A New Orleans Town House
I often get asked to point out my favorite place in New Orleans. It’s a tough question for any New Orleanian as there are so many great places for so many different reasons. But when I have to choose, I usually talk about my favorite home to photograph, Maison Vitry. I’ve written before about a project I’ve helped with at the home, but the place is definitely worth a closer look. It’s a private home in Treme with an intriguing history, amazing decorative and architectural features, and an interesting state of preservation.
Maison Vitry’s history is very characteristic of New Orleans. The home was built in 1855 for a free woman of color, Louise Arsene Vitry, by her consort, Achille Barthelmy Courcelle, a Frenchman. Louise was born in Louisiana to refugees of the Haitian slave revolts that occurred at the turn of the 18th century. In 1857, there was a bank panic which caused Courcelle to sue Ms. Vitry. Let me emphasize the point that Courcelle was a white male suing a free woman of color in antebellum Louisiana. Nonetheless, Courcelle lost the case. He appealed to the Louisiana State Supreme Court, which again ruled in Ms. Vitry’s favor. At this time, Ms. Vitry’s grand home had a lot that spanned the entire block and was serviced by her seven slaves. When the home was sold in 1882, a full column newspaper description, written in both French and English, described the “Elegant Family Dwelling,” its gardens, and all of the outbuildings which included a kitchen, four water cisterns, a green house, and a wine cellar.
Interestingly, while the family was very Creole, the house was designed as an American style, side-hall town house. After passing through the large, greek-revival front door, one enters the stair-hall with the original, mahogany staircase and wonderful, frescoed walls. The ground floor is dominated by it’s double parlor, which is separated by a pair of large, pocket doors. The back dining room also has the original frescoed plaster.
The home remains a private residence. Instead of rushing into a complete renovation, the owners decided to take their time to learn as much as possible about the building and it’s history. They have undertaken much preservation work, to safeguard the building from any further time-related damage, and thus have frozen the home in an elegant state of decay. While there is plenty of work to be done, the home has luckily been saved from both further damage and from a “sterile” renovation.
All photos (except for the portrait) are property of J. Levet, Jr. More information about Maison Vitry can be found at http://www.MaisonVitry.com.