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New Orleans Then and Now: The Mint Edition

United States Mint. New Orleans c1897 (E.S. Gardner). //www.loc.gov/item/93515339/

This is a picture of the building that served as the US Mint branch on Esplanade Avenue on the edge of the French Quarter in New Orleans. The Mint in New Orleans was in operation during two separate periods – from 1838 to January 1861 and again from 1879 to 1910. While it hasn’t been used as a mint in over 100 years, it has a history dating back to 1835 when the federal government looked into establishing three new Mint branches in New Orleans, Charlotte, and Dahlonega.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, New Orleans (Vol. 2 sheet 14, 1895) //www.loc.gov/resource/g4014nm.g03376189601/?sp=28

All three of the proposed facilities were chosen for very specific reasons – New Orleans was chosen because it occupied a very strategic location along the Mississippi River and was an important center for commercial activity, particularly the export of cotton. The bill for these new facilities was passed in 1835. In December 1836 Martin Gordon was nominated by Andrew Jackson to be superintendent of the branch; however, he ultimately declined the nomination. More appointments were published in the March 2, 1837 Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America:

From A Century of Lawmaking //memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwsl.html

  • William P. Hort to be assayer of the branch mint at New Orleans, in the State of Louisiana.
  • James B. Rogers to be melter and refiner of the branch mint at New Orleans, in the State of Louisiana.
  • Rufus Tyler to be coiner of the branch mint at New Orleans, in the State of Louisiana.
  • David Bradford to be superintendent of the branch mint at New Orleans, in the State of Louisiana, in the place of Martin Gordon, who declines. (p619-620)

When Louisiana seceded from the Union in January of 1861, the Confederate government took over and used the facility. That didn’t last long, because in 1862 the Union captured New Orleans. In the 1870s discussions began again about recommissioning the facility, notably S.R. 162 in 1870 and S.577 in 1872 which were reported on in the New Orleans Republican. The branch got a second wind in 1878 with the passage of the Bland-Allison Act. The facility began to hum again and the reopening was reported on in state newspapers. By the end of the 19th century, discussion turned to closing the facility, as seen in an article in the December 25, 1897 Lafayette Gazette and another reporting that closure was imminent eminent.

Photo Courtesy Ellen Terrell (2017)

Eventually, operations were shuttered. After that it served as an assay office and federal prison for a time, but in 1965 the building was transferred to the State of Louisiana. Since 1981 it has functioned as a branch of the Louisiana State Museum and features exhibits related to jazz as part of the New Orleans Jazz Museum.

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