The Cabildo courtyard shown in the vintage postcards on this page was part of a prison
complex that stood for nearly 200 years, spanning French, Spanish and American rule.
The first corps de garde or jail was constructed on the Cabildo site in 1723; a few years
later, a civil prison, with enclosed yard, was added. In 1751, the first jail was demolished
and replaced with a larger one and a military prison was added. When the Spanish were
in power, the front civil prison was torn down and the first Casa Capitular or Council
House was constructed. This building still included a jail and military prison, along with
the council chambers. During this period, the jail was referred to as the "calaboose."
The term was still used by locals many generations after the Americans came to power.
(When my Dad would make the determination that someone was headed for trouble, he
would inevitably say something like, "Mark my words, that boy's going to end up in the
In 1795, construction started on the second Casa Capitular (the present Cabildo),
incorporating the walls of the prison. At the same time, the civil prison was renovated
and expanded. The Cabildo prison housed soldiers who were captured during the War of
1812. The jail rooms in the rear of the complex were used to hold British sympathizers -
those who were suspected of spying for the British. One man was tried for espionage,
found guilty and executed in the courtyard. It's the ghost of this man who supposedly
still haunts the old prison courtyard to this day.
The prison was torn down in the 1830's, after construction of a new Parish Prison on
Orleans Street (behind what is now the Municipal Auditorium). The building known as the
Arsenal was built on the site of the old civil prison. Even after Parish Prison was
constructed, there was still a jail in the complex, part of the police station on the site.
In the 1840's, another prison was built on Pirate's Alley, adjoining the site and several
years later, another group of cells was added. The precinct station remained there until
1914. These structures still exist today in the Cabildo's courtyard.