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 10 historic buildings making up two French Quarter campuses. The Royal Street campus, located at 533 Royal Street, serves as our museum headquarters, housing our main space for rotating exhibitions, the Williams Gallery; our permanent installation, the Louisiana History Galleries; and our house museum, the Williams Residence. The Chartres Street campus, located at 400 and 410 Chartres Street, comprises the Williams Research Center, the Boyd Cruise Gallery, the Laura Simon Nelson Galleries for Louisiana Art, and our on-site vault for collections items.

Researchers—whether dedicated scholars or casual history buffs—can access THNOC’s materials through the Williams Research Center. THNOC’s holdings comprise 1,000,000 items that document everyday life as well as momentous historical events spanning more than three centuries. The Collection includes 35,000 library items, shelves of documents and manuscripts that extend more than two miles, as well as 350,000 photographs, prints, drawings, paintings, and other artifacts.

The museum’s four exhibition spaces are free of charge and present multicultural stories of the region, from permanent displays exploring the development of Louisiana to rotating exhibitions showcasing history and fine art. Through docent-led or cell-phone tours, visitors can learn about the architectural styles of the city’s oldest neighborhood, the Vieux Carré, and enter the private residence of THNOC’s founders, General L. Kemper and Leila Williams.  

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.


From the President

photo of Priscilla Lawrence

Sometimes, a historical topic is so expansive and influential, museums and historians struggle to tell the story. How, for example, to address the impact of European imperialism on the New World? How to trace the complicated evolution of New Orleans’s polyglot culture? The answer, of course, is to start somewhere: historians pick a narrative or a framework and hope that, by telling part of a big story, audiences will be brought closer to the whole.

The Collection has been involved in some gargantuan undertakings recently, both in our historiographic work as well as our brick-and-mortar presence. Following a yearslong collaboration with the City of New Orleans’s Tricentennial Commission, we are proud to help introduce six new historical markers that shed light on the city’s role in the transatlantic and domestic slave trade—a force so foundational and shameful to the entire country that it has, for far too long, been hidden in plain sight. Our upcoming exhibition New Orleans Medley: Sounds of the City tackles one of the richest subjects in the city’s history—that of its musical legacy. Hundreds of books, films, and more have touched on New Orleans’s role as a musical beacon, from the operas of the 18th and 19th centuries to the development of jazz. This show offers viewers a breezy tour through the centuries, with stops along the way sampling the different musical strains that shaped the city’s aural texture over time.

Finally, we are nearing the end of our long effort to open the new museum facility at 520 Royal Street. In the new year, we will begin the process of moving into the space and installing our first changing exhibition, Art of the City: Postmodern to Post-Katrina, presented by The Helis Foundation, as well as an exhibition on the history of the French Quarter and a dedicated education gallery for families and school groups. We’ll be trumpeting the opening and showcasing all the elements of the new facility in a special Spring / Summer double issue of the Quarterly, set to arrive in early May. It promises to be a whirlwind start to the year, and I can’t wait to show you the fruits of our labor! —Priscilla Lawrence

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