In a post last fall, in which I documented my trek along the modern-day path of the historic Bayou Road portage route, I mentioned the Ossorno House on Governor Nicholls Street. Well, I just can’t get enough of this old house, and soon after I posted about it, the house went up for sale. Oh, and it went up for sale for the first time in over a century!

Ossorno House, 913 Gov Nicholls St, photo by author

Ossorno House, 913 Gov Nicholls St, photo by author

The house, originally built on the bayou, was dismantled sometime around 1781, presumably carted down Bayou Road, and reassembled in the French Quarter by 1784. Its owner, Gabriel Peyroux, apparently wanted to move it from the rural village that surrounded the lower bayou at the time into town, although the reasons for such a move remain unclear.

In the 1830s, its hipped roof (a roof with four sloped sides; see pictures of other examples below) was replaced by a gabled one, but other than that, the house still retains its French colonial plantation-style characteristics. The only other plantation-style house in the Quarter is the famous Madame John’s Legacy, but the Ossorno House is the only truly authentic plantation-style structure in the Quarter since it was actually utilized as such in a rural setting before being moved to the city. As Richard Campanella tells us in his Geographies of New Orleans, “[the Ossorno House] is over twenty-five years older than any building in the surrounding sixteen blocks, eighty years older than the area’s average age, and possibly the only structure ever to occupy its parcel.” [1]

On top of this, only three families have owned the house over the course of its 230-year history, and it hasn’t changed hands since 1912.

Colloquially-named Spanish Custom House, c. late 1700s, on Bayou St. John; photo by author; note the hipped roof

“The Sanctuary” on Bayou St. John, another French colonial plantation-style house hailing from the same era as the Ossorno House; photo by author; note the hipped roof

So, in short, we have a totally badass house here.

It witnessed the early days of bayou living—saw schooners gliding down the bayou, heavy with smuggled goods; saw fields of indigo and herds of cattle and orchards planted with rows of orange trees; maybe it even witnessed a runaway slave as she slipped silently along the bayou to hide in the cypress swamp beyond. Then, it was broken up and hauled along Bayou Road like nearly all the other goods arriving in the city at the time.

Again, Campanella sums it up elegantly: “That the Ossorno House may have literally come down Bayou Road from the Bayou St. John plantation country and ended up on Gov. Nicholls Street, where Bayou Road entered the city, is also of great significance. One may view it as a structural monument to the historic flow of materials and peoples traveling this route from city to bayou.”[2] Physical proof of the ancient artery of Bayou Road, once a stream of movement and activity, in the form of a slightly run-down plantation-style four-plex—which could be yours today for only 2.7 million dollars!

For awesome photos of the house’s current interior—six bedrooms, four baths, with a little retro kitchen tacked onto the back, and original fireplaces and wood floors—visit Curbed New Orleans.

 To continue traveling down the rabbit hole of this house’s unique history, visit the Historic New Orleans Collection’s Vieux Carré Digital Survey (complete with a brief history of the house, photographs from the 1930s-1950s, old drawings, surveys, and maps).

Better yet, go visit the house! You may not notice it at first, since it’s set back from the street and tucked in between the more stately and ornate townhouses that were built up around it in the 1800s. But don’t let its modest visage fool you—this house has stories to tell!



1. & 2.  Richard Campanella, Geographies of New Orleans: Urban Fabrics Before the Storm (Lafayette: University of Louisiana Press, 2006) 106.Campanella, Geographies of New Orleans, 107.


After a long hiatus, bayou posts are back! I know you’ve been waiting on tenterhooks….

After four months of more general Bayou St. John research, I am about to start focused research for the first chapter of the book—on the bayou’s geomorphic/geographic and Native American history. If anyone has any advice for me—ideas for what to read, who to talk to, etc.—reach out! I get to talk about former Mississippi River pathways, sediment deposits, pirogues, trade routes, slight-but-significant ridges.… CAN’T WAIT.

The past couple weeks, I’ve been on a few bayou adventures.

I biked the almost-100%-completed Lafitte Greenway—a 2.6-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail extending from N. Alexander St., near the base of City Park, to the French Quarter.

New Orleans residents may or may not realize that the Lafitte Greenway follows the path of the former Carondelet Canal, a waterway hand-dug by slaves in the late 18th century, when New Orleans was still under Spanish control, and utilized throughout the 19th century as a commercial conduit between the bayou and the French Quarter. This meant ships laden with goods from settlements north of Lake Pontchartrain or along the Gulf could avoid navigating the Mississippi River altogether and travel through Lake Pontchartrain, down Bayou St. John and into the Carondelet Canal in order to off-load their goods at the rear of the French Quarter.

A vew of the Lafitte Greenway between the bayou and Broad St.

If you ever wondered where old New Orleans stoplights ended up….

The open canal that runs between Broad Street and the bayou, positively gushing as it exits the Broad St. pumping station. Doesn’t it look almost turquoise? Don’t let that fool you. It stinks.

The giant locks at the Broad St. pumping station that control whether water flows up the underground culvert beneath Broad St., or else out to the Orleans outfall canal, via the open canal along the greenway.

There is much more I could (and WILL, in the book) say about the Carondelet Canal. But for now: there is a fabulous (free!) exhibit at the Pitot House on the history of the Carondelet Canal, curated by the Louisiana Landmarks Society, in celebration of the opening of the Lafitte Greenway. So many beautiful old maps and photographs!!! It is both succinct and intensely interesting. I HIGHLY recommend it.

After biking the greenway, I checked out the historic Ossorno House in the Quarter, at 913 Governor Nicholls.

This house was built on the Bayou St. John sometime before 1781 and apparently dismantled and transported, most likely via mule and cart, along Bayou Road to its present location—as were all goods traveling from the bayou to the Quarter before the Carondelet Canal was dug. According to geographic historian Richard Campanella (one of my heroes), in his Geographies of New Orleans: Urban Fabrics Before the Storm, the house is a fine example of a French Creole-style plantation house (although the roof was remodeled sometime in the 1830s)—one of only two plantation-style houses to be found in the French Quarter (the other being Madame John’s Legacy)—which testifies to its rural birth on the bayou. Campanella tells us it’s “the oldest extant structure in the rear of the original city” (106).

I then decided to bike the approximate path of this all-important route along Bayou Road, one of the principal reasons why New Orleans was founded where it was (for access to the river without having to navigate its mouth, as was mentioned above).

In traveling along the (approximate) portage route, one follows Bayou Road, which ends at the crazy, navigationally-nightmarish, odd-angled intersection of Bayou Road, N. Dorgenois, Desoto, Bell, and Kerlerec streets (thank god there’s delicious food right there, at Pagoda Cafe, for the weary, confused traveler) and continues along Bell Street (approximately) to the bayou. The exact location of the original route’s intersection with the bayou was probably somewhere between Bell St. and Desoto (more on this once I continue more in-depth research on the subject).

This terrible panoramic photo (thanks iPhone!) taken from next to Pagoda Cafe, while inaccurate in perspective, I think does justice to the psychological experience of navigating this intersection….

While in this neighborhood, I found…

A historic cornstalk fence at the historic (1870) Dufour-Plassan House.

The approximate general region where Almonaster built a leper hospital in the late 18th century.

An awkward spot where Barracks Street and Bayou Road diverge at a bizarre angle, since Bayou Road does not adhere to the grid plan the rest of the streets in the area adhere to—following, as it does, a natural ridge, the one the Native Americans used to cross the uncrossable swamp between the bayou and what is now the French Quarter.

Finally, I arrived at the bayou itself. Here are a few spots of interest along its banks, a couple of which I was lucky enough to get to go inside of (!!), courtesy of the generous, unsuspecting homeowners I found busying themselves in their front yards.

The house, at 1222 Moss Street, that sits atop what was once a small bayou connecting Bayou St. John and Bayou Sauvage, long since filled in.

What is referred to as “the old Spanish custom house,” although it never officially served as a custom house (there are various theories as to why people refer to it as such). I was lucky enough to get an in-depth tour of the inside of this home (!!!), the owner of which has been painstakingly renovating it for six years. Beneath layers and layers of renovations that have been done over the past two and a half centuries, he has made some amazing discoveries—like anactual iron jail cell, apparently dating from the Spanish colonial period, that the current owner suspects was used to hold folks who were smuggling illegal goods up the bayou, or who perhaps couldn’t pay the toll. ARE YOU KIDDING THAT’S AMAZING.

Below is the plaque that explains a bit more about the house.


Roses that someone had flung into the bayou near the Magnolia Bridge.

And, last but certainly not least, what is perhaps my favorite historic house along the bayou, built in the last decade of the 18th century: “The Sanctuary.” Walter Parker, former mayor of New Orleans, who spearheaded the “beautification” of the bayou in the 1920s and 1930s and who is therefore responsible, in large part, for the bayou as we know it today, once lived in this house. I wasalsolucky enough to be able to see the back courtyard of this home—guarded by a three-hundred-year-old live oak tree that predates the house, and other amazing, old, beautiful things. More on this house, and its many previous owners, to come.