The Louisiana Division

By the time you have completed research at the Conveyance Office and the Notarial Archives you should have a completed chain-of-title and an approximate idea of the date of construction of your building. Perhaps you have been fortunate enough to have located additional information at the Notarial Archives, possibly even a construction contract or a dated, color sketch of the structure. The materials at the Louisiana Division may help to fill in all or some of the gaps in your history or they may only serve to confirm what you have already discovered or deduced. Some will be more useful than others, but all are potentially valuable to your search.


Sewerage and Water Board House Connection Records

LLD1
ca. 1908-1960
Street Index

Arranged alphabetically by street and, within each street listing, by street address with the sewerage connection and water connection numbers given for each address. Information for the Algiers section is included in a separate alphabetically arrangement.

LLD2
ca. 1907-1961
Foreman's and Inspector's Sewerage Reports

Arranged numerically by connection number, the reports provide the date of connection, location, types of material used, and the type of pavement at the work site. Diagrams of the site are also included.

LLD64
WNO
ca. 1908-1960
Water Meter Connections

Arranged numerically by connection number, the records give the date of each water meter connection, the location, name of the property owner, and the name of the master plumber on the job. In addition to the initial connection, there are also references to the dates of later meter changes.

LLD64
WA
ca. 1909-1960
Water Meter Connections, Algiers

Identical to the above series, but for the Algiers section.

If your building dates from the period ca. 1907-1960, these series of records just might provide you with a very close approximation of the date of construction since the original water and sewer connections would have been made while the structure was going up. Earlier buildings, of course, would have had to have initial connections as well, so you must be careful not to depend on these documents unless you are certain from other sources that yours is indeed of twentieth century vintage. There are other pitfalls to beware of such as multiple cards, missing cards, and incomplete indexing, all of which may serve to distort the information provided by the record.

If you consider the data provided by these connection records carefully and decide that they do represent the initial connection, the dates provided will probably make it possible for you to locate the building permit for the structure with a minimum of effort. By searching the permits from the date of the earliest connection back one or more months, you should be able to locate the correct permit.


Assessment Rolls

(Look here for more description of assessment records.)

These microfilmed records (CJ431-437) are arranged by municipal district and assessment district and date back to about 1857 for most of the city [maps showing district, square, and lot boundaries are available in the Division]. Each page of the assessment rolls contains data for one or more squares of property. Individual line entries record the name of the landowner, the number and measurements of his lot, the streets bounding the property (and the street fronting it), and the assessed value for both the assessment year and the previous year. Properties sold during the previous year are indicated along with the date of sale, the buyer's name, and, sometimes, the selling price.

You can approximate a building's construction date by comparing the assessed value of the lot from one year to the next and noting the date of an assessment that increases independently of other properties in the square. This should enable you to refine your earlier estimation of a construction date (from the chain-of-title search) since the assessments were made every year, whereas several years may have elapsed between the last conveyance of unimproved land the first one with improvements. This process may be further aided by the comments that are sometimes included at the end of individual line entries. Such comments may indicate, for example, that new improvements definitely were erected during the assessment year, or possibly that an old structure was demolished. Even seemingly meaningless, cryptic notations should be recorded--they may come to have an important meaning as your research continues.

The Division also has assessment rolls for the uptown area dating back prior to its piecemeal annexation by the city as follows:

Several additional tax-related documents may be valuable in specific cases. While there is no complete series of pre-1857 assessments for New Orleans, a handful of such volumes has survived in the Archives:

{CJ430
1836
2nd Mun}

Provides name of property owner, # of lots owned, value of land and improvements (along with value of slaves and billiard tables owned at the location), the square number, and the bounding streets. [Note: this volume covers the fifth, sixth, and seventh wards only].

{CJ430
1841
2nd Mun}

Includes the same data as the above document, for the entire municipality.

{CJ430
1844
2nd Mun}

Gives names of property owners, value of the project and a brief description of the building (such as: 12sfh, meaning one, two-story frame house).

{CJ430
1847
1st Mun}

Includes, for the Fourth Representative District [Canal St. to St. Louis St.] only, names of owners, cash value of property, and amount of taxes due [Note: this record covers real estate owned only by non-residents].


City Directories

The Louisiana Division has a complete file of city directories dating back to 1805, either in the original or in microform. These volumes can be used along with the conveyances and the tax rolls to determine when and if a property owner actually began living at or operating a business at a given location. In many cases this will give another close approximation of the construction date. In addition, the directories can provide other information about the property owner such as his occupation and the names of his relatives. Of special interest are the 1870 directory and the Soards' Elite Books for 1890, 1898, and 1910, all of which include cross listings by street address in addition to the standard alphabetical name listings (such cross listings by street address did not become standard until the 1938 edition of the directory).

Several other sources might also provide information on the inhabitants at a given address. The U.S. census, beginning in 1880, included street addresses as part of the standard form in urban areas. In addition to confirming the existence of an address at a given time, the census schedules can also provide information about all of the persons living at the address, including any servants and/or boarders (whose presence might indicate something about the use of the building). Voter registration rolls, which the Louisiana Division has dating back to the year {1891}, will give the names of any registered voters living at a given address. Both of these sources can be particularly valuable if the house was not occupied by its owner. That both sources are arranged by relatively small geographic units makes it easier to use them for such a purpose than it would be, for example, to search all names in a city directory for the ones listed at the correct address.

One other source of useful information is arranged by street address. This is an 1897 volume from the Underwriters Inspection Bureau of New Orleans made up of street rate slips designed to be used in conjunction with the Sanborn maps to enable insurance companies to evaluate the fire risk at an address. Information includes both the new and the old street addresses [street addresses changed citywide in 1893-1894], the name of the owner or occupant of the building, and a brief physical description of the structure and its use. Unfortunately, this source does not cover the entire city, but is limited to certain streets in the Vieux Carre and the Central Business District, along with the continuations of those streets beyond the central area. It is equally unfortunate that no volumes exist for any other years.


Plan Books

Plan books were kept by various municipal offices responsible for keeping track of property within the city. Some offices were interested in the subdivision of properties while others were interested in the improvements on the lots. The usefulness of these plan books to researchers thus will vary depending on the original purpose of the volumes.

KG620
1852
2nd Mun

These six volumes are for the Second Municipality only. They have the names of the landowners written in along with the year that they purchased their lots. Few, if any, structures are indicated.

KG620
1874-1881

Volumes are available for all but the fifth and seventh districts. The ones for the third and {fourth} districts contain color-coded scale drawings of existing buildings, each drawing indicating the material used in construction, the type of roof, and the street address of each structure. The remaining books do not provide information on individual buildings, but are limited to showing lot subdivisions within each square. Some non-residential uses are identified and sketches of occasional residences are penciled in.

II
KG620
date

Actually several different series of plans, these volumes cover the old City of Lafayette, now the fourth municipal district (the present-day Irish Channel and Garden District areas). The first, one volume dated 1851, shows only lot subdivisions and real estate sales for the squares closest to the river. The second series is composed of seven undated books arranged by wards. These volumes record individual property owners and transfers during the 1860s. The most useful of the Lafayette records are the two volumes dated 1850-1869. They show individual lots and their measurements and have transfers recorded on the adjoining pages. A considerable number of structures also have plan views drawn in to scale and are captioned with brief descriptions, such as "two-story brick dwelling."

III
KG620
1834-1868

These three volumes for Jefferson City (now the sixth municipal district) show only the subdivision of squares with neither owners or houses indicated.

IV
KJ620
1833-1873

Two books of Carrollton (presently the seventh municipal district) indicate the subdivision of squares with a record of property transactions included on adjacent pages. No buildings are shown.

{AX620
1860-1869}

These seven volumes, records of the City Auctioneer, cover the first municipal district only. The maps show lot subdivisions and measurements, property owners, and sales which took place during the period.

LKM610
1872

For that portion of the third district bounded by the Ursuline Convent (the present Industrial Canal), the river, Claiborne, and the St. Bernard Parish line, this book records the drainage tax, showing subdivision of squares and the individual property owners.

{MSO18--LN33 on microfilm}

Similar to the above volume, this book shows property owners, area of lots, and property values for the second section of the area drained by the New Orleans Drainage Company. Also bound into this volume are individual plans of Faubourg Jackson, the head of Canal Street near the cemeteries, and the west bank of Bayou St. John.


Robinson's Atlas

Dated 1883, but probably based on surveys made by the City Surveyor over a period of several years, this one volume work contains color-coded scale (1 inch = 200 feet) drawings of existing structures throughout the city. Also shown are street addresses, names of business establishments and public institutions, and names of the owners of selected residences in the uptown part of New Orleans.


Sanborn Insurance Maps

The Sanborn maps are multi-volume compilations, each book representing a different section of the city. Each contains scale (1 inch = 50 feet) renderings of the plan views of all buildings standing at the time of the preparation of the volume. Drawings are color-coded to show the type of building material and are further keyed to show the height, number of floors, type of roof, and the use of each structure.

The older (pre-1967) volumes were periodically updated by pasted-in corrections to reflect new construction and/or demolitions. The Division was fortunate to have several duplicate volumes for some of the early years. This enabled us to remove the pasted-in corrections from some of the volumes to, in effect, produce several "new" volumes for years that were previously unavailable. This, along with the recent acquisition of a microfilm edition of the earliest Sanborns, has enabled the Division to have an excellent collection of these important documents. Our holdings for each volume are listed below. Note, however, that the pre-1908/1909 volume numbers do not correspond to those used beginning in those years.

{***Note: The 1994 edition is in a reduced-size format. The 1978 edition is also available in such a format.***}

The Sanborn maps, the Robinson Atlas, and the more detailed plan books all serve the same purpose. They show that a building was standing at a particular time and they also show, by the presence of a different building at a given location, that the currently existing structure dates from after that time. Of course these sources also provide invaluable information on buildings that are no longer standing--the 1908 Sanborn map (volume 3), for example, shows the old jail and criminal courthouse on the site of the Public Library, along with the nearby structures that made up New Orleans' Chinatown during the early part of the century. Even some of the non- detailed plan books can be useful by confirming the names of early landowners, especially in cases where the chain-of-title is unclear.


Building Permits

During the early part of the nineteenth century, actual building permits were not required for the erection of either residential, commercial, or institutional structures in New Orleans. The only legal necessity was that the owner have the lines of his lot(s) certified by the Surveyor. Later, after 1856, the law also required that the Surveyor certify that the lot was filled to the proper grade before construction could begin.

Ordinance #6022, Administrative Series, passed in 1879, was the first to demand that permits be obtained (from the Board of Health) after the certificate of grade had been gotten from the Surveyor. It was not until 1884 (ordinance #733, Council Series) that the city put the permit process in the hands of the Surveyor, requiring that the property owner present a detailed statement in writing of his intentions, value of the work, name of owner(s) and builder, and street location.

The Archives has copies of New Orleans building permit applications for the period 1927-ca. 1963. These documents are arranged by permit number but are unindexed. In most cases they provide little information other than a date and some brief description of the foundations, walls, etc. Some do have attached copies of plans or other drawings. If you have the permit number for your building, or a very close approximation of its date of construction, (from the Sewerage and Water Board house connections mentioned above, for example) then it may be worthwhile to check for the permit. Rarely, however, would an extensive search otherwise be advisable. For recent construction, of course, the permits, and an index, are available from the Department of Safety and Permits at City Hall. Permits for the period 1963 through those currently on file, however, apparently have been destroyed!

Also of interest is a group of volumes that record permits issued during the last quarter of the nineteenth and the first part of the twentieth century:

TB650i
1879-1883

This book is arranged in chronological order. It records the date of the permit, the name of the owner and/or builder, and the location, building material, style, and roof type of each structure. In some cases the estimated value of each project is also given. The permits at the very beginning of this volume are actually for the grading of lots rather than for construction. The still, however, give a starting date for the overall project.

KG670b
1883-1887

This volume is a continuation of the one above, with the addition of a reference to the municipal district of the project. Values are given consistently in this book and in some cases miscellaneous remarks are also included.

TA670
1893-1895

In this book the permits are arranged in numerical order by permit number. Each record gives the owner's name, the person doing the work, the nature of the work, and the cost of the job.

TA671
1896-1902

Only permits for the first municipal district are recorded in this volume. They are arranged by date, and show the name of the owner, the street location, the type of work applied for, the square number for the property, the cost of the work, and the cost of the permit.

KJ670
1911-1917

These five volumes are arranged by permit number and provide the names of the owner and builder, a description of the building or repairs, and the location of the work.

Should the approximate date of construction of your building fall into the period 1879- 1917, these permits may prove to be of considerable value to your search.

An alternative to the actual permits from the issuing offices is the annual report of building permits published in the newspaper. Usually listed in the Picayune on or about September 1 of each year, under the heading "Brick and Mortar", these reports varied from year to year, sometimes listing permits over a set value, such as $4000, and sometimes listing only new construction, leaving out those issued for alterations and additions. But these newspaper reports are invaluable for the years for which no official registers of permits have survived. The listings, of course, do not begin until permits were required and kept by municipal officials, around 1880. They extend up to about 1920.


Blueprints

The Archives is depository for the architectural plans retained by the Department of Safety and Permits. Since the Department does not retain plans for houses, this collection is almost entirely made up of non-residential plans. There are several exceptions, however, prints which came into the collection from other sources, notable form court cases. There was no legal requirement that property owners or builders file plans with city officials until 1884 when ordinance #733, Council Series, required that such plans, along with specifications, be submitted to the Surveyor if they were used. Thus the Archives collection has no plans from before this date. Actually, only the largest and most expensive projects would have even used individual plans drawn especially for the purpose. Smaller projects during the nineteenth century more often relied on pattern books prepared by architects to illustrate popular styles and common building techniques. These patterns would either be copied or adapted by the individual builders to meet the needs of the owner.

The Division maintains a card index to the blueprints in the collection, this index is arranged to allow access to the prints by name or type of structure, by location, and by architect or engineer responsible for the plans.

{The index to New Orleans Building Plans is now available in our web site.}
The first 225 prints have been microfilmed and photocopies can be made on the reader-printers in the Division. Copies of other prints can be made only by contracting with an outside firm such as New Orleans Blueprint Company.

Also available are nine reels of 35mm microfilm of blueprints submitted for approval by the Vieux Carre Commission (AS620/ca. 1955-1976). These plans are not indexed, nor are they arranged in any logical order.


Map Collection

The Louisiana Division's map collection includes manuscript and printed maps, surveys, and architectural plans dating back to the eighteenth century. Most of these items are from the old City Surveyor and Engineer Offices. Some of the old surveys show the existing improvements on specific properties. One such document outlines an entire block of stores on Tchoupitoulas St. in the 1840's. There are also architectural plans for a number of structures, most of them non-residential. Among these are several fire houses and markets, including the original plans for the vegetable market section of the French Market. All of these materials are arranged in drawers by date, along with a group of undated items. A card index to the collection includes listings by draftsman, surveyor, or cartographer, by date, and by subject.

In addition to these original maps, the Archives holds several series of maps on microfilm. One of the most interesting series is that of the Sewerage and Water Board's Drainage Department. Recorded on these 13 rolls of 35mm film are maps of proposed canals, drawings of manhole covers, plans for catch basins, and street profiles. Some of the maps show existing buildings, especially in the case of properties that were to expropriated or otherwise affected by the indicated project. Interspersed within this series of Drainage Department-created maps are other items that were collected by the department over the years. Among the more interesting items are an 1867 plan of Jefferson City, an 1894 plan of Audubon Park, and a 1916 series of Public Belt Railroad Commission maps showing the New Orleans riverfront in considerable detail There is no discernible logic to the arrangement of these maps, but indexes are available at the Board's Engineering Section in City Hall.

The subdivision maps approved by the Planning Commission are also available on microfilm (AQ351/1927-1963). These include both the large scale subdivision developments in the newer parts of New Orleans and the smaller resubdivisions of individual squares or blocks. The latter often picture existing structures that would be affected by the proposed changes.


Other Plans

In addition to the plans in the blueprint and map collection, the Division also holds two special collections of interest. The first (CCM620/ca. 1870-1890) is from the John McDonogh School Fund and is made up of the original water-color plans of the first twenty McDonogh schools in the Crescent City. Included are front and side elevations, along with floor plans. Most, if not all, of these plans were drawn by architect William A. Freret. The Division also has the cash books and other records of this fund, all of which help to document the individual school projects.

The James Harrison Dakin Collection includes original building plans of one of nineteenth century America's leading Greek and Gothic Revival architects. Among the plans are those for the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge, St. Patrick's Church in New Orleans, the U.S. Customhouse, and numerous other projects here, in New York City, and elsewhere in the eastern United States. A separate card index is available for the Dakin Collection.


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