WHO Slept Here? I Did! Staying at Places with a Past
My husband and I just returned from about ten days down South.
In New Orleans we stayed at the Lamothe House on Esplanade Avenue, bordering both the Vieux Carré and the Marigny district. Built in the 1830s for a sugar baron, it was one of the first double-wide (so to speak) mansions in the French Quarter, and was completely renovated in 1860.
What you see in the photo below is the dining room where guests have their complimentary, though disappointing, breakfast, consisting primarily of packets labeled Quaker or Kellogg. But that's not the point of my post.
Lamothe House dining room
The wide planked floors slope; the treads of the winding double staircase buckle under your feet as you mount them; the Victorian-era furniture is scratched, the upholstery tatty, and the underpinnings barely there because thousands of butts have sat there over the last three centuries, counting our own (butts and centuries).
Frankly my dears, it's those bygone butts that fascinate me.
Lamothe House foyer
Who slept here before I did? What was this house like in its heyday? Was the poky room we were first assigned, located in a low, one-story building flanking the courtyard and its opposite number, where the slaves slept? Were the rooms we were switched to a combination of front and rear parlors? Did the sugar mogul himself sleep there?
Room 214, Lamothe House. We slept here.
I love staying in places with a past. And if I'm only there for a few days, it doesn't much matter to me that the upholstery is worn or that the floors slant or that the plumbing is erratic. I'm surely not alone in imagining if these walls could talk...
Here, from the Lamothe House Hotel's web site is the history of the house.
The first Lamothe to own the property was Miss Marie Virginie Lamothe, who purchased two parcels of land fronting on Esplanade Avenue in 1829. She sold the same property to her 33-year-old brother, Jean Lamothe, in 1833.
The house was built circa 1839 as one of the first double townhouses to be built in New Orleans. Jean Lamothe was a wealthy sugar planter of French descent originally from the West Indies. He sought refuge in New Orleans for his family at the turn of the century, after the insurrection in Santo Domingo.
In 1859, the Lamothe family sold the property to Henry Parlange and Paul Rivera, two Parisians. At this time, Rivera contracted builder Louis Folliet (E. G. Gottschalk) to make considerable renovations. Rivera's contract included changing all the shutters and doors, and converting the porte-cochere (carriage entrance) into a main entrance and hallway. This is the reason for the unusual façade opening arrangement.
In 1860, the four hand-carved Corinthian columns were added to the double entrance. Also added were the twin winding stairways with hand-turned mahogany rails that sweep up to the second floor reception area and third floor suites. The house's great cypress floor boards and ceiling timbers were hand-hewn and many of the hand-wrought iron fastenings for doors and windows, as well as most of the original rolled glass window panes, have been preserved.
The double service wings were rebuilt of brick, and the courtyard was paved with flat stones originally imported as ship ballast. The original flagstones remain today.The Rivera contract also specified that the parlors were to be richly decorated to the taste of the owner. This is reflected in the rich interior millwork, moldings, and plasterwork installed by Folliet in 1860.
Interior openings retain the original Greek key arches and door frames surmounted by handsome molded cornices and transoms with sophisticated muntin arrangements.
I could not stop imagining what life was like here in the 1830s as well as in the 1860s, and how it changed over the decades.
In Savannah we rented a condo apartment in the Bird Baldwin House on Liberty Street, at the edge of the historic district. The house was built in 1839 as an inn. During the Civil War it served as quarters for some of General Sherman's troops. As a Yankee myself I admit it felt good to stay in a place that housed Union soldiers. Did they tromp all over the hard pine floors in their muddy boots? What did they discuss in front of the fireplaces? What did they do for recreation? How many other weary travelers stayed in these rooms? Where were they going and where had they been?
Do you enjoy staying in houses with a past? Have you ever done so? Do you tend to seek them out when you book a vacation and do you mind if the venue is a bit down at heel, if it's a trade-off to become part of the house's lore?