Faubourg St. John, established in 1708, is a neighborhood located just north of Broad Street at the intersection of Orleans Ave.
It is approximately 75 city blocks in area and has an average elevation of about 1 foot above sea level. Not bad when you consider about half of New Orleans is several feet under sea level. More than 4,000 residents call Faubourg St. John home.
One of New Orleans’ finest neighborhoods, Faubourg St. John is famous for its stately trees, abundant parks, spectacular homes, world-class museums, vibrant bayou, excellent restaurants and fine shops throughout the neighborhood especially along its business districts on Ponce de Leon and Broad Streets.
Faubourg St. John contains the full range of residential uses, fun and friendly business districts, office space, a wide range of medical services and a small amount of light industrial property. This full range of land use, plus the economic and ethnic diversity of the neighborhoods’ population qualifies Faubourg St. John as a premier destination.
FAUBOURG ST. JOHN
“Where Big Dreams Grow!”
Bayou St. John is the Reason for New Orleans
by Angela Carll
Times Picayune – November 15, 1985
Bayou St. John is the reason New Orleans is located where it is. The bayou provided a connection from the Mississippi River overland via an old Indian path to Lake Ponchartrain.
A number of historic landmarks still stand in this neighborhood to remind visitors of the city’s heritage.
The Old Spanish Custom House, built in 1784 at the corner of Moss Street and Grand Route Saint John, is the oldest structure in this neighborhood.
Another renowned home is the Pitot House, named for James Pitot, the second mayor of New Orleans. Built in 1799 at 1370 Moss Street, the Pitot House was later moved a short distance up the bayou to 1440 Moss in 1970.
The Tivoli amusement park once stood where the Pitot House is now. It featured a pavillion, orange trees, and dances were held there on Sundays.
Much of Bayou St. John remained swampy and unable to be developed while the city was attempting to drain the area, which was called “back of town” as early as 1835.
In 1866, the city started using the bayou as a drainage receptacle, and a community of houseboats grew up along it. In 1936, the State House of Representatives declared the bayou a non-navigable stream.
Fort St. John, where the bayou and lake meet, was originally built as a fortification by the French and later became the most prominent resort area in New Orleans during the 1930s. The Old Spanish Fort still stands on this site.
The fort is a modern-day battleground. The Orleans Levee Board has proposed replacing the Lakeshore Drive bridge that spans the bayou at its entrance to the lake with a grade-level crossing using culverts for water to flow back and forth from the lake to the bayou.
Members of the Bayou St. John Improvement Association have sued the Levee Board to halt construction, arguing that wind moves water currents and that the City Park lagoons which are fed by water from the bayou will soon stagnate. They also contend that closing the mouth of the bayou will damage an important part of the city’s historical heritage. (The “waterfall dam” near the mouth of Bayou St. John was removed in 2013. Please visit the link for more information: http://fsjna.org/2012/08/update-on-dam-removal/)
Although the bayou today lacks even the rowing clubs, which were popular in the last century, a drive along its curving shore shows typical Louisiana country homes. It still exists to remind us of New Orleans’ earliest beginnings, and why the city was built in a place that seems most improbable to us today.
Faubourg St. John was a community ten years before the founding of New Orleans in 1718.
Before New Orleans there was…FAUBOURG ST. JOHN
House on Grand Route St. John: This house was situated on the last leg of the Bayou Road that led from New Orleans to the settlement of Bayou St. John, which had become an important small port and settlement in the late Spanish period. Before other canals were dug, supplies coming to New Orleans via the Lake Route, through the Rigolets and Lake Pontchartrain to Bayou St. John were unloaded at Port St. John and carried to the city over the portage road. The portage road was the earliest path from the Lake to the River, and has been used since time immemorial by the Indians before the French began exploring the area. With the coming of the French colonizers it became the main road for bringing supplies and people to the new settlement on the Mississippi. During the late 1700′s and first half of the 1800′s, it became the fashionable road of the area, along which many lovely homes were built, most of them two-story plantation type homes. This area, along with Gentilly, was one of the earliest and most fashionable suburbs of New Orleans. It was so early that concessions of land in this location of Grand Bayou de St. Jean (as named by Bienville) were granted to settlers as early as 1708. In 1718, when the future Nouvelle Orleans could boast little more than a rude shack serving as a temporary shelter for the Commandant, Jean Baptist LeMoyne Sieur de Bienville, settlers were established along the banks of Bayou St. John.
Information obtained from the link below:
Research by Emily Antoine and Erin Leiva :
Centuries ago, when Native Americans first entered Southern Louisiana, they saw vast marshes and swamps. While looking for places to settle, they found a body of water which they named Bayouk Choupic after the mudfish. They started building their villages there. On Bayouk Choupic palmetto leaves and tree branches were use to build houses. Others built their homes on top of mounds or hills of dirt and clamshells.
The natives used the bayou for transportation and food. Using the bayou, along with a path now called Bayou Road, they were able to travel to the Mississippi River. A trading community developed on the convergence of Bayouk Choupic and Bayou Road.
One such tribe was the Tangipahoa, which means “Corn Gatherers” or “Corn Cob People”. They are thought to be a part of the Acolapissa from Pearl River. They moved closer to Lake Pontchartrain and stopped on the north and south shores. One day, the Houma, from the Choctaw Tribe, and their allies entered a Tangipahoa village and destroyed it. After returning to Pearl River, they moved to another river. That river now bears their name. It is called the Tangipahoa River.
Some Acolapissa lived here. The Houma and the Bayougoula lived on Bayou St. John also. All three are related, says Grayhawk of the Cannes Brulee Native American Center. He also tells us that the Houma see the crawfish as a sign of bravery.
Later, the French came looking to control the Mighty Mississippi. They wanted control over trade to their Canadian colonies. What they needed was a shorter route to the river from the gulf. That is when French explorers met natives from Biloxi. They showed the French their route to the bayou. They traveled from Biloxi, on the Gulf of Mexico, to Lake Borgne. Then into Lake Catherine and into Rigolets Pass. From there they went into Lake Pontchartrain to Bayouk Choupic and stopped at the bend. They walked down Bayou Road to the Mississippi. The French decided to build a city there. They built the city of New Orleans on the crescent of the river – their New Orleans, the part of the city we call the French Quarter. The city was surrounded by a wall, which is now Rampart, St. Peter, Esplanade, and Canal Streets. They renamed Bayouk Choupic, calling it Bayou St. Jean, and used it for importing and exporting goods with New Orleans as their port city.
Other people, including the Spanish, wanted New Orleans because they wanted to control trade. To protect the city, the French built a fort at the mouth of the bayou called Fort St. Jean. When the Spanish owned Louisiana, they called the fort Spanish Fort.
Bayou St. John is a small, sluggish channel that was once a major shipping route between Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River. Because of the river’s constant geographical evolution, the stream is no longer directly connected to the river, the lake or any of the other bayous. But when the French arrived in the area, they used it as a trade route for trappers and merchants.
The French established a landing at the headwaters of the bayou and named it Port St. John when the City of New Orleans was established at the beginning of the 18th century. In 1701, the French constructed a fortress near the mouth of the Bayou. Under Spanish rule in 1779, the fort was rebuilt and became known as Spanish Fort. Remnants of the structure still exist. Local folklore says that the voodoo queen, Marie Laveau, performed voodoo at the mouth of Bayou St. John on Lake Pontchartrain.
Bayou St. John was fundamental to the early life of New Orleans. In 1803 a canal was dredged from the Bayou toward the City’s heart. It was a commercially valuable route until 1838, when Americans built a new canal from Lake Pontchartrain into the city. Bayou St. John has not been navigable for boats larger than canoes and skiffs for the better part of this century, because of construction of bridges and changes in commerce.
As early as 1703 (15 years before the founding of New Orleans), the Bayou was used as a shipping channel for French trappers and traders who lived on the Bayou. Prior to the arrival of the French, a Choctaw Indian village of the Houmas tribe existed at the headwaters of the Bayou. They had probably already relocated to what is now called Houma, Louisiana by the time the French arrived. The French established a landing at the headwaters and named it Port St. John when the City of New Orleans was established. A route to the new City on the river was cleared and named Grand Route St. John. A street bearing this name still exist to memorialize this route. In 1701, the French constructed a fortress near the mouth of the Bayou. Under Spanish rule in 1779, the fort was rebuilt and became known as Spanish Fort. Remnants of the structure still exist. Local folklore says that the voodoo queen, Marie Laveau, performed voodoo at the mouth of Bayou St. John on Lake Pontchartrain.
Bayou St. John was fundamental to the early life of New Orleans. In 1803 a canal was dredged from the Bayou toward the City’s heart. This new canal terminated at current day Basin Street named for the ship turning basin at the terminus of the canal. This canal was originally called the Carondelet Canal in honor of the Spanish governor of that name. In 1838, a new canal under American control was dredged from Lake Pontchartrain into the City. The new canal was known as the New Basin Canal. The Carondelet Canal became known as the Old Basin Canal and remained primarily under the control of the Creoles. Bayou St. John and the Old Basin Canal became commercially less important. The Bayou has not been navigable for the better part of this century. Construction of vehicular bridges and changes in commerce during this century have rendered the Bayou unsuitable for water traffic except for very small canoes and skiffs.
The high ground along Bayou St. John offered some of the earliest settlement opportunities in the city. In 1708 European arrivals settled along the Bayou. As a major route from Lake Pontchartrain, the Bayou became even more important with completion of the Carondelet Canal in 1795. The Old Spanish Custom House, built in 1784, at the corner of Moss and Grand Route St. John, is the oldest structure still standing in the neighborhood.
For many, Bayou St. John offered the possibility of living in houseboats. However, with the ‘ragtag’ nature of the houseboats, the decline of the corridor as a critical part of the trade route, and the Bayou’s increased use as a holding basin for city drainage, the area experienced a general deterioration in its condition. By 1936 it was declared a non-navigable stream. Today the Bayou is a pleasing green space connecting residential areas surrounding City Park both to one another and to the park.
An Act for Laying And Collecting Duties or Imports and Tonnage within the Territories Ceded to the United States, by the Treaty of the Thirtieth of April, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Three, Between the United States and the French Republic, and for Other Purposes:
SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That, to the end that the laws providing for the collection of the duties imposed, by law, on goods, wares and merchandise, imported into the United States, and on the tonnage of ships and vessels, and the laws respecting the revenue and navigation of the United States, may be carried into effect within the said territories, the territories ceded to the United States by the treaty above mentioned, and also all the navigable waters, rivers, creeks, bays, and inlets, lying within the United States, which empty into the Gulf of Mexico, east of the river Mississippi, shall be annexed to the Mississippi district, and shall, together with the same, constitute one district, to be called the ‘District of Mississippi.’ The city of New Orleans shall be the sole port of entry in the said district, and the town of Bayou e St. John shall be a port of delivery, a collector, naval officer, and surveyor shall be appointed to reside at New Orleans, and a surveyor shall e be appointed to reside at the port of Bayou St. John; and the President of the United States is hereby authorized to appoint, not exceeding three surveyors, to reside at such other places, within the said district, as he shall deem expedient, and to constitute each, or either of such places ports of delivery only. And so much of any law or laws, as establishes a district on the river Mississippi, south of the river Tennessee, is hereby repealed, except as to the recovery and receipt of such of duties on goods, wares and merchandise, and on the tonnage of ships c or vessels, as shall have accrued, and as to the recovery and distribution of fines, penalties, and forfeitures, which shall have been incurred before the commencement of the operation of this act.
By the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Chiconcte (Madisonville) and Barrio of Buck Falia (Covington) had begun to develop as trade and transportation centers. The Port of Bayou St. John in New Orleans began trade excursions across Pontchartrain to the settlements, and vessels began to be built on the Northshore. So began an industry in Madisonville which continues today.
MY WIFE AND I WERE WALKING ALONG BAYOU ST. JOHN AND CAME UPON A STREET NAMED ST. JOHN’S COURT. WHAT’S THE STORY ON THIS? WAS IT SET UP AS A PRIVATE ENCLAVE THAT IS NOW PUBLIC?
St. John’s Court was established in 1917 when real estate developer J.F. Lafont acquired the property and built the quaint subdivision of houses on a cul-de-sac to rent to workers at the nearby American Can Company. Lafont numbered the houses A through P.
In 1923, a person could buy one of the 15 cottages for $4,000 or $4,500. That’s right; for a down payment of $750 in cash and mortgage of $32.50 to $37.50 every four weeks, you could stop paying rent and live in a five-room cottage with a living room, dining room, two bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom. When the cottages went up for sale, they were being completely renovated and painted inside and out.
The real estate agents described St. John’s Court as “one of the beauty spots of New Orleans … conveniently located along Bayou St. John. It’s the only one of its kind in the city. It has a beautiful garden and lawn with shade trees forming a central park with 15 cottages around it.”
And it still is.
Monday, January 17, 2011
I just wanted to let y’all know that Saturday’s breakfast bicycle ride was a success. Tom was the only one able to tolerate the early morning start, and I took him past the Old Spanish Custom House along Grand Route St John on the way there while we returned along a road that was once known as St John Street but was changed to Bell St on 7/9/1894. From a map of New Orleans dating to the late 1700′s (see Waggonner & Ball’s publication “Lafitte Greenway Sustainable Water Design” available on the FOLC website), I believe modern-day Bell Street was the portage route between Bayou Road and Bayou St John prior to the construction of the Carondelet Canal in the 1790′s. The point where Bell St meets Bayou Road is the intersection where Bayou Road becomes known as Gentilly Blvd, and it is also the terminus of DeSoto (formerly Washington Street) and Kerlerec (formerly Washington, History and Peace Streets) and is bisected by Dorgenois Street.
From the old map I believe this six-way intersection to be where the ancient Bayou Gentilly ended (or at least fractured into small unnavigable arms), and it was indisputably the site of an Indian Market that pre-dates Bienville. From 1861 to 1880 the site of the Indian Market was known as the LeBreton Market (named after LeBreton Dorgenois, a relative of the LeMoyne brothers of Bienville and Iberville that briefly served as mayor of New Orleans in 1812 while Nicholas Girod was ill or traveling), and it was one of many public markets in the city at that time.
The Buttermilk Drop Cafe is on the corner of O’Reilly and Dorgenois
(Alejandro O’Reilly was the second governor of Louisiana during the Spanish colonial period of 1766-1803, and he succeeded the unpopular Antonio de Ulloa who was forced to flee to Havana Cuba in 1768).
If you like doughnuts they had a spectacular array of them including their namesake offering, the buttermilk drop.
1. Francois Joseph LeBreton D’Orgenois was the namesake of the street Dorgenois as well as the LeBreton public market. He was the first United States Marshal after the Louisiana Purchase, and I believe he was one and the same as our seventh mayor LeBreton Dorgenois. Spellings back in that era were inconsistent (ex. LeBretton), and today in my browsing it appears the names LeBreton and Dorgenois are interchangeable!
2. I believe it was Bayou Sauvage (not Bayou Gentilly) that ran towards Lake Pontchartrain with modern-day Gentilly Blvd and Crete Street along either side of it. “Crete” means “crest” in French, and it explains Crete’s peculiar dog-leg between Lepage and Grand Route St John where the street grid jumps to the natural ridge.
According to the 1798 Spanish colonial map in Waggonner & Ball’s publication entitled “Lafitte Greenway Sustainable Water Design”, the bayou alongside modern-day Gentilly Boulevard is clearly labeled Bayou Gentilly. However, according to the famed book “Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children” it was called Bayou Sauvage. It was known as both names! Bayou Sauvage took the name Gentilly from the Gentilly Plantation, owned by brothers Mathurin and Pierre Dreux, which (I believe) was located where Dillard University now stands. Though Bayou St John and many other smaller waterways of that time drained into Lake Pontchartrain, I believe Bayou Sauvage drained instead into Lake Borgne. If you want to take a look at Lake Borgne as it appeared in 1720 follow the link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lake_Borgne_de_la_Tour_map_1720.jpg. Even though 291 years is a long time by human standards, it is short in geological time and it is startling to see how much marshland southeastern Louisiana has lost in less than 300 years!
3. Somewhere today I read that the original portage route from Bayou St John most likely started at modern-day 1222 Moss Street. I read text referring to both Bayou San Juan and Petit Bayou being in the vicinity of modern-day Grand Route St John, and I’m willing to bet that one of those bayous was the small waterway that ran along the portage route. I’d like to find a map that identifies these two bayous.
My new-found curiosity for historical paths stems from my post-Katrina preoccupation with flooding in New Orleans and how this area naturally drained before human engineering failed us. Of course, much of this area naturally drained very slowly or didn’t drain at all making it a swamp, but I’m still interested to know where New Orleans’ subtle ridges and depressions lie. The Lafitte Greenway project in it’s simplest form will be a bike path and recreational area with community amenities, but in a more complex form the Lafitte Greenway may significantly alter (and improve) the drainage of our city and provide a sustainable means of coping with water. Dealing with rain water, stagnant water, waste water etc has been a central issue in New Orleans for hundreds of years, literally, and continues to be one of our greatest challenges.
Check out this short slideshow to see why we live in Faubourg St. John:
A cartoon in John Churchill Chase’s ‘Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children’ shows the saints mitigating a fight between French royals.
•Bourbon Street: Named for the House of Bourbon in France.
•Conti Street: Named for the Prince de Conti, a member of the ruling Bourbon family of France.
•Pauger Street: Named for Adrien de Pauger, the French-born engineer who drew up the original plan for the city after his arrival here in 1721.
•Orleans Avenue: Named for the Duc d’Orleans, regent of France after Louis XIV’s death.
•Canal Street: Named for a navigation canal that was never built.
•Loyola Avenue: Named for Ignace de Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, to commemorate the role played by the Jesuits in settling New Orleans.
•Carondelet Street: Named for the Spanish governor who brought street lighting to the city.
•Basin Street: Named for the turning basin on the Carondelet Canal, a navigable waterway that once extended inland from Bayou St. John.
•Treme Street: Named for Claude Treme, whose plantation was subdivided and now constitutes part of the neighborhood of Treme.
•Marigny Street: Named for Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville, the wealthy Creole gentleman whose plantations were subdivided to create Faubourg Marigny and the town of Mandeville.
•St. Charles Avenue: Named for Carlos III of Spain, who was monarch when France transferred a portion of the Louisiana territory to Spain in the 1760s.
•Frenchmen Street: Named for six French leaders who led an uprising against Spanish rule after Louisiana was ceded to Spain, and who were subsequently executed in public by Spanish Gov. Alejandro O’Reilly.
Check out a map of Faubourg St. John done in 1877 in the link below.
This map indicates street car tracks on Grand Route, Esplanade, Broad, and along what is now Moss Street.
A map of areas annexed by the City of New Orleans before 1925 can be seen in the link below.
Curious about what Faubourg St. John looked like in 1975? Click on the link to a PDF below:
HAPPY BIRTHDAY GRAND ROUTE SAINT JOHN!
In 1977, the Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association was formed.
But, the term Faubourg St. John has been in use since the area became a neighborhood. French was spoken and used in official documents for many years after the founding of New Orleans. Faubourg is the french word for neighborhood or suburb.
- Frenchmen, Desire and Good Children and Other Streets of New Orleans
Research provided by Dean Burridge.
another called Swamp street, so symbolic of all the back-of-town, has been changed to N. White. However Sauvage street remains, as does Mystery street, whose origin, properly enough, is something of a mystery.
Surveyor in 1873. Except for Port street, on the bayou, the crossing streets were numbered: First, Second, etc. None has been retained. And Port was changed to Moss in 1895. (Pages 150-151)
Photo from page 103 of Frenchmen, Desire and
Good Children and Other Streets of New Orleans
In 1932 a commission of street name changers sought to correct some of the confusion encountered by seven streets which cross Canal, between Broad and Jefferson Davis, and venture downtown into the Faubourg St. John. A glance at any city map will show how the streets in this section run in different alignment from all other streets around them.
Crete. Theseus was the Greek hatchet boy who slew the Minotaur, a disagreeable (and hungry) mythological monster of the island of Crete who had served regular feeding of Athenian youths and virgins, or else.
Bayou St. John in Colonial Louisiana 1699-1803 by Edna B. Freiberg
Excerpts of the 1980 novel in celebration of this year’s Grand Route St. John’s 200th anniversary. Research provided by Dean Burridge.
Directly across the stream – on the east bank, the obviously rich, high land would within nine years be conceded to Antoine Rivard de LaVigne and a handful of other French and Canadian colonists, the earliest landowners in the region. On today’s map their concessions would stretch approximately from Grand Route St. John to a point beyond Esplanade Avenue.
the trail and followed that bank southwesterly, Bienville would soon have reached the end of Bayouk Choupic, which within three-fourths of a mile branched into several streamlets that fingered into the various corners of the surrounding swamplands. However, the trees and undergrowth, spilling into the water along the bank, were too formidable for easy penetration. That part of the stream would have to wait for another time. Besides, the path lay straight ahead, across Bayouk Choupic on the portage trail that led to the River St. Louis. (Iberville had rechristened the Colbert Riviere St. Louis in honor of his King.) The bayou end of the portage trail began somewhat west of today’s Grand Route St. John, near 1222 Moss Street. (Pages 20-21)
Of these first bayou settlers, Antoine Rivad de LaVigne (referred to in the records also as Rivard or Rivart) was the only one who stayed on permanently. By 1718 he had purchased the ancient village of the Acolapissas across the bayou from his plantation; and by 1721 he had enlarged his original holdings by purchasing the adjoining concessions of those who had left. An additional three-arpent frontage, granted him by Bienville on February 5, 1721, together with what he already owned, established him as the earliest large-property- owner on Bayou St. Jean, with seventeen arpents front. Today’s landmarks would extend the LaVigne plantation approximately from Grand Route St. John northerly to the vicinity of the National Guard property lakeside of Esplanade Avenue. (Page 32)
And then there was Marc Antoine Hubert (Commissary General of Louisiane from November 12, 1716 to September 15, 1720), who on March 14, 1718 was appointed Director General of the New Orleans counter, to work with (and check on) Bienville. He came to New Orleans from Mobile in the fall of 1718 by way of Lake Ponchartrain and Riviere d’Orleans, as Bayou St. Jean was sometimes called because of its nearness to the new settlement. He chose for his home a concession of land where Petit Bayou crossed the portage path which was to be called Bayou Road by the French. (Today Huber’s concession would be below the juncture of Esplanade Avenue and Grand Route St. John). (Page 39)
(Dean’s personal note – a little known fact is the Spanish separately declared war on England during the American Revolutionary War and there was a sort of much earlier Battle of New Orleans, before the later two that are taught)
Walter Parker’s home at 924 Moss St., on the shore of Bayou St. John circa 1951. He was among the waterway’s greatest advocates.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY THE HISTORIC NEW ORLEANS COLLECTION
The Dumaine Street bridge that crosses Bayou St. John has a plaque on it indicating that it was built in 1951 as “The Walter Parker Memorial Bridge.” Who was this guy Walter Parker, and what did he do to get a bridge named after him? I am told that in addition to the bridge, the house at 924 Moss St., which I have always heard referred to as “The Sanctuary” was also once called “The Walter Parker House.” I would love to know more about this person who was apparently rather influential in the early days of the development of Bayou St. John. ~Mary-jo Webster
Walter Parker was an economist, a journalist, an expert on the cotton industry and an authority on waterways development. In the first decade of the 1900s, he headed the Louisiana Boat Owners Association. In later years, Parker was a prominent member of the Association of Commerce, helped organize the Mississippi Valley Association and fought for flood control. In the early ’60s, Parker’s home, which had been built in the late 1700s, became home to the Sanctuary School.
Walter Parker lived on the shore of Bayou St. John and was among the waterway’s greatest advocates. He was one of the first people to pressure the city to address the issue of sewage flowing into Lake Pontchartrain and Bayou St. John. Parker actively promoted beautification and encouraged community pride for neighborhoods fronting the Bayou St. John.
Walter Parker died in 1950 but his widow, Anita Hernandez Parker, continued to fight for the waterway her husband held dear. In ’66, it was she who rallied neighbors and the City Council in opposition to a zoning change that, had it been implemented, would have permitted high-rise apartments to replace single-family homes along the Bayou St. John waterfront.
History of Stallings Playground. Video by Charlie London
I have a bit of information about Olive Stallings. Can you tell me more?
Here’s an interesting excerpt from John Kendall’s History of New Orleans, Chapter 39, published by The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York, 1922. This text is in the public domain. Note that the Carondelet Canal lay in what we now call the Lafitte Corridor; it was filled in 1938. ~ from Bart Everson
A branch of the commerce of New Orleans the importance of which is underestimated even in the city itself is that on the New and Old Basins and their canals. The imports over these routes are valued at about $1,500,000 per annum. The Old Basin and Canal, more properly called the Carondelet Canal, was perhaps the first artificial waterway constructed in the great territory of Louisiana. It was built to connect New Orleans with Lake Pontchartrain through Bayou St. John. History tells us that Bienville established the capital of the province on the Mississippi River, but that empire builder probably had his eye on the Bayou as much as on the river. The bayou was the point of entrance to the new town site and in direct communication with the settlements on Mississippi Sound, whereas the route by the river was long and at times dangerous. Between the bayou and the little settlement was a swamp, traversed by an Indian trail, which later became Bayou Road Street. The portage from bayou to town was difficult and laborious and the earliest settlers must have seen the necessity for an extension of the bayou to the walls of the city. Nothing was done, however, until Carondelet became governor of the Spanish province.
Bayou St. John was a narrow and shallow stream, without current, except during flood. It ran from a point in the rear of the spot where the town was located into Lake Pontchartrain, its source being about a mile and a half from the river. It broke through the Metairie Ridge, which runs from the river to a considerable distance beyond the point where the bayou cuts through it. The main French settlements were on the coast of the Mississippi Sound, at Biloxi, Dauphin Island, Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis and Mobile, and communication existed between these posts and the French posts in Illinois and Canada by means of canoes and pirogues. The main route was through Mississippi Sound, Lake Borgne, Lake Pontchartrain and Bayou St. John, and up the Mississippi River. After Bienville moved his headquarters from Mobile to New Orleans no attempt was made to improve the little bayou, which had a bar across the mouth, passable by even small schooners only at high water. The Spanish built a fort at the mouth of the bayou, because it offered access to New Orleans. This old fort still stands. During the French and Spanish dominations the bayou was navigable as far up as the settlement at the bayou, where the portage trail struck the stream, and where a rude bridge was built, but this navigation was confined to canoes, pirogues and “chalans” or bateaux.
Seventy-six years after the founding of the city, in 1794, Louisiana then being a Spanish colony, Baron de Carondelet, the royal governor, laid off a strip of land extending from Bayou St. John to a point adjacent to the ramparts of the city for the purpose of digging a canal to connect the city through the bayou with the lake. This strip was 150 feet wide. Through the center of this strip there was dug by slave labor, donated by the king’s liege subjects, a ditch fifteen feet wide for the double purpose of navigation and drainage. It was intended that the strips on either side the ditch should be embellished with an avenue of trees, affording an esplanade for the recreation of the inhabitants. But “mañana” is no new word for in the Spanish language and the esplanade was never built. The canal was allowed to fill up with the sediment carried in the drainage from the town, and when the Americans took charge of the colony the ditch was practically useless for purposes of navigation. Pierre Baam testified that “this canal and basin did not last long; the canal got filled up by cattle passing through it.” The territorial council of Orleans in 1805 vested the canal and bayou in the Orleans Navigation Company for the purpose of improvement and permitted the collection of tolls for its use. Up to November 15, 1821, the company expended $143,490.39 upon work in the bayou and canal, and $28,633.08 in the purchase of land. Ultimately $375,000 was expended in the digging of the canal, its basin, and deepening the bayou. In 1821 the state brought suit to forfeit the charter of the navigation company but was unsuccessful. The company continued to operate until 1852 when it became insolvent, and its charter was judicially forfeited. The property was purchased by Currie and others, who organized the New Orleans Canal and Navigation Company and transferred the property to that corporation. The company was to have corporate existence for fifty years from March 10, 1858, after which it was to revert to the state under certain conditions. After the expiry of this half century the state entered claim to the property, which claim has been contested in the courts since that date and is still before the Supreme Court of the United States, where it promises to remain for some years.
The canal served for over a century to supply the needs of the city in the commodities of the parishes across Lake Pontchartrain, the principal entries being schooners loaded with charcoal, firewood, lumber, sea food from the lakes and sound and various other articles. Until a new canal was dug in 1835 it was practically the only means of traffic with that territory. A proposition is now being urged to have the State of Louisiana purchase this property and operate it for the public benefit.