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Favorite Building Friday – Carrollton Courthouse

For this week’s Favorite Building Friday, we are heading uptown to talk about the Carrollton Courthouse.

Located at the top of the St. Charles Streetcar line is Carrollton, a lovely and mostly residential neighborhood situated in a bend of the Mississippi River and extends to the Jefferson Parish Line.  This area was originally part of Bienville’s property upon the founding of New Orleans, and as time went on it was subdivided and sold. By the early 1800’s this property was in the hands of the McCarty Family, who were prosperous sugar planters. In the 1830s, the family sold their property to investors and the town of Carrollton was incorporated in 1845, as part of Jefferson Parish – which at this point ran all the way downriver to the City of Lafayette (current Garden District and Irish Channel). According to Richard Campanella, once the City of Lafayette was annexed into New Orleans, Carrollton was chosen as the new seat of Jefferson Parish government. As such, a new courthouse would have to be built.

Henry Howard was selected to design this courthouse in 1854. He chose to design this building in the Greek Revival style which was very popular for public buildings in the United States from New England to the Deep South. In New Orleans, two of our best surviving examples of Greek Revival architecture are the Old U.S. Mint and Gallier Hall.

The design of the Carrollton Courthouse is very simple, even compared to other Greek Revival building projects of the day. The front portico is comprised of four two story tall cast iron Ionic columns capped by an unadorned triangular pediment. No dentils, no bas relief, just simple straight lines. The building itself is brick covered in plaster and appears to be segmented by square shaped pilasters. Old pictures show that the front door and windows had been decorated with triangular pediments which have long since been removed.

Image from “Art Work of New Orleans,” published in 1895 in twelve parts by the W.H. Parish Publishing Co. of Chicago

This building operated as the Jefferson Parish Courthouse from 1855-1876, when Carrollton was annexed by the city of New Orleans. As the city of New Orleans already had their own courthouse, this building was deemed unnecessary and closed. In 1889 the building reopened as McDonogh Number 23, a public school funded by the estate of John McDonogh, a wealthy New Orleanian who willed much of his fortune to establish schools in New Orleans and Baltimore. McDonogh Number 23 closed in the early 1950s. Throughout the next 50 years schools both of public and charter varieties were housed in this building before its most recent closure in 2013.

Following its closure, the Carrollton Courthouse gained attention from the preservation community, who feared its vacancy would exasperate an already deteriorating building. On the local level, the Louisiana Landmarks Society created a campaign called Save the Courthouse and added the courthouse to its annual list of most endangered buildings called the 2015 New Orleans Nine. That same year, on a national level, The National Trust for Historic Preservation added the Carrollton Courthouse to its list of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Community meetings were held and ideas were discussed. According to the Danielle Dreilinger in the Times Picayune, one of the leading ideas was to turn the property into “La Maison Francaise de Louisiane, a cultural complex housing the French consulate, the Alliance Francaise language school and the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL), which provides native French-speaking teachers to immersion schools, among other groups.” However, this plan was very costly and was not able to happen. The city auctioned off the property and it was finally purchased in March of 2017, by a company planning to use the building for a senior living community.

Image taken by Sophia Germer for New Orleans Advocate, 2017

One hopes that this building will be renovated and preserved so that it may be standing another 160 years. The Carrollton Courthouse is not only an impeccable example of antebellum public architecture, but it is also one of a fraction of buildings left that were designed by Henry Howard, one of New Orleans’ most prolific architects. We owe future generations a chance to see this one.

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