History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

27 May 2009

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?


Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I've stayed at what was the Fairmont New Orleans (now renamed the Roosevelt New Orleans)while at the RWA conference in 2001 which is where Huey Long once had a suite. He also used to love to drink Ramos Gin Fizzes in the Sazerac Bar. The hotel has been around since 1898 and was named The Roosevelt after Teddy in 1923. When it was called The Gruenwald when it first opened, it allegedly had the first nightclub ever called "The Cave."

8:44 AM  
Anonymous kathrynn dennis said...

Great post, Amanda. I love staying in old houses, too. I put up with eratic plumbing, the too-short beds, and raggedy upholstry because I love the history.

I imagine if I ever struck it rich, I would spend my money buying old houses all over New Orleans and Atlanta just to save them.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Wonderful post, Amanda! I love staying in old houses. When I was a kid, my parents and I stayed a couple of times at an old estate in Massachusetts that had been turned into a hotel, called Blantyre Castle. I would spend the entire stay pretending I was a girl in one of the historical novels I loved to read. When my friend Penny and I traveled around Scotland, all the hotels we stayed at had once been private houses, including Culloden House, where Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed the night before the battle, and the Howard in Edinburgh that had been converted from two town houses. There's nothing like eating dinner or sipping sherry in the drawing room and knowing that you're doing research :-).

10:31 AM  
Anonymous Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Ooh, Tracy, I have always wanted to stay at both Blantyre Castle and the Howard in Edinburgh. How cool that you stayed in the same house that Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed in. I've also wanted to stay in the room Oscar Wilde stayed in before he was arrested at the Cadogan in London.

11:53 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

For an opposite take on historic venues, my son told me of a visit to Manhattan's tenement museum, from the turn of the 20th century -- cramped apartments where downtrodden immigrants would have lived. Only the conversation among the Manhattanites taking the tour mostly comprised comments like... "well, if you broke through a wall here..." or, "you know, this one has possibilities..."

1:40 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'd RATHER stay at an old house than in a new hotel. I usually stay at one of the smaller B&Bs when I'm in NoLa, and I always eat breakfast at Cafe Du Monde. I can't help it. I know it's not good for me, but I figure I'm not there all that often . . .

1:40 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I'm so glad (yet not surprised) to hear that I'm in good company! Elizabeth, I wonder if just about every pre WWII hotel, guesthouse, or B&B in New Orleans has some sort of history to it. You can't turn a corner without a house telling its story.

Kathrynn -- NOLA needs all the financial help it can get, so I hope you strike it rich soon! :) I have some really touching anecdotes about life post-Katrina from chanteuse Charmaine Neville -- who, by the way, is still an utter kickass performer, with the most expressive hands I've ever seen.

Kalen, I, too, had to make my pilgrimage to Cafe du Monde. My husband took a picture of me pigging out on beignets with powdered sugar dripping down my front.

Tracy, I envy you for staying at some of those magnificent houses and hotels in Scotland! Wow.

And Pam -- oy, that's so New York -- to visit the Tenement House museum and talk about how to renovate; but that's also typical Jewish self-deprecation. I confess that I would probably have that sort of conversation with my mother if we toured the museum -- but it would be in jest, to cut the tension of the experience.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Reference Services said...

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Here is the url of the blog from the Archives of the Sandusky Library, if you would like to take a look:


11:25 AM  

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