Shortly before 11am on June 7, 1862 – with about 10,000-plus people – the rope snapped violently, and William Mumford’s neck was severed with it.
Meanwhile, Mumford – a gambler from North Carolina accused of hanging an American flag from a pole in front of the Old US Mint in New Orleans in the city’s early days – was recognized as a Confederate martyr.
Union General Benjamin Butler, the disgraced commander of the captured city, who ordered Mumford’s execution, became known as a tyrant.
And the US Mint, still relatively new, has acquired what may be the most famous theme in its history, which includes connections to the little-remembered early Jackson Square architect Benjamin Latrobe, Prohibition scofflaws and jazz history. . .
From the beginning
Before that, the area of Esplanade Avenue and the Mississippi River was home to Fort St. Charles, one of the forts along the river during Spanish rule.
At Fort St. Charles where Andrew Jackson, informed in January 1815 that the British were indeed coming, is said to have uttered the cry that marked the beginning of the Battle of New Orleans: “Forever, they will come. They will not sleep on our soil!”
Six years later, after the 30-year-old fort was decommissioned, the city turned the site into a public park named in honor of the city’s newest hero — and that’s how the city got its first Jackson Square. .
Ironically, Jackson would be held responsible for the demise of his namesake less than two decades later.
His economic policies after he was elected president helped bring about the Panic of 1837, which – briefly – led to the creation of large amounts of US currency. To create it, the federal government approved the construction of three new US mints, one in New Orleans; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Dahlonega, Georgia.
The largest of the three will be in New Orleans. For its location, city leaders proposed the original Jackson Square, and the feds agreed. (Don’t rule Jackson. He got his place in 1851, when the present-day Jackson Square, formerly known as Place D’Armes, was redecorated.)
William Strickland, a student of the architect of the US Capitol Benjamin Latrobe and a designer of many public buildings in Philadelphia, was commissioned to design all three new buildings. For the New Orleans home, he was paid $300 to paint a magnificent three-story Greek Revival building of red brick, stucco and granite.
Facing Esplanade Avenue, the main entrance is dominated by a central portico with six classical columns: four round columns with Ionic capitals, flanked on both sides by a circular column.
A central hallway door located below the main entrance to the second floor provides access to the ground floor. Two steps – hidden in the street and the wall – are designed to take visitors, through the balcony and the main entrance.
It also opened a central door that ran through the back of the building and had a central staircase connecting all three rooms.
Upstairs on the balcony, Strickland ordered a spacious but unadorned space, which overlooks the French Market overlooking the rear of the building.
Two L-shaped wings, one on each side of the central bay – boasting wrought iron balconies – would give the building an “E” shape.
First coins in 1838
Construction began in September 1835 and, on March 8, 1838, the new mint began production. Its first issue: 30 silver dimes made of Mexican silver.
Over the years, the New Orleans Mint minted many other coins, including Confederate coins for the Civil War, allowing the mint to produce both US and Confederate coinage.
(You can identify US coins minted in New Orleans by the “O” symbol stamped on them.)
Unfortunately, just as his mentor Latrobe had done when designing the city’s original building twenty years earlier, Strickland did not consider the softness of the local soil when designing the Mint. Therefore, it – like Latrobe’s customhouse since its demolition – quickly established a foundation.
He was called to fix it: a West Point engineering graduate and St. Louis native. Bernard Parish named PGT Beauregard.
Decades later, as a Confederate general, Beauregard made a name for himself by ordering the destruction of Fort Sumter, beginning the Civil War.
Mint no more
After the war, the New Orleans Mint became the US Mint again, but for a short time. By 1909, with small mints operating in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Denver – all close to gold – the decision was made, despite much outcry, to stop mining operations in New Orleans.
At first, it was temporary, but the shutdown would become permanent in 1911 with the removal of the New Orleans Mint and the transfer of its minting machines to Philadelphia.
Since then, it has seen various uses.
For several years after it was closed, it was a medical examiner’s office and an emergency clinic.
In 1932, it was converted into a federal penitentiary to house Prohibition scofflaws.
By 1943, the US Coast Guard was using it as a storage facility.
After being transferred to city ownership in 1965, it was designated as a nuclear weapons storage facility.
Meanwhile, it fell slowly.
He was saved in the ’70s
Finally, in the late 1970s, the state renovated the Old Mint and made it part of the Louisiana State Museum system. In addition to the museum’s historic museum, it houses the New Orleans Jazz Museum, which has Louis Armstrong’s first corner among its priceless exhibits.
A National Historic Landmark, at various times of the year it also hosts music festivals including the Satchmo Summer Fest and parts of the French Quarter Fest.
Sources: The Times-Picayune archive; Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies at the University of New Orleans; “The Butler Book: Personal Memoirs of Major-General Benjamin Butler”; The Numismatist Magazine; United States Mint; US Treasury
Know of a New Orleans home worthy of listing on this site, or just curious about one? Contact Mike Scott at email@example.com.
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