Heart of Louisiana: Pitot House

A two-century-old historic home preserves some of the early history along Bayou St. John before New Orleans was established as a city.
Published: Oct. 30, 2022 at 7:02 PM CDT

NEW ORLEANS (WAFB) - The quiet Bayou St. John neighborhood of New Orleans was one of the earliest European settlements in Louisiana.

It predates the founding of New Orleans by a decade. And a two-century-old historic home preserves some of that early history.

Today, the bayou is a popular spot for canoes and kayaks. And in a way, it’s the ability to paddle along Bayou St. John that played a role in the location of New Orleans.

“New Orleans is actually where it is because of this bayou and the ability of the early explorers to come into the bayou from the lakes without having to go up the Mississippi River, which was pretty treacherous,” said Jamie Barker, a tour guide.

The first Europeans settled along Bayou St. John more than three centuries ago. In fact, they were living in the area 10 years before the founding of the city of New Orleans.

“After the city of New Orleans was built, people became city dwellers. This was sort of on the outskirts of the city, and it stayed like that throughout its history,” added Barker.

One of the oldest surviving homes is the Pitot House, which was built in 1799. It’s named after the third owner, James Pitot, who became mayor of New Orleans in 1804, the year after the Louisiana Purchase.

“He’s interestingly often called the first American mayor of the city of New Orleans because he was, but he was actually the third mayor. He had been more or less appointed by a committee to be mayor and he, when he ran for office, he was defeated,” explained Barker.

After a brief term as mayor, Pitot served as a probate judge and managed traffic along the bayou outside his home.

“He was president of the Orleans Navigation Company, which did manage the traffic on the bayou. I assume there were tolls because there seemed to have been tolls and tariffs everywhere,” noted Barker.

The house is furnished with antiques from the early 1800s, the time when Pitot lived in it. You can get an idea of what it was like to live and work in the two-century-old home. The wide galleries, thick brick and plaster walls, and tall windows and doors offered some relief from the oppressive south Louisiana heat.

“It’s a French Colonial West Indie-style house, and, of course, it was built like this because of the climate in New Orleans. You would not believe the cross breezes you get when you open these doors, front and back. It’s really, it’s, it’s lovely. The only drawback is the high humidity,” said Barker.

The old house still anchors the historic early settlement along Bayou St. John, and, even today, offers a quiet escape from living in the center of the city.

The Pitot House on Bayou St. John is open for tours and special events.

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