The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to preserving the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South.
Founded in 1966, THNOC has grown to include 11 historic buildings making up three French Quarter campuses. The Royal Street campus, located at 533 Royal Street, serves as the museum headquarters, housing a main space for rotating exhibitions, the Williams Gallery; a permanent installation, the Louisiana History Galleries; and a house museum, the Williams Residence.
The Chartres Street campus, located at 400 and 410 Chartres Street, comprises the Williams Research Center, the Boyd Cruise Gallery, the Laura Simon Nelson Galleries for Louisiana Art, and an on-site vault for the Collection’s many items. The Collection’s most recent exhibit space is the Seignouret-Brulatour Building at 520 Royal Street.
Researchers—whether dedicated scholars or casual history buffs—can access THNOC’s materials through the Williams Research Center. THNOC’s holdings comprise 1,000,000 items that document everyday life as well as momentous historical events spanning more than three centuries. The Collection includes 35,000 library items, shelves of documents and manuscripts that extend more than two miles, as well as 350,000 photographs, prints, drawings, paintings, and other artifacts.
The museum’s four exhibition spaces are free of charge and present multicultural stories of the region, from permanent displays exploring the development of Louisiana to rotating exhibitions showcasing history and fine art. Through docent-led or cell-phone tours, visitors can learn about the architectural styles of the city’s oldest neighborhood, the Vieux Carré, and enter the private residence of THNOC’s founders, General L. Kemper and Leila Williams.
As a publisher, THNOC produces award-winning original books exploring the history, art, music, culture, and decorative arts of the region. Its magazine, the Historic New Orleans Collection Quarterly, surveys the region’s history as it relates to THNOC’s projects and programs.
Lewis Kemper Williams (1887–1971) was born in Patterson, Louisiana, in 1887. As a young man, he entered the family lumber business, becoming secretary-treasurer and, later, president of the F. B. Williams Cypress Company. From 1949 until his retirement in 1971, he served as president, director, and then chairman of the board of Williams Inc., a company with broad interests in land, mineral royalties, and investments. Williams served in the US army in World Wars I and II, rising to the rank of brigadier general.
In 1920 shortly after his tour of duty in World War I, Williams married New Orleans native Leila Hardie Moore (1901–1966) in New London, Connecticut. During their life together, the Williamses demonstrated a keen sense of civic and philanthropic responsibility. Beneficiaries of their generosity included the University of the South, Boy Scouts of America, Christ Church Cathedral, St. Anna’s Asylum, the Junior League, and the New Orleans Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. In 1937 Kemper Williams received one of the city’s highest honors; for his leadership of the New Orleans Housing Authority, he was awarded the Times-Picayune Loving Cup.
In 1938 the Williamses bought two properties in the French Quarter—the Merieult House on Royal Street and a late 19th-century residence contiguous to the Merieult House, facing Toulouse Street. The latter property was their home for 17 years, during which time they amassed a substantial collection of important Louisiana artifacts—the founding holdings of The Historic New Orleans Collection.
With the goal of making their collected materials available to the public for future generations, the couple established The Historic New Orleans Collection. With their deaths—hers in 1966 and his in 1971—the Kemper and Leila Williams Foundation was established to ensure stable, long-term financial support for The Collection.