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 through the estates of General L. Kemper Williams and Mrs. Leila Moore Williams, THNOC has helped local residents and visiting tourists better understand the multicultural history of the region through thought-provoking exhibitions; original books, periodicals, and articles; and its public research center. In addition, it offers a robust programming schedule and an extensive array of educational resources for teachers and students of all levels. 

THNOC operates three campuses in the heart of the French Quarter. In observance of our founders' request to make historical resources available to all, admission is free. 

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.

Message from the President and CEO

photo of Daniel Hammer

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. Since March, online visitors have used this portal to discover new articles, games, curricula, and more. We will continue adding to this valuable resource.

We are also happy to welcome visitors back to our French Quarter spaces. In June we reopened our outdoor courtyards with a new panel installation that covers the history of these historic spaces and the neighborhood. Café Cour has also reopened, offering free curbside pick-up, and The Shop at The Collection is operating with delivery and curbside pick-up options. The Williams Research Center Reading Room is now accepting researchers again on an appointment-only basis. In the coming weeks and months, we will focus on reopening our interior galleries in a way that is safe for our visitors and staff. We are eager to share with you new exhibitions and programs, some years in the making, when the time is right. Until then, visit us outside or online.

General L. Kemper and Leila Williams

detail of Leila Moore 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