The east-facing façade draws inspiration from Shadows-on-the-Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana, and the north-facing façade is a Georgian classic revival with the addition of a fire escape. These unique designs give each side of the building its own distinct character. Events such as jazz picnics, yoga, and Tai Chi are often held in the gardens.
6. The 1850 House
The 1850 House, a part of the Lower Pontalba building in New Orleans, is a museum offering insights into mid-19th-century life in the city. This New Orleans historic house museum is part of the Pontalba row houses and was funded by Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba, who hailed from a lineage of French-Creole and Spanish aristocrats. Her father, Don Andrés Almonester y Roxas, played a significant philanthropic role in supporting landmarks like The Cabildo, St. Louis Cathedral, and The Presbytère.
Micaela's life changed dramatically when she married Joseph Xavier Célestin Delfau de Pontalba and moved to Paris. There, she faced the oppressive control of her husband and father-in-law, who coveted her substantial fortune. In a harrowing incident, her father-in-law attempted to take her life, resulting in injuries. She sought legal separation from her husband, though they were never officially divorced.
7. Madame John's Legacy
In an area known as “the French Quarter,” you expect many French-style properties—but in fact, the architecture you see has little resemblance to French colonial architecture. In 1794, a fire destroyed many structures in the area. When it was rebuilt, a mixture of architectural styles was adopted, including Creole and a mix of French and Spanish designs. One of the only remaining examples of French colonial style is Madame John's Legacy house at 632 Dumaine Street, built in 1788.
This house appeared in the 1994 movie Interview with the Vampire and is an example of Creole living in the 18th century. It is only open to the public sporadically, so it's best to check the website if you plan to visit.
8. The Beauregard-Keyes House
Located opposite the Ursuline Convent—a must-visit for history lovers—this historic house in the French Quarter was once the residence of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard and author Frances Parkinson Keyes. It's known for its beautiful courtyard and period furnishings and is featured in the new AMC series Interview with the Vampire.
Constructed in 1826, this site is designated as a National Historic Landmark. Its raised center hall villa combines elements of Creole and American architectural styles intended to take advantage of airflow from the Mississippi River. The Beauregard-Keyes House's rich history spans nearly two centuries, encompassing the lives and work of those who resided here.
9. The Edgar Degas House
While primarily known for its association with the famous artist Edgar Degas, this New Orleans historic house museum dates back to 1852 and delves into the history of Creole life in New Orleans during the 19th century. The Edgar Degas Foundation has a primary mission of preserving the legacy of the renowned French Impressionist. Additionally, it serves as a valuable cultural resource for the public. Degas resided here from October 1872 to March 1873 while visiting his maternal relatives, the Musson Family.
This unique property on Esplanade Avenue, eleven blocks from the French Quarter, stands as the sole open-to-the-public home and studio of Degas worldwide, meticulously restored for visitors to enjoy. The house museum offers painting and drawing classes and a unique breakfast and house tour.
10. The House of Broel
The House of Broel boasts a unique architectural history, combining the Antebellum and High Victorian periods. It underwent significant transformations, with the second and third floors added in 1850 by George Washington Squires. In 1884, the Renaud family elevated the entire house to create a lavish entertaining space, including a magnificent ballroom and luxurious parlors. The mansion showcases exceptional woodwork from both periods, highlighted by a massive mirror added by the Simon Hernsheim Company in the 1890s, adorned with a tobacco leaf border.
The original gasolier in the central hall is still functional, featuring adjustable arms for gas flow. The ballroom is adorned with ornate chandeliers, mirrors, and fireplaces, serving as a venue for opulent weddings and parties. The House of Broel offers guided tours by appointment, providing visitors with insights into the house's history, a dollhouse museum, and a fashion museum. It's located in the New Orleans Garden District.