I would venture that when most people think of New Orleans, they conjure images of the French Quarter or a Mardi Gras parade or a bowl of gumbo. However, there are a few whose minds are immediately drawn to the Garden District. My love for the District led me to include the area in my novel, “Crescent City Lies.”
Having grown up in the Southern US, I am very familiar with antebellum mansions and lush gardens. My hometown of Aiken, South Carolina is a charming town with beautiful historic houses and another favorite city, Charleston has a plethora of quaint streets lined with spectacular homes and a stroll along the Battery is a step back in time. Yet, despite the familiarity I have with these old homes, I’ll admit to being smitten the first time I visited New Orleans’s Garden District.
Bound by Magazine Street, near the Mississippi River to the south and the famous St. Charles Street and the trolley line to the north, the Garden District is one of the most attractive neighborhoods in the country, boasting well-preserved antebellum homes and immaculate gardens. The area was designed by Barthelemy Lafron in 1382 after the Louisiana Purchase as settlement for American arrivals not anxious to mix with the European residents in the French Quarter. Wealthy from growing cotton and sugar and from the expanding shipping industry, the residents of the Garden District constructed homes in the classic Italianate, Greek Revival, and Victorian styles, contributing to the eclectic atmosphere of the area.
On my first visit to New Orleans, like most tourists, I was anxious to visit the French Quarter. I love quirky and eccentric places and things, and I wasn’t disappointed, the Quarter was all that and more. However, a city guide led to dinner at The Commander’s Palace and intrigued by the neighborhood, we returned the next day.
Despite the early morning hour, the humidity was rising, resting on exposed skin, the air thick with the fragrance of flowers drifting on the soft breeze. After driving around for a bit, we parked and walked along Prytania Street. Enormous ancient oaks loomed above the sidewalk keeping the secrets of hundreds of years standing as guardians in the District. Quaint clapboard houses of all sizes line the streets, some stately, others whimsical, painted in non-traditional colors. Ornate wrought iron is present everywhere in some fashion, a fence, a railing, a gate often enclosing pristine gardens.
Across the street from The Commander’s Palace restaurant sits the historic Lafayette Cemetery #1. Exceptionally maintained, the cemetery along with the entire Garden District has been commemorated in numerous books, films, and photography.
In my first novel, “Crescent City Lies,” my protagonist inherits her great-aunt’s Garden District home and two pivotal scenes in the novel take place in the cemetery. The lushness, beauty, and charm of the Garden District inspired me, I hope it will inspire you.
If you have not visited New Orleans do so soon. Take a stroll through the Garden District. Word is you might see Anne Rice working in her garden.
Check out these sites:
The Commander’s Palace
Lafayette Cemetery #1
(Photo: One of my favorite houses in the Garden District. Source: Google Earth)