Sixteen-year-old Henry T. Daily Lonsdale likely didn’t picture himself as one day being the owner of a stately mansion that would, 163 years later, still stand as part of the historical fabric of New Orleans.
After all, at that tender age, he was an immigrant working in the city’s shipyards.
Sitting in the Garden District of New Orleans, the Henry Lonsdale home is one of many elegant mansions built in the mid-1800s, usually by businessmen who wanted a bit of respite after work.
But it wouldn’t take him long to build a fortune, after — as legend has it — he noticed how many of the goods arriving at the yard were damaged from their trip upriver.
His parents had sent him a sample of jute fiber. That fiber became the basis for burlap packaging, which earned Lonsdale his first windfall.
He lost it all, however, in the Panic of 1837.
But that wasn’t the end of Lonsdale’s story. He began importing coffee, which was extremely popular in New Orleans, and opted to stretch his supply with a root called chicory. Now almost synonymous with New Orleans, chicory coffee blends have been quaffed by New Orleanians ever since.
In fact, he’s often credited with starting the concoction.
“It is believed that Lonsdale added chicory to his coffee grounds in order to stretch the supply, and some say Lonsdale introduced the use of chicory in New Orleans,” the site the Lucky Bean Tours said.
Lonsdale soon made another pile of cash, and built a Greek-Italianate Revival mansion across three lots on Prytania Street designed by architect Henry Howard in 1857. At the time, it was the tallest building in the Garden District, and was nicknamed the “skyscraper.”
Then he apparently lost that fortune as well.
But much like Lonsdale, his home also has several stories. It’s been a home, a Catholic girls school, a chapel, and even home to (at various times) Anne Rice (who has owned many houses in New Orleans) and Nicolas Cage.
“Once completed, Mr. Lonsdale sold the home to Nelson McStea and noted decorator, the former Abigail Slark,” said Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans in its recent holiday home tour literature.
“A 1925 article in The Item Tribune advertises an auction of the home’s artwork, rugs, and fine European antiques, noting that the McSteas spent well over $100,000 to decorate the home the family occupied for three generations,” the PRCNO continued.
When Nelson McStea died in 1924, it was sold and became a home for elderly Catholic priests, and families began attending mass at the Our Mother of Perpetual Help chapel located in the home.
“The ironwork gazebo and statue of the Virgin Mary that were added by the Redemptorists during their tenure as owners of the property still stand today on the left side of the property,” the PRCNO said.
After that, the home served as a Catholic girls school before eventually returning to its original life as a private home.
These days, the Lonsdale home has benefited from preservation efforts from past and present owners, who have maintained the grandeur of the abode while providing gentle updates as a nod to modern needs.
The magnificent grand entrance still greets visitors, leading to gorgeous living, dining, and billiard rooms. A large spiral staircase is punctuated with a stained glass window.
The home also includes an elevator, too, and more than 1,600 square feet alone of galleries and porches that overlook the gorgeous grounds, patio, and pool.
All told, the Lonsdale home that coffee (and chicory) built has six bedrooms, and five-and-a-half baths over 11,455 square feet.
The Garden District home at 2523 Prytania St. is priced at $4.995 million and is listed by Margaret Stewart with Latter & Blum Inc Realtors – Uptown. Want to see more? Click here.