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Was the old soldiers' home on Bayou St. John for Civil War soldiers or earlier? 

click to enlarge This 1909 photo shows President-elect William Howard Taft visiting Camp Nicholls on Moss Street in Bayou St. John.

PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

This 1909 photo shows President-elect William Howard Taft visiting Camp Nicholls on Moss Street in Bayou St. John.

Hey Blake,

There used to be an old soldiers' home on Bayou St. John across from City Park. Was it for Civil War soldiers or earlier? What is it now?

Timmy Statton

Dear Timmy,

  The building you describe, located at 1700 Moss St. near Esplanade Avenue, was originally called Camp Nicholls, named for Civil War Brigadier General Francis T. Nicholls, who later served two terms as governor of Louisiana. It was in fact a home for Confederate war veterans. With $2,500 approved by the state Legislature for the purchase of the land, the building was erected in 1882.

  In 1884, The Daily Picayune reported that the daughters of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and the widow and daughter of Gen. Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson attended a ceremony to dedicate the facility. "The home assumes a more comfortable look every day," the paper reported. "The old soldiers declare themselves to be contented and happy and free from any cares or thoughts for the morrow. They are well behaved and willing to assist, according to their abilities, in improving and beautifying the place." Varina Davis, the widow of the former Confederate president, visited the home in 1899, where she was greeted with hugs and applause from the soldiers. Over the years, the building housed more than 300 veterans in all, from all across the South.

  In later years, a Confederate submarine went on display there before moving to its more familiar location in Jackson Square, then the Presbytere and now Baton Rouge.

  In 1942, the Moss Street site was turned over to the state for a Louisiana National Guard military installation and armory. More recently, a cluster of buildings on the site housed various entities of the New Orleans Police Department, including at various times Third District headquarters, the Special Operations Division, Crime Lab and Police Academy.

  The buildings were badly damaged following Hurricane Katrina and the state determined that rehabilitating them would be too costly, so they were demolished in 2009. In 2011, Deutsches Haus, the German heritage society famous for its Oktoberfest and other cultural activities, purchased the land from the state. The group's former site on South Galvez Street was demolished to make way for the new University Medical Center. After some delays, Deutsches Haus finally won approval for its plans to build at Bayou St. John and hopes to open its new headquarters by 2017. The group plans to keep in place an historic marker on the site recalling the spot's history as Camp Nicholls.

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