In 1966, avid collectors General L. Kemper and Leila Moore Williams established The Historic New Orleans Collection, a museum and vast archive that continues to be an invaluable research center for preservationists, architects, and historians.
In 1938, General Lewis Kemper Williams, a businessman and World War I veteran from Patterson, Louisiana, purchased the Spanish Colonial Merieult House on Royal Street and a late nineteenth-century residence on Toulouse Street, where he and his wife, Leila Moore Williams, lived for nearly twenty years.¹ During that time, the couple began to collect a diverse array of important materials relating to the history of New Orleans, which they stored on the second floor of the Merieult House. In 1966, their collection had become extensive and valuable enough to share with the public, which they did by establishing The Historic New Orleans Collection on the grounds of their Vieux Carré properties.²
A research center, museum, and publisher that has grown to occupy ten historic buildings on Royal, Toulouse, and Chartres streets, The Collection currently houses hundreds of thousands of important historical artifacts and documents relating to the history of New Orleans and the Gulf South, including an original copy of transfer documents relating to the Louisiana Purchase.³ Its exhibits, publications, and educational programs cover all facets of local history and culture, including the decorative arts, architecture, natural history, painting and photography, and biography.⁴ Of particular importance to preservation-related research are the organization’s extensive collections of historical maps, land tenure records, photographs, and its Collins C. Diboll Vieux Carré Digital Survey.
Also housed at The Collection are several archival materials relating to historic preservation in New Orleans, including the papers of Jacob and Mary Morrison, the Survey of Historic New Orleans Cemeteries, records relating to the Rivergate Documentation Project, the papers of Mary Louise Christovich, and records of preservation organizations such as the Vieux Carré Property Owners, Residents and Associates, Inc. (VCPORA) and the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association (FMIA). The Collection also maintains the papers of William Borah, a leader in the fight against the Riverfront Expressway.
1. The Historic New Orleans Collection, “Kemper and Leila Williams.”
2. The Historic New Orleans Collection, “About the Collection.”
3. Bill Capo, “Historic New Orleans Collection Showcases 200 Years of Louisiana History,” wwltv.com, April 30, 2012.
4. The Historic New Orleans Collection, “New Books and Best Sellers.”