The early architecture of Louisiana, carefully recorded in beautiful drawings submitted by the colonial officials to their superiors in France, was designed and built by trained professionals. The province continued to be dominated by French culture, French language and French law long after it was sold to the United States in 1803. While the French continued their traditions, in the areas of the state outside French settlement different architectural styles were brought by settlers from the Eastern states. In the 1830’s Louisiana became a cultural battleground between the traditions of France brought by way of the Caribbean and those of England brought by settlers from the Atlantic coast.
The best drawings produced by the colonial officials from archives in France, charming house drawings from the New Orleans Notarial Archives, Greek Revival designs by James Gallier and James Dakin from several libraries are gathered together as part of a remarkable documentary record of buildings–and the progress of the profession of architecture in America. The most famous buildings are illustrated and discussed–the Ursuline Convent, the Cabildo, Presbytère and Cathedral in New Orleans and the monumental columned houses along the Mississippi. But there are also many surprises–the majestic St. Charles Hotel with its 185-foot-high dome, Belle Grove, a sprawling Romantic villa in ruins and the many buildings by one of the Old South’s greatest forgotten architects, J.N.B. dePouilly. An entire chapter is devoted to the Louisiana plantation house and the two separate traditions–French and English–that created them. Louisiana remains one of the most distinctive, indeed “foreign,” states of the Old South.