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Old U.S. Mint Review

Minting began in 1838 in this ambitious Ionic structure, a project of President Andrew Jackson. The New Orleans mint was to provide currency for the South and the West, which it did until Louisiana seceded from the Union in 1861. Both the short-lived Republic of Louisiana and the Confederacy minted coins here. When Confederate supplies ran out, the building served as a barracks, then a prison, for Confederate soldiers. The production of U.S. coins recommenced only in 1879; it stopped again, for good, in 1909. After years of neglect, the federal government handed the Old Mint over to Louisiana in 1966. The state now uses the quarters to exhibit collections of the Louisiana State Museum, although the feds have returned with the third-floor music hall. At the main Barracks Street entrance, which is set back from the main surrounding gates and not well marked, notice the one remaining sample of the mint's old walls—it'll give you an idea of the building's deterioration before its restoration. Hurricane Katrina ripped away a large section of the copper roof, and for months the twisted metal remained on the ground here, one of the most dramatic reminders of the storm in the French Quarter. After years of repairs, the museum reopened to the public in 2007.

The first floor explores the history of the mint. The principal draw, however, is the second floor dedicated to items from the New Orleans Jazz Collection. Through 2014, a temporary exhibit celebrates the 50th anniversary of Preservation Hall, the venue that kept many of the great traditional jazz musicians working and in the public's eye. At the end of the exhibit, displayed in its own room like the Crown Jewels, you'll find Louis Armstrong's first cornet. When the Preservation Hall exhibit closes, the memorabilia and artifacts of the New Orleans Jazz Collection, in storage since Hurricane Katrina, will again be displayed. The third floor of the building is now a performance space for the Jazz National Historic Park, which has a packed calendar of free performances throughout the week. Check in with the helpful Park Ranger office on the first floor for performance details.

The Louisiana Historical Center, which holds the French and Spanish Louisiana archives, is open free to researchers by appointment. At the foot of Esplanade Avenue, notice the memorial to the French rebels against early Spanish rule, the first instance of a New World rebellion against a European power. The rebel leaders were executed on this spot and give nearby Frenchmen Street its name.

Updated: 05-09-2013

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