New Orleans, Louisiana is a city rich in history that was founded in 1718. One can be certain that a great deal of gold from Mexico flowed through its port on the Mississippi River long before it got its Mint in 1835. It was not the only Mint in the South, but it is certainly among one of the most important because it was the only Mint to produce silver coins in this part of the nation. Over the years it would produce more than 425 million silver and gold coins while taking a key place in U.S. history, but perhaps the most fascinating fact of all is that despite everything the building itself went through, it still stands today and is now a National Historic Landmark.
During the early 1800s, New Orleans was the 5th largest city in the nation and conducted the most trade with other nations, even more than New York City itself. With gold in nearby Alabama and plenty of other sources, it was a smart strategic choice of locations for a Mint at the time. The building itself features a style of architecture known as Greek Revival. It was designed by William Strickland who also designed four other mints in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Dahlonega, Georgia.
The first gold coins produced by the New Orleans Mint were created using gold bullion from Mexico. That May of 1838, 30 dimes would be struck, but the Mint here would go on to produce silver coins such as silver 3-cent pieces, silver dollars and more. Among the many coins produced by this Mint are gold dollars, $2.50 quarter eagles, $3 coins, $5 half eagles, $10 eagles and even double eagles worth $20 at the time.
On January 26, 1861, Louisiana seceded from the United States. This meant that the New Orleans Mint was considered to be owned by the state of Louisiana until they joined the Confederacy. The Mint would remain under Confederate control until the city of New Orleans was recaptured by Union naval forces in 1862. Many incidents took place after this including a scene during which an avowed Confederate supporter climbed atop the Mint facility and tore down a U.S. flag. The man was later hanged from a horizontal flagstaff in retaliation for his public display of derision towards the Union.
Beyond all that this Mint went through during the Civil War, it would be given a second chance to operate between 1879 up until 1909 when it was finally closed. Both women and men would then work in the Mint doing a variety of important jobs. Later, the New Orleans Mint would play a role as a prison from 1932 until 1943. During the Cold War years, it was left standing as a potential fallout shelter in the event of nuclear war. After this, it served as the building for the New Orleans Jazz Museum 1981 until 2005 when it was struck by Hurricane Katrina. Today, the building has been weatherproofed and treated for mold common to the Southern Louisiana climate so that it can host exhibits of gold coins, fine art and much more.
Those seeking to learn more about the New Orleans Mint should know that it was featured in a number of different magazines during its day. Harper's Weekly, Ballou's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion and DeBow's Review all featured articles about this Mint.