So what’s the deal with that cornstalk fence, anyway?
First came the house. The pumpkin-colored dwelling at 915 Royal St. was built in 1816 for François Xavier Martin, chief justice of the state Supreme Court and author of the first history of Louisiana. A native of Marseilles, France, he lived in the house from 1816 to 1826. Then came the iconic cornstalk fence by which everyone now knows that building. It was commissioned and erected in 1856 by a later owner, Dr. Joseph Secondo Biamenti, who had bought the house in 1834 and — as legend has it — had the cast-iron fence designed for his wife, who was homesick for the fields of corn that grace her native state of Iowa.
Now home to the aptly named Cornstalk Fence Hotel, the building has become a French Quarter landmark. The amazingly detailed fence never ceases to attract people and their cameras. In addition to the ears of corn, the fence boasts pumpkins at the bases of the columns, which are entwined by pumpkin vines and morning glories. Adorning the gate is an iron butterfly.
- Harriet Beecher Stowe is said to have once been a guest. She reportedly drew inspiration for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” from what she saw at New Orleans’ nearby slave markets.
- Elvis Presley bunked there while he was filming the 1958 film “King Creole.” Fans of The King can request the Elvis Room.
- More recent guests include Bill and Hillary Clinton, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, and Paul Newman, according to the inn’s website.
- The hotel was not the first building on the site. Property records show buildings there as early as 1730 — 12 years after New Orleans’ founding — but fires destroyed those structures in 1788 and again in 1794.
- The hotel is believed to be haunted. Among the specters said to be roaming the halls are Martin himself, who reportedly rattles doorknobs, and children at play.
- The hotel’s fence isn’t the only cornstalk fence in town. The other one is in the Garden District, where it surrounds a mansion at 1448 Fourth St. Both fences were made by Wood, Miltenberger & Co., the New Orleans branch of Wood & Perot of Philadelphia.
- Some sites say that Col. Robert Henry Short, who owned the Garden District house just before the Civil War, built his cornstalk fence to make his own Iowa-born wife feel less homesick.
In addition to being a fine piece of whimsy, the cornstalk fence is a prime example of cast-iron craftsmanship that abounds in New Orleans, perhaps most notably in the balconies of the Pontalba buildings flanking Jackson Square, and in cemeteries.