Message from the President and CEO

photo of Priscilla Lawrence

Since The Historic New Orleans Collection was established by Kemper and Leila Williams over 50 years ago, we have been dedicated to two things: preserving historical material and sharing it with the public. Over the years, we have grown from a private collection to become the region’s largest local history institution.

Now, more than ever, we are compelled to respond to the times. When the coronavirus crisis forced us to close our French Quarter museum and research center on March 14, we set to work marshaling and expanding our digital resources and online programming. As our institution has grown, so too has our capacity to engage audiences remotely: our catalog is fully searchable on our website; we’ve digitized hundreds of thousands of images, as well as thousands of hours of audio and video material; and we’ve produced all manner of online resources, such as teaching curricula, research pathfinders, research databases, online exhibitions, and our blog, First Draft. Now, we’ve created History from Home, a new feature that consolidates all our online content for easy access. We’ll be adding new articles, games, curricula, and more during the coming weeks.

Our primary focus now, as an institution, is providing you with enriching cultural and historical engagement online during this challenging time of social distancing and quarantine. While it pains us to see our galleries dark, our reading room closed, and so many exhibitions, programs, and events—some years in the planning—now canceled or postponed, we are proud to put forward History From Home. We can’t wait to welcome you and our entire community back to our French Quarter home as soon as possible. Until then, we’ll see you online.

About The Historic New Orleans Collection

The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to preserving the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South.

Founded in 1966, THNOC has grown to include 13 historic buildings on three French Quarter campuses. Visit our new exhibition center, at 520 Royal Street, for an ever-changing array of programs and installations—and be sure to visit our museum shop and Café Cour while you’re there. Just across the street, at 533 Royal, the historic Merieult House anchors a complex of attractions including the Louisiana History Galleries and our house museum, the Williams Residence. The Chartres Street campus, located at 410 Chartres, comprises the Williams Research Center, the Boyd Cruise Gallery, and on-site collections storage.

Through guided or cell-phone tours, visitors can learn about the architectural styles of the city’s oldest neighborhood, the Vieux Carré. Educational tours for school groups are also available, free of charge.

As a publisher, THNOC produces award-winning original books exploring the history, art, music, culture, and decorative arts of the region. Our magazine, the Historic New Orleans Collection Quarterly, surveys the region's history as it relates to THNOC's projects and programs.

General L. Kemper and Leila Williams

detail of Liela Morre Williams portraitdetail of Kemper Williams portraitPortrait sketches of Leila Hardie Moore Williams and General L. Kemper Williams (detail); 1938; pencil; by Clarence Mattei; 75.135.1-.2 WR

Lewis Kemper Williams (1887–1971) was born in Patterson, Louisiana, in 1887. As a young man, he entered the family lumber business, becoming secretary-treasurer and, later, president of the F. B. Williams Cypress Company. From 1949 until his retirement in 1971, he served as president, director, and then chairman of the board of Williams Inc., a company with broad interests in land, mineral royalties, and investments. Williams served in the US army in World Wars I and II, rising to the rank of brigadier general.

In 1920 shortly after his tour of duty in World War I, Williams married New Orleans native Leila Hardie Moore (1901–1966) in New London, Connecticut. During their life together, the Williamses demonstrated a keen sense of civic and philanthropic responsibility. Beneficiaries of their generosity included the University of the South, Boy Scouts of America, Christ Church Cathedral, St. Anna’s Asylum, the Junior League, and the New Orleans Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. In 1937 Kemper Williams received one of the city’s highest honors: for his leadership of the New Orleans Housing Authority, he was awarded the Times-Picayune Loving Cup.

In 1938 the Williamses bought two properties in the French Quarter—the Merieult House on Royal Street and a late 19th-century residence contiguous to the Merieult House, facing Toulouse Street. The latter property was their home for 17 years, during which time they amassed a substantial collection of important Louisiana artifacts—the founding holdings of The Historic New Orleans Collection. 

 

Kemper and Leila Williams Foundation

With the goal of making their collected materials available to the public for future generations, the couple established The Historic New Orleans Collection. With their deaths—hers in 1966 and his in 1971—the Kemper and Leila Williams Foundation was established to ensure stable, long-term financial support for The Collection. A seven-member board of directors oversees the institution’s operation, providing guidance and insight.

Board of Directors

Drew Jardine, Chair

John Kallenborn, Vice Chair

E. Alexandra Stafford

Hilton S. Bell

Bonnie Boyd

Lisa H. Wilson

G. Charles Lapeyre

John E. Walker, Emeritus