The United States Mint was once the site of Fort St. Charles, one of the defenses built in 1792 during the Spanish period. Fort St. Charles was the largest of five fortifications surrounding the city. Spanish Governor Baron Hector de Carondelet noted that Fort St. Charles, constructed in the form of a pentagon, was built larger than the other four to accommodate troops in the event of an insurrection.
Andrew Jackson is said to have reviewed his troops in front of Fort St. Charles’ gates, before leading them to face the British on December 23, 1814 in the “Night Battle.” In the early afternoon on December 23rd, a messenger had alerted Jackson that the British had landed on the Villere plantation, nine miles below the city. Hearing that the British had landed, Jackson allegedly exclaimed:
“By the Eternal, they shall not sleep on our soil!...Gentlemen, the British are below, we must fight them to-night.”
Jackson marched his forces from Fort St. Charles to attack the British that night, surprising the unsuspecting forces. Jackson concluded that the Americans would have won the night battle if a thick fog had not rolled in. Jackson and his forces ultimately went on to defeat the British on January 8, 1815, following the better known Battle of New Orleans.
According to Greg Lambousy, Director of Collections for the Louisiana State Museum:
"In 1821 the fort was demolished, and the land was given to the City of New Orleans the following year. The area was made into a park, aptly named Jackson Square. The park remained until 1835, when the city returned it to the federal government for construction of the New Orleans branch mint . . . Purportedly, the cornerstone of the mint building was laid on the foundation of Fort St. Charles."
The Mint produced both US and Confederate currency. After the federal government occupied New Orleans during the Civil War, the building saw other uses until 1879, when it resumed coining operations. Its service as a mint ended in the early 1910s, when it began to be used for a series of other purposes, including a federal prison from 1931 to 1943. It served as a Coast Guard receiving station until the mid-1960s, when the building was transferred to state control.
Part of the Louisiana State Museum complex since 1979, the Mint houses the Louisiana Historical Center, one of the oldest and most comprehensive archives in the state. It also houses one of the largest and most significant collections of Jazz related instruments, images, and recordings in the world.