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.
In the early 1800s, the population and economy of New Orleans continued to expand, and thus, the cemeteries were affected by the change as well. This time of prosperity in the city coincided with an influx of European immigrants, including “…professionally trained and cultured immigrants [who] caused the freestanding tombs of the rich to become more substantial, ornate, and neoclassical.”1 This was a departure from below-ground burials, simple tombs, and wall oven-vaults (pictured below) as had been common in the early history of the city.
A larger variety of materials, such as cast-iron and types of marble, had become available, and “…social prestige became increasingly associated with the size and design of a family’s tomb. For the rich, a traditional, humble brick-and-stucco sepulcher no longer sufficed.”2
The notarial transactions highlighted below provide examples of how one contracted the building of a tomb or sold their tomb and the ground it sat on during the nineteenth century.
Sale of Tomb
In the following example of a tomb sale, Adelaide Elvire Blanchet sold a “certain tomb designated by the number Thirty-Eight of Ilet C according to the Old Plan and by the number Seventeen of Ilet E according to the New Plan of the Catholic Cemetery of the Church of St. Louis of this city…”
The tomb was sold for $220 on September 7, 1850, before notary, William Monaghan.
The property included both the tomb and “the ground on which the said Tomb is erected, measuring Six by Twelve feet.” Based on the binding streets of Bienville, Conti, Robertson, and Claiborne Streets, the Catholic Cemetery is St. Louis Number 2.
The location of the tomb is further identified as being on the “left hand side of the Grand Alley on entering from Bienville Street,” and we learn that Adelaide Blanchet acquired the tomb from an “ancestor” named L.F. Blanchet, nee Veillon, who purchased the tomb property from the Church of St. Louis in 1831.
As was the practice of 1880s, a tomb could be sold or transferred to a new owner as long as the current owner had the deed or act of sale. This practice still applies today.3
While there are many types of cemeteries such as military and family-owned, we will be highlighting municipal (managed by a municipality or other political subdivision of the state), fraternal (managed by fraternal organizations such as benevolent associations or social clubs), religious (managed by a recognized church, religious society, association or denomination), and privately-owned (managed by an entity that is not considered municipal, fraternal, religious or family-owned) cemeteries.4
In this example, St. Louis Number 2 was owned by the Church of St. Louis (now owned by the Archdiocese of New Orleans) which makes it a religious cemetery.
Building Contract for the Delafield Tomb
On November 16, 1887, Edwin Kursheedt, representing the commercial firm, Kursheedt and Bienvenu, and Melinda Delafield came to notary, John Bendernagel, to contract for the building of a tomb.
The tomb and monument was to be built on her lot 2, no. 3 and 4 in section 80 of Metairie Cemetery per the plan attached to the act.
According to the specifications listed within the act, the tomb was to be constructed of hard bricks laid in cement mortar. “The tomb, monument, and banquette in front thereof, as also the posts as shown in plan, to be of American marble. The platform on the sides to be of Schillinger pavement.”
Schillinger pavement was a type of artificial stone composed of “….cement and gravel with no vegetable substance in its composition,” patented in 1870 by John Schillinger and introduced in various cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, and New Orleans.5
“The [tessellated] walk (indicated by the patterned section above the step) to be of black and white marble tiles, or any other color marble which may be selected by said Mrs. Delafield. The bars and chains to be galvanized iron. The entire length of the structure to be twenty two feet.”
Melinda Delafield agreed to the cost of construction at $4,000.
A note after the signatures at the bottom of the act states that the contract is null and void, and the mortgage has been canceled.
Edwin Kursheedt was of Jewish decent and from Kingston, Jamaica. After the Civil War, Kursheedt joined his father in the stonework business along with business partner, J.G. Bienvenu. Their firm was successful in both cemetery and commercial stonework, and much of their signed work can be seen in Jewish cemeteries in New Orleans. The Kursheedt and Bienvenu firm supplied the stonework for the restoration of the Old Capital Building in Baton Rouge. Bienvenu eventually left the business, but Kursheedt carried on. He passed away in 1906 and is buried in the Dispersed of Judah Cemetery on Canal Street.6
After the canceled contract, Melinda Delafield entered into another contract with a builder named Fritz Jahncke a little over a month later on December 28, 1887, before the same notary, John Bendernagel.
The contract lists the exact same specifications for the tomb and references the same attached plan from the November 16th contract. The work was also to be done for $4,000. Unfortunately, we don’t know why the first contract was canceled, as neither notarial act gives a reason for the cancelation and change in contractors.
Jahncke agreed to complete the work in the following year, between March and September of 1888, and would employ Albert Weiblen to erect the monument.
According to the 1910 census below, Fritz Jahncke was recorded as a contractor who emigrated from Germany in 1879. In the 1920 census, Albert Weiblen was listed as a manager in the marble works industry who emigrated from Germany in 1881.
Notice the advertisement in the Times Picayune below. Jahncke advertised his use of Schillinger pavement in his business. This particular ad ran on July 24, 1880, approximately one year after Jahncke immigrated to the United States.
What the census records do not show is what a substantial impact Albert Weiblen had on New Orleans cemeteries and tomb building.
Albert Weiblen worked as a stone carver for Kursheedt and Bienvenu, but he left the firm to start his own business and later bought the company from them in 1887.7 Weiblen initiated the use of stonecutting technologies that were considered “state of the art” and “one of a kind,” such as granite and marble-cutting machinery that were relatively unknown in New Orleans.8 His work can be seen in many tombs still standing in Metairie Cemetery as well as adjacent cemeteries. Arguably, Weiblen’s most famous tomb is the Elks Lodge tumulus (a grassy mound) in Greenwood Cemetery, created for the fraternal social club, Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, Lodge 30.
In an act before notary John Bendernagel, dated November 16, 1887, Melinda Delafield is described as the “divorced wife of lawful age of Dr. Morris Braverman per a judgment of the late Fifth District Court rendered on the 20 April 1878…”
From the closure tablet on her tomb, see that Melinda Delafield was a native of [Strasbourg], Alsace (now part of the Grand Est region), France. She passed away on March 6, 1891, at the age of 68.
The 1886 City Directory indicates that Melinda Delafield was a music teacher living at 182 St. Charles Avenue.
The Delafield tomb still stands in Metairie Cemetery. The tomb is largely the same as specified in the attached plan. Noticeably missing is the angel inside the gothic-spired structure. The Delafield tomb was featured in the New Orleans Architecture series, Volume III: The Cemeteries, which was published in 1974. An earlier photograph of the tomb confirms that the angel was in fact built.
Located within New Orleans city limits despite its name, Metairie Cemetery, which was briefly mentioned in our blog about the development of Jefferson Parish, was built on the old Metairie Race Course (pictured below). The race course, which was built in 1838 and managed by the Metairie Jockey Club, closed during the Civil War and was later bought by Charles T. Howard in 1872. A local, unconfirmed legend, states that Howard was denied membership to the Jockey Club because he was from “new money.” Perhaps motivated by this slight, he purchased the land and turned it into Metairie Cemetery.9
Metairie Cemetery, adjacent to Lake Lawn Cemetery (both now privately-owned by Service Corporation International), still accepts interments today and is recognized for its magnificent architectural tombs and long list of deceased, notable New Orleanians.10 Pictured below is the Egyptian Revival style Brunswig Tomb, one of the famous tombs located in Metairie Cemetery.
In our next blog, we will expand upon benevolent associations and their impact on the development of New Orleans cemeteries through the building of society tombs.
The Clerk’s Office has a rich amount of history pertaining to tomb sales and building contracts. If there are any particular interests that you would like to learn about, please contact the Clerk’s Office. We are happy to assist.
- Dedek, Peter B. The Cemeteries of New Orleans: a Cultural History. Louisiana State University Press, 2017. pp. 40
- Dedek, Peter B. The Cemeteries of New Orleans: a Cultural History. Louisiana State University Press, 2017. pp. 41
- Blog | Oak and Laurel Cemetery Preservation, LLC
- Miller, Leon C. “Impressing the Client: Tulane Features new Exhibit.” Southwestern Archivist. August 2007. Volume 30, Issue 3, pp. 29. SwA2007_v30no3_August rev.indd (wildapricot.org)
- Dedek, Peter B. The Cemeteries of New Orleans: a Cultural History. Louisiana State University Press, 2017. pp. 141