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The Historic New Orleans Collection: Why Visit This Outstanding NOLA Gem

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It’s undeniable that one of the best things about traveling to a new destination is to discover its history and culture. On my last visit to The Historic New Orleans Collection, I had the opportunity to learn so much about the past of the fascinating city of New Orleans. I had a blast exploring the unique exhibitions and was blown away by everything I didn’t know!

So if you love museums, I’ll be sharing everything you need to know about this New Orleans gem and why you should visit.

About The Historic New Orleans Collection

The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) is a museum, research center, and publisher committed to preserving the history and diverse culture of New Orleans and making it accessible to everyone.

Whether you’re a local resident or a tourist, you can expect to find an extensive collection of more than a million items from more than three centuries. This includes documents, photographs, prints, and other objects that are displayed in permanent as well as rotating exhibitions. In addition, THNOC hosts various tours, lectures, educational programs, and resources for teachers and students.

Best part? Admission is free!

historic new orleans collection facade of 533 royal street

The Merieult House serves as the entrance to a network of buildings and courtyards that make up The Historic New Orleans Collection’s original site. The complex includes The Louisiana History Galleries, The Counting House, Williams Residence, and beautiful courtyards. (Photo courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection).

The Three Locations Of THNOC

Located in the heart of the French Quarter, The Historic New Orleans Collection is one of the top institutions of its kind in the U.S. dedicated to educating its visitors with its three historical buildings:

  • The Merieult House (533 Royal St.) – this is the original location, a house museum with a self-guided exhibition about the history of Louisiana.
  • The Williams Research Center (410 Chartres St.) – where study materials are available for scholars, historians, and those interested in history and culture.
  • The Seignouret-Brulatour Building (520 Royal St.) – it’s the institution’s exhibition center and latest addition which features educational galleries and changing exhibitions. 

Looking for fun things to do in New Orleans? Discover unearthing seven hidden gems in the city.

Traveling in the fall? Check out these 8 thrilling Halloween events and festivals in NOLA.


History Of The Museum

historic new orleans collection founder portrait of kemper williams

The Historic New Orleans Collection was founded in 1966 by General L. Kemper Williams and his wife Leila Hardie Moore Williams—two private collectors of Louisiana materials who wished to keep their collection intact and available to the public for research and exhibition. (Photo courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection).

Although The Historic New Orleans Collection currently has three locations, the museum started as the residence of Lewis Kemper Williams, son of a prosperous family, and his wife Leila Moore Williams.

In 1938, the couple bought two properties in the French Quarter; one was the Merieult House on Royal Street and the other was a late 19th-century house that would be their home for the next 17 years. During their time together, the Williamses gathered a considerable collection of important artifacts related to the history of Louisiana. This collection would later become the foundation of THNOC.

Continuing With Their Mission

The Historic New Orleans Collection was founded in 1966 with the mission of making New Orleans’ history accessible to everyone and preserving the collected materials for future generations. After the death of both founders, the Kemper and  Leila Williams Foundation was established to ensure financial support for The Collection.

historic new orleans collection founder drawing of leila williams

(Photo courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection).

As a publisher, THNOC has produced award-winning original books and even its own magazine, the Historic New Orleans Collection Quarterly, as another way to spread understanding of the region’s history, culture, music, and art.

Moreover, intending to preserve tangible objects from the city’s past, THNOC has continuously restored its historical buildings on Royal and Toulouse Street and constructed new structures over time.

In 2023, the institution started a renovation project to improve the Merieult House at 533 Royal Street. For this reason, most of the displays from this residence will be temporarily moved over to 520 Royal Street, in the French Quarter Galleries.

If you’re interested in the darker side of New Orleans’ history, you should pay a visit to The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. They even say it’s haunted!

Exhibitions

The Collection holds permanent displays as well as temporary exhibitions that offer a look into New Orleans’ history, from its colonial past to its musical legacy and varied culture. So, even if you already visited the museum, there’s always something new and exciting to see in any of its different locations.

Here are the exhibitions you can’t miss in The Historic New Orleans Collection.

American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith

“American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith” is an exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service that delves into the continuing evolution of America’s government. You’ll find very comprehensive insights into the challenges that Americans encountered throughout the formation of its democracy and the changing ideas about citizenship to this day. What is more, the exhibition offers an immersive experience that features engaging multimedia displays and artifacts from the Smithsonian Institution.

Tip: Short on time? Take a shortcut! THNOC offers quick tours of the exhibit at 520 Royal Street for free. They’re available on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and there’s no need to book in advance!

The exhibition will be on view for the public at the 520 Royal Street location from June 17, 2023, to October 8, 2023.

historic new orleans collection interior of the williams residence

The Williams Residence showcases the elegant French Quarter home of the institution’s founders. Established as a house museum in 1973, the Williams Residence is the only French Quarter house open to the public with its original furnishings. (Due to COVID safety protocols, tours of the residence are not offered at this time.) (Photo courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection).

“Yet She Is Advancing”: New Orleans Women and the Right to Vote, 1878–1970

April 28 to November 5, 2023 – 520 Royal Street.

The exhibition “Yet She Is Advancing” explores the decades-long struggle by women to get the right to vote in the US. Even though the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution granted them this right in 1920, there was still a long way until women of color in Louisiana could be included as part of the democratic process.

Furthermore, The Historic New Orleans Collection tells this empowering story through objects, images, documents, and interactive displays that highlight the significant role and persistence that female citizens had for nearly 100 years fighting in favor of the women’s suffrage movement – definitely, a must-see that will spark a lot of thought and appreciation for our past.

French Quarter Galleries

Permanent exhibit – 520 Royal Street.

The French Quarter has been home to various populations that continue to shape the life and diverse culture of their residents in the present, and “The French Quarter Galleries” explores how and why this happened. Through multimedia, interactive displays, and over 300 original artifacts, THNOC presents the extensive and rich history of the neighborhood and how it developed over the centuries.

It covers everything from art, music, and culture to communications, the slave trade, commerce, and more. If you’re visiting New Orleans for the first time and love diving into the history of each destination, it’s a really interesting and engaging way to get a good understanding of the city’s original footprint and its legacy. Not to mention, it’s a nice activity you can do for free!

And after spending a few hours exploring, why not take a break at any of these 6 haunted restaurants in New Orleans?

historic new orleans collection facade of 520 royal street

The Historic New Orleans Collection’s main entrance is gateway to a meticulous restoration of the historic Seignouret-Brulatour Building and courtyard, as well as the new Tricentennial Wing. The complex houses THNOC’s Welcome Center, The History of the French Quarter Galleries, Café Cour, The Shop at The Collection, and special-exhibition galleries. (Photo courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection).

Notre-Dame De Paris: The Augmented Exhibition

November 15, 2022 to March 19, 2023 – 520 Royal Street.

The “Notre-Dame Exhibit” is an immersive experience that brings the history of Notre-Dame Cathedral and its ongoing restoration to life through 360-degree augmented reality. The exhibit was made in collaboration with Histovery, a French technology firm that designed and developed this interactive display.

This way, The Historic New Orleans Collection offers its visitors the unique opportunity to explore Notre-Dame de Paris through the ages by using an augmented reality touch-screen called HistoPad. This device shows you the Cathedral through its 850 years of history, allowing you to witness events like craftspeople laying the first stones in the Middle Ages, the coronation of Emperor Napoleon I in 1804, and even its current reconstruction after the tragic fire of April 15, 2019.

The Notre-Dame Exhibit is a free, self-guided journey designed for all ages. Also, the HistoPads are easy to use and visitors can choose among 13 language options.

Further Information About THNOC

Contact

  • Email: wrc@hnoc.org
  • Phone: (504) 523-4662

Open Hours

The three properties in which THNOC operates are located within three blocks of each other and admission to all of them is free for self-guided visits

Here are the hours and some basic information about each campus:

The Seignouret-Brulatour Building (520 Royal St.)

  • Tuesday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Williams Research Center (410 Chartres St.)

  • Tuesday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
  • Closed every Sunday and Monday.

Visits to the research center must be scheduled in advance. You can email reference@hnoc.org or call (504) 598-7171 to make an appointment.

The Merieult House (533 Royal St.)

This facility is temporarily closed for renovation.

Note: all facilities are closed to the public on Mondays and select holidays. Check out the website to see more information.

historic new orleans collectioninterior of the williams research center

Located at 410 Chartres Street and available by appointment to the public at no charge, the WRC contains more than 30,000 library items, more than two miles of documents and manuscripts, a microfilm collection, and more than 500,000 photographs, prints, drawings, and paintings, as well as beautiful and unusual three-dimensional objects. (Photo courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection).

Where To Stay In New Orleans

Looking for good hotels in New Orleans? Here are some of TripAdvisor’s top recommendations near the French Quarter:

Or even better, how about a spooky stay with some ghostly friends? Check out these haunted hotels!

Last Thoughts

With that said, The Historic New Orleans Collection is one of those hidden gems that you can’t miss when visiting a new place. I think it’s good to see institutions making use of technology and resources in the most innovative ways to keep educating people and preserving the legacy of their city. 

Without a doubt, THNOC has achieved its objective of making history accessible and engaging for all people, which is not an easy thing to do. So, I really hope you give these exhibitions a chance; I’m sure you’ll find them as striking and thought-provoking as I did.

XO,

Anna

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Anna
Anna

Anna is a traveler, blogger, and entrepreneur who can’t keep herself still. She’s always on the move, whether working hard on a new passion project or exploring a new city as a part-time digital nomad. Dare to keep up? Check out The Tatted Nomad for everything digital nomad, social media marketing, mental health, and travel (and to see her latest addition, Novah, her service dog and travel companion). As a psychotherapist (to be) she also offers insights about your mental health related questions – anything you see that isn’t covered but you have questions about? Let her know!

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