The records of the Clerk of Civil District Court’s Office, which date back to the 1700s, represent the rich history of New Orleans and its diverse communities. Our archives can be used for property, family history, architectural, and landscaping research.
The Clerk’s Office would like to highlight two African American individuals: Joseph Chateau and Paul Broyard. Both men were architects and builders, each with his own distinct style and unique contributions to New Orleans architecture.
Joseph Chateau: Free Man of Color, Architect, and Builder
Joseph Chateau is significant to the history of New Orleans because not only was he a free man of color and a gifted builder, but he also drafted the plans for the structures he intended to build. Some of his plans are embellished with striking watercolors.
In the 1850 census records, Joseph Chateau, 34, was documented as the head of family with the occupation of builder. Francoise Chateau, 38, is listed as a female “with the inability to read or write.” Edward Chateau is recorded as a 14-year-old male who had “attended school within the year.” All are denoted as “m” for Mulatto and were born in Louisiana. Interestingly, there are three other persons recorded as part of the household. Michel Dupont, 44, Patrick Dupont, 14, and Barrett Dupont, 24, are listed as living with the Chateau family. Michel and Barrett Dupont are marked as carpenters, both of whom were born in France. Patrick Dupont’s origins indicate he was born in Ireland.1 It would not be unusual for the Duponts to live with and work for or alongside Joseph Chateau. As noted in an article entitled “Multigenerational families in nineteenth-century America,” the author, Steven Ruggles, explains that it was common for households to have boarders living under the same roof.2
In the image of the 1850 census record below, Joseph Chateau is highlighted in yellow and the members of the household are highlighted in green.
Sixteen of Joseph Chateau’s building contracts have been identified in our collection at the Clerk’s Office dating between 1844-1851.
Building contracts, especially those in the nineteenth-century, were created to demonstrate how, “… one builder [agrees] to erect the whole of a building at a predetermined price. [The contractor] does not, however, examine that practice in detail …or show how it came finally to be generally accepted.”3 In other words, two individuals – usually a builder and a property owner – would contract and agree upon the building plans, specifications, and price in the presence of a notary.
As showcased in the next examples, Joseph Chateau would meet with other parties to agree upon the work to be done. Most of the contracts include building specifications, often attached to the act or written within the act. Of the sixteen Chateau contracts in our collection, six contain attached plans visually denoting the layout and dimensions of the buildings. Often architectural styles are identifiable in the plans.
Chateau was unique in the respect that he was not only the contractor and draftsman, but he was engaged in the building process. An article entitled, “The Office of Works and Building Contracts in Nineteenth-Century England,” supports the notion by stating that it was more common for architects to undertake the responsibility of the whole project and subcontract bricklayers, carpenters, etc., or the architect would be paid to superintend the work only.4
One example of a building contract was between Joseph Chateau (identified in the act as h.c.l., or homme de colour libre/free man of color) and Sophie Philips, f.c.l. (femme de colour libre/free woman of color) before notary, Theodore Guyol, on May 15, 1845.
The act denotes that Chateau was the “entrepreneur” (contractor) who agreed with Sophie Philips to do all masonry, carpentry, and all other works necessary to build a house situated in the Faubourg Tremè, in the square bounded by St. Anne, Villere, Dumaine, and Robertson Streets.
The floor plan illustrates a simple 16′ x 12′ Creole cottage with two 8′ x 7′ cabinets in the rear. Cabinets are small rooms, often used for storage. A cistern and outbuildings are located at the back of the property.
In another example, on April 30, 1847, before notary, Edward Barnett, Joseph Chateau “covenanted, contracted, and agreed to and with” Andrew Oscar Murphy for the building of a two-story frame dwelling house and kitchen for the sum of $2,500. The property fronted on Magazine Street between First and Second Streets.
From the attached plan, it can be determined that the architectural type of the two-story frame dwelling is an American Townhouse.
As was presented in our architectural drawings virtual series, the American Townhouse has a front entrance, which leads to an interior first-floor hallway, connecting to the interior stairway.
According to the building specifications, “the house is to be divided into two apartments, that is to say two rooms above and two rooms below. The house is to have a gallery eight feet in front and ten feet in the rear, also a hall to the house of six feet and a winding stairs to the hall, with two cabinets on the gallery in the rear, ten feet square.”
The service wing is attached in the back of the house, as indicated on the floor plan above and rendered with blue vertical wooden shutters over the doors and windows below.
Note the cistern to the left of the structure, which would be used to collect rain water from the roof. The building specifications explain that once built, it should hold two thousand gallons of water.
More specifications for the building of the structure include the slated roof of the house and kitchen, one sliding door, two chimneys with wood mantels, and railing, banisters, and stairs made with mahogany wood.
Architectural elements include the full-length columns, denticulated cornice, and Greek Key door surround. All are characteristics of the Greek Revival style.
In a third example of a building contract, Joseph Chateau contracted with Francois Dubois to repair and transform “une maison basse en briques” or a single-story brick house into a two-story dwelling, located on Dauphine Street between Conti and St. Louis Streets. The contract states that repairs would be done on the floors and ceiling, which would also be painted. Chateau would convert the abat-vent or overhang to include iron-bearers instead of wooden brackets, and he would convert one window into a door, in addition to other work to be done.
The second floor, known as the premier étage, would have three rooms, all opening onto the gallery. Chateau would also construct a two-story brick kitchen. The work would cost $1,050 piastres, or U.S. dollars.
It is interesting to note that Chateau disappears from notarial records and the census after 1851.
Paul Broyard: African American Architect and Builder
Paul Broyard was born in New Orleans on July 21, 1856, to Henry Antoine Broyard and Marie Pauline Boneè Broyard. He would become a talented architect and builder whose work can still be seen around the city today.
Research by an ancestor and author, Bliss Broyard, indicates that Paul Broyard’s father, Henry Antoine Broyard, was born to white parents. He fell in love with a free woman of color, Marie Pauline Boneè, whose parents immigrated to New Orleans from St. Domingue (present-day Haiti). Interracial marriage was illegal during this time5; however, the couple obtained a marriage license, which stated they were both free people of color. It appears that Henry Antoine Broyard claimed African ancestry in order to marry Marie Boneè on February 12, 1855, in St. Ann’s Church in the Tremè neighborhood.6
In the image of the 1860 census below, Paul Broyard, highlighted in yellow, is identified as four years old, male, and mulatto. His parents, H[enry] Broyard, 29, and Marie, 26, are listed directly above him. Henry Broyard’s occupation is recorded as carpenter. Bliss Broyard documents that every male in her family’s line was a carpenter, beginning with the first Broyard in New Orleans in 1753 down to her grandfather, Paul Anatole Broyard (1889-1950).
Records from Ancestry.com (as verified by the American Civil War Research Database) show that Paul Broyard’s father, Henry Broyard, enlisted in the Union’s 96th Infantry, a colored troop, during the Civil War.7
Henry Broyard died in 1873 as indicated in the record above. Paul Broyard, who was sixteen at the time of his father’s death, had already become an apprenticed carpenter and was expected to help support the family.8
According to Bliss Broyard, her great-grandfather, Paul Broyard, was handsome with “…pale green eyes, a long thin nose, and a strong square chin…” His looks earned him the nickname of “Belhomme” (French for beautiful man), which coincidentally was the last name of his maternal grandmother as shown in the 1860 census above.9
At age 22, Paul Broyard married Rosa Cousin, a mulatto woman from Lacombe, Louisiana. The couple would have eleven children, seven of whom survived to adulthood.10
As indicated in the 1900 census above, Paul Broyard is listed as the head of the household at age 43, along with his wife, Rosa, 46, and six children with ages ranging from 4 to 18.
Readers may recognize Paul Broyard’s name as we have referenced one of his attached plans of an Eastlake style, double shotgun in our architectural drawings showcase. Below is a similar example created by Broyard.
The plan above was attached to a building contract between a widow named Josephine Mourin Bouisse and Paul Broyard. The act was executed by notary, Jules F. Meunier, on November 6, 1895. Broyard agreed to build a one story, double frame house on Orleans Street between N. Galvez and Miro Streets for $1,275. A survey with the dimensions of the property (pictured below) and the building specifications were also attached to the act for reference.
The building specifications below note that “rustic boards” would cover the front of the building with matching corner boards and blocks, which are called quoins. The sides and back of the house would be covered with weather boards.
The stylistic elements related to “Bracket style” are seen in the fish scale shingles and sunburst panel work surrounding the most-likely stained-glass attic window on the apron overhang and the decorated cap-molded cornices above the windows and doors. The Bracket style is similar to Eastlake and Queen Anne styles, popular in the time period of 1880-1905, but its namesake sets it apart. Brackets support the roof overhang but incorporate elaborate design and ornamentation.11 The decorative brackets in Broyard’s plan can be seen in the side elevation of the house, as pictured below.
In another example of his work, Broyard contracted with the Society of the Holy Family to build a two-story brick building and a one-story frame out building for the sum of $5,800. The Society, better known as the Sisters of the Holy Family, is a Roman Catholic religious order of black nuns who continue to be well-documented for their charitable impact on New Orleans, particularly in the African American community.
The society was represented by Reverend Mother Mary Austin, the superioress at the time. The contract was executed by notary, Jules F. Meunier, on January 22, 1896. The buildings would be constructed in a lot of “irregular form situated in the Suburb Tremè…in the square bounded by St. Peter, Claiborne, and Derbigny Streets and Carondelet Walk [now Lafitte Avenue] fronting on said St. Peter Street…”
The plan for the buildings is attached to the act.
According to the plan, the new brick building would include a kitchen, dining room, pantry, and bathroom on the first floor.
The second floor would contain a linen room and school room. Both floors would open onto a gallery.
The one-story out building, indicated on the plan as a shed, would include rooms for coal and wood, ironing, and washing. There would also be a carriage room, a stall and manger, and a room labeled as feed and harness.
The plan also indicates the other structures on the property such as the “old building,” chicken house, and open shed.
In the last example of Paul Broyard’s work, he is listed as the seller, architect, and builder within the act. Executed by notary, Jules F. Meunier, on May 25, 1896, Broyard contracted with Leonce Leonard to build a one-story frame cottage as specified in the attached plan. For the property and the construction, it would cost Leonard $12,070.
The reader may note that there is no indicator of race in this notarial act. Public records no longer indicate racial status following the end of the Civil War as there was no purpose in differentiating between a free and enslaved person.
The property was bound by Urquhart, Annette, St. Anthony, and Marais Streets as show in the survey below.
The building is still standing and nearly identical to Broyard’s design with the glass door panel in the plan as the exception. Notice the intricate detail of the brackets, the stain glass attic window, the sun burst panel work, and the quoins that line the corners of the house. All are comparable to the earlier example of bracket style. The contract for this building would be one of Broyard’s last in our collection before moving his family out of state for a short period of time.
Interesting to note, according to Bliss Broyard’s research, “Over the next few weeks following the Plessy [v. Ferguson, May 18, 1896] decision, [which upheld racial segregation laws], Paul finished up his various construction jobs [such as the building contract on May 25] and gave a local lawyer power of attorney to conduct his business affairs in his absence. Then he boarded a train with Rosa and their six children for California. No matter that the Broyards had lived in New Orleans for the last 150 years, no matter that Paul owed everything he was to the city’s Creole culture, [Broyard] was willing to leave if it meant that his children could grow up believing themselves to be equals.”12
However, Paul Broyard and his family returned to New Orleans a few months later. His great-granddaughter speculates that he was unable to find work or was homesick. “…At least in New Orleans, Paul could hold his head up as one of the biggest builders in town,” where he was “supervising hundreds of men (black and white) in the construction of some of the most elegant and modern buildings the city had ever seen.”13
Paul Broyard remained in New Orleans until his passing in 1940.
The Clerk’s Office has a rich amount of history pertaining to architects, builders, and free people of color. If there are any particular interests that you would like to learn about, please contact the Clerk’s Office. We are happy to assist.
1. Year: 1850; Census Place: New Orleans Municipality 1 Ward 5, Orleans, Louisiana; Roll: 236; Page: 207b
2. Ruggles, Steven. 2003. “Multigenerational families in nineteenth-century America.” Continuity and Change. p. 141 http://users.pop.umn.edu/~ruggles/multigenerational.pdf
3. Port, M. H. “The Office of Works and Building Contracts in Early Nineteenth-Century England.” Economic History Review, vol. 20, no. 1, Apr. 1967, pp. 94–110. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=khh&AN=10132117&site=ehost-live.
4. Port, M. H. “The Office of Works and Building Contracts in Early Nineteenth-Century England.” Economic History Review, vol. 20, no. 1, Apr. 1967, pp. 94–110. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=khh&AN=10132117&site=ehost-live.
5. Hanger, Kimberly S. Bounded Lives, Bounded Places: Free Black Society in Colonial New Orleans, 1769–1803. United Kingdom, Duke University Press, 1997.
6. Broyard, Bliss. One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life: a Story of Race and Family Secrets. Little, Brown and Co., 2008. pg. 195
8. Broyard, Bliss. One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life: a Story of Race and Family Secrets. Little, Brown and Co., 2008. pg. 255
9. Broyard, Bliss. One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life: a Story of Race and Family Secrets. Little, Brown and Co., 2008. pg. 253
10. Broyard, Bliss. One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life: a Story of Race and Family Secrets. Little, Brown and Co., 2008. pg. 260
11. Vogt, Lloyd. New Orleans Houses: a House-Watcher’s Guide. Pelican Publishing Co, 1985.
12. Broyard, Bliss. One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life: a Story of Race and Family Secrets. Little, Brown and Co., 2008. pg. 284
13. Broyard, Bliss. One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life: a Story of Race and Family Secrets. Little, Brown and Co., 2008. pg. 277-278