The French Market Inn, 509 Decatur Street
Running parallel to the Mississippi is Decatur Street, with a long historical relationship with the river and with those who depended on the river for employment and sustenance. Decatur Street was once known as Levee Street, as it was part of the first levee systems protecting the fledgling city from the mighty Mississippi. Around 1870, the river changed course and the levee was moved further east, opening up a new waterfront. Levee Street was changed to Decatur Street in honor of Stephen Decatur, naval commander and war hero.
Decatur Street was home to the longshoremen, sailors, merchants, prostitutes and businessmen and women who made their living from the sea. Much like today, the street was dotted with inns, bars, restaurants and stores. Among those stores was a bakery located at 501 Decatur Street. Established in 1722, the bakery was owned and operated by the Druex family. The building was a humble three story brick building that wrapped around an open courtyard. The courtyard doubled as a kitchen for the family and entry/exit for supplies and finished goods being delivered from the bakery. The bakery was located on the first floor with personal residences on the second floor and the third floor was used for storage. A pulley system was used to move goods and supplies between the first and third floors. The bakery is reported to have provided baked goods for the Spanish, and later French soldiers, who were stationed in the Place d’Armes (now Jackson Square).
Around the 1830’s, the Baroness Micaela Leonard Antonie Almonester (also known as the Baroness Pontalba) purchased the building and surrounding lots or use as an inn for friends and family. The Baroness was a wealthy aristocrat and real estate developer. Her father died when she was two years old, leaving her as his sole surviving heir. Like many Creole daughters of the French and Spanish rich, she was educated at the Ursuline Convent. She was well versed in English. French and Spanish. She married her French cousin, Joseph-Xavier Celestin Delfau de Pontalba and moved to France. The marriage was a cover for her father-in-law, who saw the marriage as a way to get the young woman’s fortune. When he could not get the money, he attempted to murder her, but she survived the attempt (she was shot multiple times in the chest). After the death of her father-in-law and her husband obtaining the title of Baron, she received a legal separation from her husband. She is credited as the designer and developer of the Hotel de Pontalba in Paris (the home of the US Ambassador to France) and the Pontalba Buildings in New Orleans (which form two sides of what is now Jackson Square).
The building is once again a successful inn known as The French Market Inn. Its rooms still contain remnants of its past, with exposed brick walls and rusted metal hooks and exposed iron beams. Guests report hearing the cranking of metal and chains…almost as if a ghostly pulley system is transferring goods and supplies from the third floor to the bakery down below. Guests have also heard voices and footsteps outside of rooms, and when doors are opened, are greeted to a strange mist or by an empty hallway. The most eerie guest complaint was the report of bloody handprints being found in the room.