Carrollton, Louisiana was incorporated as a city on March 10, 1845. In 1852, the neighboring town of Lafayette, formerly the seat of government for Jefferson Parish, was annexed by New Orleans. In accordance with its new position, the city government built a new courthouse and jail. The property was purchased for $7,000 and the commission of the courthouse was awarded to architect Henry Howard, who designed an imposing two-story Greek Revival building. Howard went on to design courthouses for several Gulf Coast towns. The building and jail were constructed by Messrs, Wing, and Crozier for $59,000 and completed in 1855.
From 1855 until 1874, Carrollton served as the seat of government for Jefferson Parish. During those 19 years, the courthouse was the scene for many landmark criminal and civil cases that would shape the future of the city. Justice was served as were death sentences. Hangings took place behind the courthouse near the jail. When Carrollton was annexed to the City of New Orleans in 1876, the courthouse was primarily vacant and used by the community as a space for public events. In 1889, the courthouse began its long history as a school and was renamed McDonough No. 23 after 19th-century philanthropist John McDonough. The jailhouse continued to be functional until it was closed in 1932 due to reports that inmates were disturbing the school children. McDonough No. 23 closed in 1950. Five years later, the School Board sued the City of New Orleans over rights to the property. New Orleans wanted to use it as a Civic Center, yet the School Board, who was using the building as a warehouse, wanted to open another school. The School Board won, and the second school to inhabit the old courthouse was Ben Franklin High School.
In 1963, it was the first New Orleans public high school to integrate its students. Ben Franklin High School was renowned for its highly-competitive coursework. Their exemplary academic performances have developed a high-volume of Rhodes Scholars. The school has even been ranked as a “Top public high school in the nation” by several publications. Ben Franklin moved to a larger building in 1990, which allowed Lusher Middle School to step in and take over the Carrollton courthouse campus. Lusher also had an impressive academic output. Their rigorous academic and arts-based programs have been nationally recognized. Like Ben Franklin, Lusher also relocated. In 2006, Audubon Charter School became the fourth school to occupy the old courthouse. Audubon Charter School is the only public elementary school in Louisiana to teach the French curriculum that is accredited by the French Government. After serving the community for over the century, the doors were permanently closed in 2013.
According to 2014 news reports, the Orleans Parish School Board offered it to charter school organizations, but none could afford the $3 million price tag on the deteriorating building. By 2015, the vacant property made the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of the nation’s “most endangered places.” That designation spurred action by the neighborhood and preservation organizations. In March 2017, Colonial Oaks Senior Living, a Houston-based developer, bought the building at auction from the New Orleans Parish School Board for $4.7 million. As of June 2021, the property is an active construction site.
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