Delgado: Benevolent Businessman (1909 - 1921)

By: Bob Monie
The story of the Girod Asylum must have reached Mr. Isaac Delgado either at his riverfront offices in the 200 block of N. Peters Street near the New Orleans Sugar Exchange, or in his Garden District home on Philip Street. A charter member of the exchange, a banker, sugar and rice trader, owner of the Albania Sugar Plantation and Refinery, and a conservative investor in debentures and annuities, Delgado would have been appalled by the way the Girod Asylum project had been handled. Certainly, he didn't do business that way.  Having wisely invested nearly every dollar he had earned since moving from his native country Jamaica to the United States in 1854 at the age of 14, Delgado could not conceive that contested funds would be allocated for a charitable project.

Isaac Delgado, New Orleans Entrepreneur and Philanthropist
Left: Isaac Delgado and his Uncle Samuel outside the main office of Delgado and Co. in the 200 block of N. Peters St., around 1890. Right: The same building today.
New Orleans Sugar Exchange at the Corner of N. Front and Bienville, around 1910
Delgado's Garden District home at 1220 Philip St.
 In 1908, just a year before the Girod Asylum buildings were finally reopened as the Colored Waif's Home, Delgado had seen his own “gift to the city of New Orleans,” the Delgado Memorial, a state-of-the-art surgical building dedicated to the memory of his deceased aunt and uncle, quickly and efficiently added to the grounds of Charity Hospital.  He specified that this memorial be constructed of “fireproof” material on high ground far away from malarial swamps, and provide for the relief “of the suffering of both sexes,” regardless of religious affiliation. He funded the memorial with money that could not be claimed by other parties or diverted to other projects. This was during a time when nationally-known business tycoons bristled under the journalistic attacks of muckrakers like Ida Tarbell, who cast a lurid spotlight on John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil, and Upton Sinclair, who called Theodore Roosevelt's attention to dangerous and unsanitary working conditions at the Armour meat processing plant in Chicago.  In stark contrast stood Delgado's Albania Sugar Plantation and Refinery in Jeanerette, Louisiana. Staffed by expert technicians paid to maintain high sanitary standards and promote safe work habits, Albania produced 12,000 tons of sugar cane annually on 400 acres and, in 1897, had been called “one of the best-managed places in the state of Louisiana.”  A visitor in 1902 from the Louisiana Sugar Manufacturer's Association described  the operation at Albania as “magnificent” and “second to none.”

The Delgado Memorial Building at Charity Hospital, 1908, shown on the cover of its dedication program.
The Albania Plantation
Works Consulted 

“Albania Plantation (Special Correspondence).”  The Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer (1902) 23: 303.

Campanella, Richard.  Time and Place in New Orleans.  New Orleans: Pelican, 2002.

Dodge, Louis.  Isaac Delgado Central Trades School.  New Orleans: Delgado, 1928.

Garthwaite, Elloyse and Tom Ireland.  Isaac Delgado: His Life and Impact on New Orleans and the State of Louisiana.  New Orleans: Delgado, 1980.

Malone, Lee and Paul Malone.  The Majesty of the Garden District. New Orleans: Pelican, 1998.

“One of the Best-Managed Places in the State of Louisiana is the Albania Plantation of Messers. Delgado.” The Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer (1897) 18:237.

Program.  Dedication of the Delgado Memorial: Saturday, December 19th, 2:00 P.M. New Orleans, 1908.

Starr, S. Frederick.  Southern Comfort: The Garden District of New Orleans.  New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1998.

Wilson, Harold S. McClure Magazine and the Muckrakers.  New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1970.


Future Site of Isaac Delgado Trades School: Birthplace of Jazz, Burial Ground of the Afflicted (1909-1921)

By: Bob Monie
In 1909 ragtime music issued from the patios and verandas of New Orleans dance halls and restaurants, and the dance of the day was the cakewalk--so called because the winners of local dance contests received a freshly-baked cake as their trophy, after promenading, umbrella in hand, to the latest ragtime piece.  In many parts of New Orleans, brass bands played marches, blues, and the earliest hint of a sassy, new kind of music soon to be called jazz. Set back a little from City Park Avenue and Rosedale lay Holt Cemetery, a bit of high ground selected as the best place on the edge of the city to bury victims of malaria and yellow fever, so their corpses would stay put and not float away in the periodic rush of New Orleans flood waters.
Visitors to Holt Cemetery

A few paces southwest of Holt Cemetery on the triangular patch of land, bounded by Conti Street, Rosedale Drive, and the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks,  stood the remnants of the Girod Asylum, designed by architect Jacques de Pouilly, famous for his work on the St. Louis Cathedral and the St. Louis Hotel.  The grand asylum de Pouilly envisioned to honor the memory of New Orleans mayor Nicholas Girod was never built because of squabbles with the city over inheritance rights. When a few smaller buildings, including a chapel, were finally finished in 1870, the city had somehow neglected to drain the malarial swamp adjacent to the site.  The Board of Health shut down the asylum, leaving the few "French" orphans who had moved in to seek other accommodations. Not until 1907 was the property approved for habitation, renamed The Colored Waifs' Home, and assigned to the management of Captain Joseph Jones. Six years later, Louis Armstrong, age 13, would learn to play the cornet in the Colored Waifs' Brass Band, directed by Peter Davis, and take in the sweet, mournful sounds of brass bands playing dirges, hymns and blues for the dead in Holt Cemetery next door. Pioneer jazz cornetist Buddy Bolden would eventually be buried in the same cemetery.

1913 Photo of the Waifs' Home and Louis Armstrong recalling that it
"used to be back of City Park Avenue when I was a boy"
Works Consulted

Bergreen, Laurence.  Louis Armstrong:  An Extravagant Life.  New York: Broadway Press, 1998.

Charters, Samuel Barclay.  A Trumpet Around the Corner: The Story of New Orleans Jazz.  Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008.

Dunbar, Prescott.   The New Orleans Museum of Art: The First Seventy-Five Years.  Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1990.

Huber, Leonard.  New Orleans Architecture Vol. III: The Cemeteries.  New Orleans: Pelican Press, 1989.

Kay, George W.  "The Milne Boys and Colored Waifs and 'Little Louis.'"  The Second Line (Publication of the New Orleans Jazz Club) Spring 1974: 9-11.

Knowles, Richard.  Fallen Heroes: A History of New Orleans Brass Bands.  New Orleans:  Jazzology, 1996

Reeves, Sally  E. and William D. Reeves.  History of City Park New Orleans.  New Orleans: City Park  Improvement Association, 2000.

Scully, Arthur, Jr. "The Building Nobody Wanted."  The Second Line (Publication of the New Orleans Jazz Club) July/August 1970:  349-351.