Spanish Period New Orleans: Celebrating Hispanic Heritage

Hispanic Heritage Month

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) —There are many components that made Louisiana and New Orleans, what it is today. For instance, the Spanish word “criollo” is where the word creole comes from. Creole is a mixture of many things, both of western eastern hemispheres.

In 1762, Louisiana was Spanish. The Spanish empire was one of the largest in human history and was rumored to be so large, that the sun would never fully set over it.

Spain took control of Louisiana after years of it being French. The french would build many structures in the French Quarter out of cypress wood. However, the structures needed to be remade after the fires of 1788 and 1794. The Spanish would expand the city and write new building codes for roofs to be made of terra cotta. It would be years before they would enforce these laws, but over time, the French Quarter would become more and more Spanish in more than one way.

Howard Margot is an archivist and curator at The Historic New Orleans Collection and says, “there are only about 35 Spanish period buildings in New Orleans today. They are mostly public buildings, like the Cabildo and The Presbytère. There are a number of houses along Chartres street that are truly of Spanish design, with tall archways and very large open courtyards.”

While there are only a few visible remnants of Spanish-period architecture that survive, one major Spanish contribution is St. Louis Cemetery #1.

William Hyland is a Louisiana Historian and a descendant of Spaniards buried in St. Louis Cemetery #1 and #2.

It was in 1789, while we were still a Spanish colony that this new cemetery was built outside of Rampart. While St. Louis Cemetery #2 was built when Louisiana was under the United States, there is still evidence of New Orleans’ Spanish past buried there as well. In St Louis Cemetery #2, we have some of the most important visible vestiges of Spain’s presence in the Antebellum pre-civil war period. Over here have the Cazadores d’Orleans Tomb. The Cazadores were a society cavalry that fought in the Mexican-American War,” says William Hyland.

Alfred Lemmon is the Director of The Historic New Orleans Collection’s Williams Research Center and says, the greatest influence of the Spanish might have happened during the few brief months when Alexander O’Reilly served as the second Spanish governor of Louisiana.

“O’Reilly set into motion laws concerning the treatment of Native Americans and African Americans that were quite different than the French laws. While New Orleans has this image of being a sleepy dormant city during Spanish rule, it was quite the contrary and culturally, the Spanish introduced the French opera to New Orleans as well as the idea of having a city council,” says Alfred Lemmon.

After around four decades, Spain signs a treaty and relinquishes Louisiana back to France in 1801. This was just two years before France would sell Louisiana to the United States.

Spanish and Hispanic culture continues to remain an essential part of New Orleans’ identity.

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