Check out this short slideshow to see why we live in Faubourg St. John:
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
Census 2000 Data Tables: People & Household Characteristics, Housing & Housing Costs, Income & Poverty, Transportation, Employment, Educational Attainment, Immigration & Language, Disabilities, Neighborhood Characteristics
Stretching along the western border of the Bayou St. John neighborhood, the bayou has been a central part of the life and development of this community that obtained its name from this waterway.
Native American settlement
The word bayou comes from bayuk, meaning minor streams in the language spoken by the Choktaw, believed to have been one of the Native American nation-groups that inhabited this area before the Europeans settled here. The Native Americans called the bayou area Bayouk Choupic, after the mudfish, and built thatched homes near its bank.
Groups from the Chapitoulas nation are thought to be the first to inhabit the area. Another nation-group, the Choctaw had noted the advantages of living near this waterway and transported food and other goods on the bayou. They also traveled to the Mississippi River, by way of the bayou and a path now called Bayou Road. Ultimately, a trading village was established at Bayouk Choupic and Bayou Road.
The French were looking for shorter routes from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi River. In 1699, some of the Choctaw showed them various routes, including where Bayou Road met the river. The French decided to build a city at that site, the present day French Quarter.
They renamed Bayouk Choupic Bayou St. Jean, and by 1703 were using the bayou as a shipping channel. After the arrival of the Spaniards, the two groups battled for trading control.
Europeans soon began bringing enslaved Africans into the area as unpaid laborers, many stripped of their self-respect and identity and separated from their families. The Choctaw people had long before left the area and are thought to have settled in Houma.
The Old Portage sign is “the historical marker on Moss Street [that] marks where goods were unloaded from the bayou and carried along the overland ‘portage’ to the river.”
During the 18th and early 19th centuries the land along the bayou became a place for recreation. The Tivoli Amusement Park, where the Pitot House now stands, was a popular entertainment center. Dances were held on Sundays in an octagon-shaped pavilion in the park.
Taste of Voodoo in New Orleans
The first noted Voodoo queen of the area was thought to be Sanite Dede. Those who presided over the Voodoo ceremonies were always free women of color. (Voodoo uses a matriarchal line.)
Europeans were frightened of the powers of this religion and its practitioners. “As an example of the fear that some had for Voodoo, in 1782 during the Spanish regime, Governor Galvez forbade the import of slaves from Martinique in the Caribbean to New Orleans because the slaves’ belief in Voodoo made them too dangerous.”
Police often raided Voodoo gatherings that took place in the city. Many practitioners and their followers moved out to the Bayou St. John area in order to freely express their religious beliefs.
Learn more about Voodoo at the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum
One of the most powerful and influential Voodoo priestess of the time was Marie Laveau, called Voodoo Queen on Bayou St. John. She was so respected that thousands are said to have attended her rituals at the “Wishing Spot” on the bayou.
Each year on June 23rd, St. John’s Eve is celebrated on Bayou St. John:
Bayou St. John is full of historic houses, including cottages, bungalows and colonial style homes. The oldest house in the Bayou St. John neighborhood is the Old Spanish Custom House built in 1784.
Construction of the Pitot House, now a museum, began in 1799 and was completed in 1805 by another owner. James Pitot, second mayor of New Orleans, bought this French Colonial/West-Indies architectural style plantation home in 1810. Today Louisiana Landmarks Society uses it as its headquarters.
In 1804, Daniel Clark bought a large portion of land from many of the plantation owners, mapped out Faubourg St. John, where most of the present-day Bayou St. John neighborhood exists, then sold parceled lots. Barthelemy Lafon designed the plan for the area in 1809, which resulted in a suburb of thirty-five irregularly shaped blocks. He drew a fan-like composition whose focal point was at Place Bretonne, where Bayou Road and Dorgenois Street met just under Broad Street.
In 1855, Esplanade Avenue was constructed splitting through established streets and causing the removal of old houses in its path. A few years later, Ursuline Avenue was laid the same way. In the 1860s and 1870s French Creole families built homes along Esplanade Avenue.
Visit the link below to learn more about Vignaud Street:
Transportation and drainage improvements increase population
By 1857, due to the wet conditions of the land, there were not a significant number of houses in the neighborhood. However, improvements in drainage systems and transportation services contributed to the increase of neighborhood development.
The Rodriguez Bayou Road omnibus started in 1857, the Rampart-Esplanade Railroad in 1861 and the Esplanade Bayou Bride Line in 1863, which ran until 1913. Additionally, the bayou remained an important passageway for freight transportation in the 1800s.
In the 1930s, families built houseboats along the bayou. But as the neighborhood developed, other residents complained about their unkempt appearance and called for the cleaning up of the bayou, including the prohibition of houseboats on the waterway. In 1936, Congress ended navigational use on the bayou. Beautification projects were implemented along the bayou, the earliest being by WPA workers who dredged and cleaned it in the 1930s. Today rules for using the bayou have been established and it is well-maintained.
Some of Today’s Landmarks
One of the architectural attractions to the area is the European dome of Our Lady of the Rosary, whose church faces Esplanade Avenue. Cabrini High School, a Catholic school for girls sits nearby and faces the bayou. The New Orleans Krishna Temple, a Swiss Mountain structure on Esplanade Avenue, is one of the temples of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. For more information, please visit the link below:
Crescent City Memory–Part Six
Neighborhood Profiles Project Document prepared by the City of New Orleans Office of Policy Planning and the City Planning Commission. Published December 1980. Study available at the Williams Research Center (non-circulating collection).
Census 2000 Data Tables: People & Household Characteristics, Housing & Housing Costs, Income & Poverty, Transportation, Employment, Educational Attainment, Immigration & Language, Disabilities, Neighborhood Characteristics
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.
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 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: https://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.
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:
Spanish Fort in Retrospect Here is an article published in The Times Picayune on Sunday, June 25, 1911. The article was written by Lillian S. Norvell and contains some information that you’ve likely heard before and a lot of information you probably haven’t heard before. As you read, keep reminding yourself this was written in 1911.
On the west bank of Bayou St. John at its intersection with Lake Ponchartrain remain the contours of the ancient fortifications built of brick, remarkably preserved, considering the many years this outpost has guarded the entrance to the pictureseque bayou. The embrasures have long since been filled up and the parapet made level to accommodate seats, these improvements dating from the time that Spanish Fort was reckoned as a great resort and place of amusement.
The name Spanish Fort has been applied to the place in more recent years because of the fact that it was constructed during the Spanish domination of the Province of Louisiana, by order and under the instruction of Baron de Carondelet, who then presided over the destinies of the Spanish possessions. This fort was built in 1770, and bore the name Fort San Juan.
The structure being insignificant, was never considered a home for a garrison of any importance. Baron de Carondelet was governor of the province from 1793 to 1797, and according to statistics, the fort was garrisoned in 1793. This site on the west side of the bayou was selected owing to its being an exposed point and a defense to the artery leading into the city.
When Baron de Carondelet assumed possession of New Orleans, its people were not friendly toward the Spanish Government, and the forts were so planned to affored protection as much from the inside and the outside of the city. General Victor Collot, a French officer, visited the province during that year. In his report he refers to Fort St. John and others constructed by the governor. His description of these forts will the the reader and exact idea of their magnitude: “It cannot be denied that those miniature fortresses are well kept and trimmed up. But, particularly on account of their ridiculous distribution and also on account of their want of rapaciousness, they look more like playthings for babies than military defenses. For there is not one which cannot be stormed and which five hundred men could not carry sword in hand. Once master of one of the principal forts, either St. Louis or St. Charles, the enemy would have no need of minding the others, because by bringing the guns to bear upon the city is would be forced to capitulate immediately or be burnt up in less than an hour, and have its inhabitants destroyed, as none of the forts can admit more than one hundred and fifty men. We believe that M. de Carondelet when he adopted this bad system of defense thought more of securing the obedience of the subjects of his Catholic majesty than of providing a defense against the attack of a foreign enemy, and, in this view he may be said to have completely succeeded.”
The forts mentioned above were: Fort St. Charles which was situated on Esplanade at the river; two batteries in front of the Place d’Armes. Fort St. Louis at Customhouse Street at the river Fort St. Joseph at Customhouse and Basin Streets Fort St. Ferdinand on Basin Street Fort Burgundy at Basin and Esplanade and Fort St. John situated at the rear of the city Fort St. John covered a frontage of one hundred and twenty feet and a depth of eighty feet, and all there was of the fort was within its walls. It adjoins a triangular tract of land granted to Jean Lauergne in 1771, by the Spanish crown under Governor Unzaga, and whilst occupied at times by a small military company was never considered a very strategic point of defense.
Bayou St. John was always of value as an entry into New Orleans, and as a means of connecting the lakes with the Mississippi River. In 1699, Iberville located at Biloxi and began investigating shore line. He entered the Rigolets through Lake Borgne into Lake Ponchartrain, and from thence into an Indian bayou, Manchac, afterwards named Iberville River, into the Mississippi River, and proceeded up until he arrived at Fort Rosalie. It was during this exploration that he was told on March 22, 1699, of a bayou that was an Indian route to the river, and through which his guide piloted him in a pirogue to and Indian portage at its head waters. This bayou was the route of traffic between Mobile, Biloxi, and the Mississippi River.
The Choctaws, (who were part of the Alabama and Mobilians), the Biloxis, Bogue Chittos, and the Chinchubas from St. Tammany, made long, hazardous trips across Lake Ponchartrain in birch-bark canoes. The Choctaws were renowned hunters, and their vaunt was Terre aux Boeuf, where buffalo were in abundance two hundred years ago. From this portage was a pathway worn from the travel of Indians from Bayou St. John, who, journeying overland, carried their canoes over Bayou Road to Rampart Street, thence to Hospital (now Governer Nicholls Street), to highlands on the Mississippi River, where they would re-embark. The Tchoupitoulas, Choctaw, and Natchez Indians were wont to make an annual visit to New Orleans on New Year’s Day to exchange compliments with the governor and city authorities, and to receive presents stipulated by treaty, and when these were not forthcoming, their tribal shouts and can-can resounded down the bayou.
Bayou St. John was the seventeenth landing that Bienville made after leaving L’aux Vaisseaux (Ship Island) in 1717. He explored the recesses and windings of the bayou in the pirogues of the friendly Colapissas. Low, thatched huts peering through dense forest surrounded on every side by morasses and dismal cypress marshes marked his way. He noted that the water was the natural drain or outlet which formed the background of the vast territory that extended from the river bank to Lake Ponchartrain.
The Duke of Saxe Welmar, in “Travels in North America”, in 1825, wrote: “Ship Island is about nine miles long, and it was here that the English fleet which transported the troops sent on the expedition against New Orleans remained during the months of December, 1814 and January, 1815. At a considerable distance from us to the left were some scattered islands- De la Chandeleur and still further La Clef du Francmason. Afterwards we passed, a muddy shallow, upon which, luckily, we did not stick fast, and arrived in the Gulf lac Borgne, which connects itself with Lake Ponchartrain, lying back of it, by two communications, each above a mile broad, one of which is called Chef Menteur, the other Petites Coquilles, so called because it is built on a foundation of mussel shells and its walls are composed of a cement of the same. We took this last direction and passed the Rigolets in the night with a fair wind. Night had already fallen when we reached Lake Borgne. After we had passed the Rigolets, we arrived in Lake Ponchartrain, then turned left from the lighthouse at Fort St. John, which protects the entrance of the bayou of the same name, leading into New Orleans. I awoke on the 21st of January as we entered Bayou St. John. This water is so broad that we could not see the northern shore. We remained at the entrance one hour to give the sailors a short rest. They had worked the whole night. Their duty now was to pole the vessel to the city, five miles distant. This fort, which lost its importance since the erection of Chef Menteur and Petites Coquilles, is abandoned, and a tavern is now building in its place. It lies about 500 paces distant from the sea. But, on account of the marshy bank cannot be thence attacked without great difficulty. The bank is covered with thick beams to make it hold firm which covering in this hot and damp climate perishes very quickly. The causeway which runs along the bayou is made of earth on a foundation of timber. Behind the fort is a public-house called Ponchartrain Hotel which is much frequented by persons from the city during the summer. I recognized the darling amusements of the inhabitants, in a faro and roulette table. As the passage hence to the city is very tedious in stages, we proposed to hire a carriage, but there was none to be found. Six dollars was asked for a boat so we proceeded on foot.” The Navigation Canal was built during the administration of Baron de Carondelet in 1796 for the purpose of uniting New Orleans by means of a navigable canal with Bayou St. John. This canal joins the bayou at the intersection of Dumaine Street and was dug laboriously by negroes with spades. In the course of time it was widened and deepened to admit sailing vessels of greater tonnage from the West Indies. Vessels of heavier draught hailing from Europe would come into Lake Ponchartrain and anchor out in deeper water. The estimated depth at that time was sixteen feet. The “gabare” or small deckboats on which the cargoes were loaded, transported them up the bayou to the Custom-House on Grand Route Saint John. For the extension of this Carondelet Navigation Canal to the Mississippi River, the sum of $25,000 was appropriated in February, 1809.
Fort St. John was strengthened by the Spaniards during the holding of West Florida by the British in 1776. It also assumed considerable importance in the War of 1812 when troops were stationed there to prevent an attack by the British. It may be here stated that the ingress was at Bayou Bienvenue. On the 18th of December in 1814, General Jackson reviewed the New Orleans militia, the First and Second regiments, the battalion of uniformed companies under the command of Major Plauche, and part of free men of color. On that date, Plauche’s Battalion was sent to Bayou St. John and the major took command of that post. The garrison of Fort St. John had been reinforced by a volunteer company of light artillery under the command of Lieutenant Wagner.
From 1815, the military value of Fort St. John diminished until 1862 when an atmosphere of its former life disturbed its tranquility in the encampment of several Confederate companies within its ramparts and these remained there for a year and a half. It was in 1808 that the fort passed to the United States under the treaty of cession.
In 1828, Harvey Elkins took possession of Fort St. John. He purchased it by special Act of Congress dated March 8, 1810 which authorized the Secretary of War to sell all obsolete military sites. On this site, Elkins constructed a place known at Bayou St. John Hotel. In 1834, Harvey Elkins died and willed the property to his nephew Samuel Elkins who died the next year. The fort passed on to his brothers and sisters who resided in Canada. The heirs of Samuel Elkins sold to John Slidell who renamed it Spanish Fort Hotel. The property transferred to the Millaudon family and heirs until 1874 when they sold it to the Canal Street, City Park, and Lake Railroad Company. The historic Bayou St. John Hotel was built in the early part of 1824 and was rebuilt when the railroad was completed in 1874. Brott, a Northern capitalist, and Bell, the City Surveyor, were builders of this road. That company failed and it was sold to Vincent Micas in 1877 who subsequently sold to Moses Schwartz after the yellow fever epidemic of 1878. They operated it successfully for several seasons. Captain Williams was superintendent of the road during the Schwartz administration. In 1888, a theatre was built near the fort during the zenith of Spanish Fort’s glory as a summer resort. It was considered the finest of those times and introduced many prominent attractions notable among these, “The Queen’s Lake Handkerchief” and “Turkish Patrol”. The theatre was demolished around 1897. The casino was built by Schwartz in 1881 and figured conspicuously as a place of high-class entertainment. It was here that Oscar Wilde lectured. This casino was situated 500 feet from the railroad terminus. Upon the expiration of its charter, the property was acquired by the New Orleans Terminal Company which sold it to the New Orleans Railway Company.
A new and magnificent resort is rapidly springing from what was for years considered a hopeless, neglected place. The same car system as at West End is being operated. Spanish Fort abounds in interest and interviews with several of its oldest inhabitants brought forth a fund of information and stories pertaining to the shades and lights of the past half century. Robert Gage was appointed keeper of the lighthouse on October 13, 1866 and died in 1895. He was succeeded by his widow, Mrs. Annie Gage, who died about 1905 and was in turn succeeded by her daughter, Mrs. M. E. Coteron. The original lighthouse was built in 1811. The dwelling being on the east side of the bayou directly opposite the fort. A beacon tower was built a half mile from the mainland. The present dwelling was built in 1875. The watch tower has undergone many changes in the 100 years it has guided mariners into the bayou. It has been rebuilt after storms and fire.
One of the old residents is Raymond Alberti who restaurant on the east side of the bayou has achieved fame and been the mecca for the elite of New Orleans and her distinguished visitors. Lorens and Raymond Alberti, two brothers who built up the restaurant business on Lake Ponchartrain, were natives of San Felieu de Guixols, Province of Catalonia, Spain. Lorens emigrated here immediately after the Mexican War and started in business. His next venture was a restaurant on the Milneburg pier when the Morgan sidewheeler plied between this port and Mobile. Raymond Alberti, lured by the success of his brother, came over and established himself in the bath-house business in Milneburg from 1861 to 1864. In 1873, they moved back to Spanish Fort and on June 24, 1874 opened a restaurant. Twice he has suffered great losses from fire. The last time being the terrible fire of February 1, 1908 when residences and buildings belonging to the Carondelet Canal Navigation Company were destroyed. The derivation of the name Noy, under which his restaurant has always operated, is from the Spanish patois meaning the salutation “boy”.
The history of the Alberti family is most interesting. He married Miss Isabelle Fernandez, daugher of Victoriano Fernandez, a native of Galicia, Spain. He was manager under Tambouri of the Millaudon orange groves from 1874 to 1876. Fernandez conducted a restaurant which burned in 1883. He went into business a year later in Bay St. Louis and at West End. He returned to Spanish Fort in 1888 and formed a partnership with Raymond “Noy” Alberti. Mrs. Alberti’s grandfather, Paulin Comes born in 1827, was a noted architect of that period. The old Comes home was a pretentious brick homestead on the west side of the bayou in 1854. “Noy”, as he is familiarly called, tells with a thrill of pride, of tables set beneath the oaks and the dining and conviviality of statesmen, jurists, and journalists. He rattles of a list of New Orleans’ French and Spanish population with amazing knowledge and rapidity replete with witty anecdotes. “It has been a great place in its day”, he started musingly. “Spanish Fort was started on its decline proved an incubus to every investor. Captain Poitevent tried to induce me to assume charge of a hotel during his occupancy but, I foresaw the downfall of the place and moved to West End where I was in business three years. Forty years have brought many changes to this place. Fire and failure have left their ravages everywhere. You see right over there (pointing to the north, near that tree? That marks the location where the torpedo boat was imbedded in the mud. It was about 1878 and I was working on the dredgeboat Valentine. Some boys were swimming. Robert Gage, now watchman of the fort, was among them. They found a hugh iron chain about fifty feet from that tree. We started excavating and before long we realized that we had discovered a relic of the war.
We secured a cable, raised it, then deposited it on the west side of the bayou under the oak trees where it lay for over twenty years.” This torpedo boat was the first ever made by Captain Hunley and two confederate soldiers between 1861 and 1862. It was never used and sank just before the Federals took the city. The torpedo boat sunk at the mouth of Bayou St. John. Three sailors lost their lives testing the boat.
When the New Orleans Terminal Company bought the property at the fort, it turned over the boat to Camp Beauregard, U.S.C.V. The camp in turn through W.O. Hart, presented it to Camp Nichols. It is a prototype of the torpedo boat Hunley which sank the Federal battleship Housatonic in Charleston Harbor in 1864.
The ruins on the fort are the old Millaudon home, formerly an orange grove, and one of the beautiful show places in this state. The family fortune was wrecked by the war and the home fell into deterioration. The property was operated by Thomas Handy, superintendent of the New Orleans Spanish Fort and Lake Railroad Company, as a very fashionable hotel. He sold to Moses Schwartz who licensed it to W.S. Saiter during which time it enjoyed the brightest of its days as the “Magnolia Gardens”. It was eventually sold to Captain Poitevent when the railroad was rebuilt in 1896. In May of 1896, it fell victim to fire leaving only a few charred pillars in the crumbling ruins of Fort St. John to mark its historic site.
The hotel achieved a reputation and the rendevous of celebrities. During General Grant’s visit to New Orleans, Dr. Chopin drove him out to Spanish Fort where a banquet was served. “You see over yonder,” continued the amiable “bucanneer of Bayou St. John,” as he has been styled, “those four cypress trees near the fort, right to the westward? They mark the resting place of four Spanish officers whose bodies were unearthed when the first railroad was built. They were interred beneath those trees and every one coming here pauses there.” Romance has always centered about those buried beneath the cypress trees.
Another version is that they mark the resting place of duelists who designated the trees as the scene of the fray and were buried beneath by their seconds. Again, the bodies may have been Indian warriors, sailors from the brigantines, or humble fishermen cast up by Ponchartrain’s fierce tide. No monument could have attracted as much attention as these trees standing sentinel-like over the remains of men who probably fought and died in the opening chapters of Louisiana’s history. “There were bones and accoutrements of all sorts unearthed and who knows but some day we’ll find something great and big”, he laughed. That something great and big has come in the upbuilding of Spanish Fort — a metamorphosis that is almost unbelievable. “Yes, William Makepeace Thackway dined in 1856 in the restaurant then counducted by my brother Lorens. This place was originally a series of bayous where the Indians plied their canoes, fished, and hunted.
Come, you see the wreck of the dredgeboat Valentine — yes, the canal she dredged.” This canal was dredged in 1874 for the purpose of filling the low lands around the fort proper. It is a trifle over one mile in length, eighty feet wide, and originally had a depth of twelve to fifteen feet but is now practically filled up so that a skiff can only navigate with difficulty. “Noy” said the engineer on the Valentine at the time of the dredging was named Daniels. At that time, plans were being considered for a large hotel to be built on the grounds with a horseshoe canal. But, changes of city administration in 1873 brought defeat of those plans. In 1911, the oldest residence in Spanish Fort crumbled to earth. This was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Manuel Martinez, built of cypress by their slaves in 1803. On the site of this ancestral home stands a modern two-story residence owned by the Martines descendants.
Over-the-Rhine restaurant and bar-room opened March 1, 1880 by Otto Touche who son Fred Touche succeeded him, is a picturesque tavern north of Noy’s restaurant that has also won encomiums for its catering. Who are the oldest living residents in Spanish Fort?, we asked. “Vincent Ferrer and Bill Borman – there’s Mr. Bill now”, he answered. “Mr. Bill”, which name he more readily answers to, is hale and hearty, and with a memory for every incident within his 55 years of residence at the fort. “When I came here, over yonder was an orange grove of about seven acres, considered one of the finest in Louisiana. Everywhere were orange trees and flowers. There were neat cypress picket fences all around the Millaudon estate, and the negroes occupied fine large quarters on the premises.
You have seen the wreck of the old dredge-boat Valentine? I was a member of her crew. The depth of the bayou right here? From 8 to 9 feet.” Across the bayou a new life has awakened in the old fort. Debris, loose bricks and stones have been cleared away, weeds cut, and grass trimmed. A band stand, great open auditorium, refreshment pavilions, merry-go-round, and circle swing further enhance the place. What were the cages of the birds and beasts of the zooligical garden have been strengthened and the quaint grotto and statuary remain intact.
About two years ago the fort was divested of its cannon, these being sent to the State Museum. Recently, several have been substituted from Fort Pike situated at Chef Menteur. The idea that Spanish cannon rested amid the ruins of the fort is fallacy but is part of the romance woven into the fabric of Spanish Fort’s history. The cannon removed were of American make of Parrott gun, presumably placed there in more recent years. Much is left to conjecture as to the Spanish cannon, if any, although, according to records, each of the ancient forts carried an armaments of eight guns. In 1911, a neat iron fence was placed around the graves of the Spanish officers and a marker placed thereon. Wonderful progress and improvement is noted everywhere.
To the northwest of the fort, a large terminal concrete station has been erected immediately over the charred pilings of the old casino. The surrounding territory has been filled by flushing through sewer pipes sand and sediment of the bayou thus deepening this body. This process is making high filled land out of what was originally swamp lands and encroachments of the lake upon shore lines. The new pier is brilliantly illuminated, and cars (streetcars) operated to the end. In the fort, one of the most attractive features is a large artificial pond in which ducks splash merrily. Silently, reverently, we bade adieu to the old fort, the few charred pillars that mark the Millaudon home, and started to retrace our way to the opposite side of the bayou.
The bridge tender had started the hand lever that controls the bridge and it was opening slowly to admit a tug that had in tow a winding line of barges of heterogeneous cargo. Upon the quiet of the bayou came the jargon of foreign tongues; the little tug puffed and fidgeted noisily, rounding Horseshoe Canal. The venerable bridge tender doffed his sou’wester. “How many years have you resided here?”, I asked. A radiant smile illumined the fin, rugged features. “Sixty-one years. I was born January 26, 1830 in southern Spain and cam from a seafaring family. For years I was captain of the tug Saloy. Two years ago I was appointed bridge tender” “Then you are Captain Vincent Ferrer, the old resident in Spanish Fort?”, I asked. He nodded affirmatively.
“Sixty years ago (around 1851) that fort was a beautiful garden and an orchard or renown. Years after, I recollect, that 10 cents admission was charged for the privilege of picking figs and oranges. I recall the slaves from the Millaudon home carrying vegetables and fruits over to Milneburgh for transportation via the Ponchartrain Railroad. The two gunboats, Bienville and Carondelet, were built up at the bayou bridge. Driving out on the shell road, which, by the way, has been there sixty-one years (1850), you noticed the dairy bridge on what is commonly known as the island. Owing to the narrowness of the bayou, this inlet was made to facilitate navigation for these gunboats, allowing them to make turns.” Captain Ferrer continued, “Spanish Fort of tomorrow is rich in promise. I am happy for I have seen it at its best and worst. It’s God’s own spot!”
We turned in farewell to the fort. The last rays of a lurid sunset lingered there. crimsoning the patriarchal trees, its iridescence reflected on the tranquil bosom of Lake Ponchartrain like a mighty chalice accepting the sacrifice of the dying day. “What a sunset!”, we exclaimed in unison. Captain Ferrer said, “A sunset like that brings wind”. Tomorrow, Spanish Fort will emerge triumphantly from the fog of obscurity that has envelope it for years; shall rise resplendent from its lethargy and ruins.
“Into thy sapphire wave, fair Ponchartrain, slow sinks the setting sun; The distant sail on far horizon’s edge glides hushed and pale like some escaping spirit o’er the main. The seagull soars, then tastes thy wave again. The bearded forests on the sandy shore in silence stand even as the stood of your While yet the red man held his savage reign and daring Iberville’s adventurous prow As yet had never cut thy purple wave nor swung the shadow of his shining sail Across the bark of the Biloxi brave, Ah, placid lake, where are thy warriors now? Where their abiding places? Where their graves?
Research below 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.
A cartoon in John Churchill Chase’s ‘Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children’ shows the saints mitigating a fight between French royals. Click here for a compilation of the history of the streets and buildings in and around Faubourg St. John. Submitted by Peter Hickman of Mid-City Volleyball.
In 1849, a levee break along the Mississippi River in what is now Harahan, LA inundated New Orleans. See a map of the flooded area in the link below.
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. FSJmap
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!
200 years ago (1810), Grand Route Saint John was formed.
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
Excerpts of the 1979 novel in celebration of this year’s Grand Route St. John 200th anniversary.
Research provided by Dean Burridge.
There was, however, one ribbon of development back there not retarded by swampy terrain. Bayou Road, the ancient portage, was a well-settled street long before the days of American domination. Trim plantation homes lined its way from the rear of the Vieux Carre to the Place Breton, formerly an Indian trading post, then a meat market.
Here the lawless meandering of Bayou Road was brought to an abrupt halt by the three earliest back-of-town suburbs. Most important of there, and the largest, was Faubourg St. John, a subdivision of part of the huge estate of Daniel Clark. It was made by Barthelemy Lafon in 1809.
Here at Place Bretonne the old portage was redesigned to fork into four directions. To the left went Dorgenois street, through the property of Francois Joseph LeBreton D’Orgenois; straight ahead two streets through the Faubourg St. John continued the road to the bayou, these were St. John and Washington, changed now to Bell and De Soto. The fourth fork was Gentilly Road, which flanked both Daniel Clark’s subdivision and that of Blanque and Fortin.
This last suburb, called Faubourg Pontchartrain, is interesting for the accurate manner in which its streets tell its history. Grand Route St. John, the main street, comes nearest to being Bayou Road’s original continuation to the bayou. Because the suburb was named for the old Count of Pontchartrain, another street honors his son, the Count of Maurepas.
There is less significance to the third running street, called Florida, now changed to Ponce de Leon. Faubourg Pontchartrain marks the spot where the Houmas Indians were found encamped when the first white men came; here, too, the French workmen encamped when they arrived to clear the site for Bienville’s city. It was fitting that a crossing street should be named Encampment; historians shake their heads sadly when they learn the street has been changed to N. Lopez, which street it vaguely continues. It is further regrettable that 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.
Between Daniel Clark’s suburb and the tract of D’Orgenois, surveyor Lafon allowed sufficient width for the street to include a drainage ditch. Here was set a pattern for subdivisions that followed for which modern New Orleans may well be grateful. Planned to meet the economic needs of that period, to drain the tracts, these broad streets are now admirably fitted to economic requirements of the present era. Today these streets, with their canals underground, are the wide automobile boulevards which crisscross the city. It is strikingly appropriate that this first broad street was called, and is still called, Broad. (Pages 146-147)
Of all Daniel Clark’s property, Faubourg St. John was the section from which his daughter received most of her inheritance. Today it is a confusing neighborhood, its streets in such juxtaposition with all the others, it seems as though the long legal warring had knocked them cockeyed. Also, Ursulines street and Esplanade Avenue have been slashed right through Lafon’s orderly plan of 1809, thus adding to the confusion.
It is interesting, however, that the street named for Daniel Clark’s best friend and executor of his purloined will, Colonel Bellechasse, has been retained in the nomenclature.
Retained, also, is Lepage street which recalls LePage DuPratz, colonial settler in the neighborhood; and winding Crete street nearby is not named for the Mediterranean island, but for crete, or crest, which once distinguished the terrain there. Orchid street was formerly Oak: and St. John street which was changed to Bell, honors H.H. Bell, City 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)
Street name changers also got historically lost on winding Crete street, an eight block long thoroughfare between the Jockey Club Racetrack and Ursulines Street. Crete is in the ancient Faubourg St. John, subdivided for Daniel Clark by Lafon in 1809. And Crete is even older than this.
Photo from page 103 of Frenchmen, Desire and
Good Children and Other Streets of New Orleans
Here’s how it happened: just as Bayou Metairie had ridges or crests (crete in French) on both sides of it, the most pronounced of which became Metairie Ridge Road, so, too, did Bayou Sauvage have its ridges. Both Bayous Metairie and Sauvage were originally one of the same stream, the Supicatcha, or Mudfish River, of the Choctaws. The ridge on the right bank of Bayou Sauvage became Gentilly Road, and the crest on the opposite, left-bank was popularly called La Crete Road. Once it ran for some distance along the bayou in the direction of Chef Menteur.
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.
Streets as well as people get lost in Faubourg St. John, and these seven did. All of them end up differently; and what is more unusual, two which disappear in the faubourg miraculously reappear on the other side of it beyond Gentilly Road! The commissioners went into a huddle over this and decided that such conduct upon the part of Gayoso and Dupre, they were the two streets which faded out and then faded in, made them entirely different streets. So they gave them different names beyond Gentilly Road; Romulus and Theseus they would be.
Then for some unexplainable reason the commission decided to explain why they had selected Theseus as the name of the reappeared section of Dupre. This street, they pointed out, was just across Gentilly Road from Crete street, and it would be both historically and classically appropriate to call it Theseus after the celebrated hero of 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.
It is equally unexplainable how the historians won their point here. But neither Gayoso nor Dupre was changed as recommended; and Crete street, La Crete Road, continues to recall the crete, or ridge, of Bayou Sauvage. (Pages 202-203)
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.
If one-way streets are favorable, that same route can be traveled today, from the river to the bayou. Beginning at Governor Nicholls and Decatur Street, near the Mississippi River, the ancient trail- traveled by Indians since time unknown, and by Canadian trappers and traders long before Iberville arrived, leads one down Governor Nicholls toward the lake.
Through the French Quarter to North Claiborne (where Governor Nicholls becomes Bayou Road) the street then angles northeasterly, crossing Esplanade Avenue at North Miro, and a few blocks further on, Bayou Road intersects with Grand Route St. John. A sharp turn to the left on the street will, within three-quarters of a mile, bring the traveler to the shores of Bayou St. John at 1300 Moss Street.
The route of this old Indian portage trail, called Bayou Road in French times, has varied through the years. The original trail curved around trees and other natural obstacles, and the stretch leading away from the bayou, began west of today’s Grand Route St. John, probably halfway between DeSoto and Bell Streets, as early French maps and American conveyance records of the area would indicate, and in 1777 the road was shifted northeasterly by twenty feet at the request of a bayou plantation owner who wanted his neighbor, across Bayou Road, to contribute half the road’s width.
The route leading away from the bayou today (Grand Route St. John) was no doubt established about 1810, when a new bridge was built two hundred yards lakeside of the previous structure, and when Daniel Clark developed Faubourg St. John in the first decade of the 1800s. (page14)
Some of the Indians would be invited to occupy the land of Louis Juchereau de St. Denis in 1708; and some of the abandoned dwellings, from Bayouk Choupic back along Bayouk Chapitoulas, would provide temporary shelter for many a newly-arrived French settler in the years ahead.
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.
Near the joining of the bayous, tales tell us, Bienville first set foot on historic Bayou bend. Gazing about the quiet wilderness, infringed only by soft swamp sounds, he and one of the Indians sauntered down the trial alongside Bayouk Choupic. A few yards further on, the stream took a sharp turn around a bosky bend to the right.
If he had left 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)
Thus Kernion succeeded to the management and eventual ownership of the seventeen arpent LaVigne holdings on Bayou St. Jean, which, during his proprietorship would expand to twenty-two arpents, nineteen fathoms of Bayou frontage. Today his property, at its most extensive, would reach approximately from Grand Route St. John to the vicinity of DeSaix Boulevard on the east bank of the bayou.
In 1737 Luis Brazillier (called Tourangeau), who had purchased the Dugue property on Bayou St. Jean in 1729, quadrupled his holdings on the bayou by purchasing the adjoining Langlois plantation, eight arpents by the usual depth, from M. Renaud D’Hauterive. This transaction established Brazillier, with 10½ arpents front, (which today would extend approximately from Grand Route St. John westerly to Orleans Street) as the second largest landowner on the east bank of Bayou St. Jean. The property of Kernion, the largest landowner, was located immediately lakeside of Brazillier’s arpents. (Page 90)
(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)
Going on to capture Baton Rouge on September 21st, the terms of surrender guaranteed Galvez control of Fort Panmure at Natchez. As Galvez gathered victories, Spanish gunboats from the Navy Yard at the bend of Bayu San Juan (near Grand Route St. John on Moss Street today) proceeded down the stream, past Fort San Juan, and advanced through Lakes Ponchartrain and Maurepas into the Iberville Route (Bayou Manchac).
Galveztown, on the right bank of the Amite River, immediately below it confluence with Bayou Manchac (where Ascension, East Baton Rouge and Livingston Parish meet) was in the thick of the conflict. Of the eight Englich ships captured at the time, only one was taken on the Mississippi, the rest taken on the Iberville Route. (Page 221)
The French-West-Indian Plantation at 1300 Moss Street, the oldest house on Bayou St. John today, had from the earliest times been referred to as the Custom House, although there is no record it was ever used as such. The original King’s Warehouse-Receiving Station, was built in 1719-20 to the west of Bayou Road, which in French times began at Bayou St. Jean west of today’s Desoto Street.
However, after Luis Brazillier purchased the Dugue plantation in 1729, he transferred apportion of that property on the bayou to the French government to be used as a Naval Arsenal. Maps of that time indicate that pirogues and ships were unloaded at that site, so the arsenal may have served as a warehousing area also, since the maps do not show the original warehouse west of Bayou Road during this period. The location of this arsenal, near the 1784 house, may account for the Custom House appellation.
When Spain took over Louisiana, the arsenal was ceded to that country, and Spanish officials ceded the site to Alexandro Latil in 1770, who, it is believed, sold the small plot back to Juan Bautista Brazillier who’d inherited the surrounding small plantation from his father, In 1777, at the request of Joseph Chalon, Bayou Road was moved easterly by twenty feet, bringing the location of the road closer to Grand Route St. John of today. (Page 263)
Spanning Bayu San Juan from the west bank to a point near today’s Desoto Street (east bank), the balance drawbridge was built in the middle of a dormant bridge which had been located there for over forty years, and which had been the means of communication between New Orleans (by way of Bayou Road), Grand Bayou, Metairie, Chapitouolas and Cannes Brulee. In 1810 a new bridge would be built two-hundred yards lakeside of this bridge, closer to today’s Grand Route St. John at 1300 Moss Street.(page 308)
At the end of the eighteenth century, visitors to New Orleans were always driven by carriage on Bayou Road out to Bayu San Juan to see the handsome villas and gardens.
The houses along Bayu San Juan had been the first different structures of New Orleans, most of the city’s buildings being absolutely plain. (Page 309)
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.
March 18, 2008 issue of Gambit
I have a bit of information about Olive Stallings. Can you tell me more?
I’ll tell the readers the information you have, then I will tell everyone a little more.
Olive Andrews Stallings is known as the ‘Mother of Playgrounds in New Orleans.” In 1906, she established the first play center, the Poydras Playground, at her own expense and continued to maintain it for two years. When the Playgrounds Commission was established in 1911, she served as its first president ” a post she held until her death in 1940. When Stallings died, she left one-fourth of her estate ” $150,000 ” to the playgrounds system, which was soon to become the New Orleans Recreation Department.This remarkable woman was born in New Orleans on June 22, 1866. She was educated at the Holy Angels Academy and soon became active in various civic and philanthropic movements.
Stallings was founder and first president of the New Orleans Outdoor Art and Improvement Association, which sponsored the tree-planting commission later known as the parkway commission. She is best known, however, for her work in promoting public playgrounds.
It was in 1906 that Stallings attended the first recreational congress. Held in Pittsburgh, this first congress grew into the National Recreation Association. It was upon her return to New Orleans that she founded the first playground. Others were soon to follow: the Cleveland playground in 1909, the St. Roch Playground in 1910, and the Taylor Playground in 1911. That same year, Stallings was made president of the playground community service commission, a group created by the New Orleans City Council.
For her efforts, Stallings was awarded The Times-Picayune Loving Cup in 1929. The Loving Cup is given out annually to a citizen who has rendered great service to the city the preceding year. She also received a loving cup from the New Orleans Progressive Civic Association in 1932.
Stallings continued to work on behalf of the city’s children. By 1938, two years before her death, $1 million had already been spent on a total of 18 playgrounds and six swimming pools, and children visited the playgrounds more than a million times annually.Never seeming to tire, Stallings was a member of the first zoning board of New Orleans and founder of the first Girl Scouts organization in the city. It’s hard to name an organization, civic or religious, to which Stallings did not contribute her time, talent and money.
Stallings Playground at 1600 Gentilly Blvd. was built in 1938, and on Jan. 19, 2008, hundreds of people gathered to give the eponymous playground a new beginning. Folks from organizations such as the Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association (FSJNA); KaBOOM, a national nonprofit devoted to creating a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America; the New Orleans Recreation Department and the New Orleans’ Hornets came out on a rainy, cold day to help.
The Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association raised the $14,000 needed for a concrete pad for the new playground structure, and Whitney Bank contributed $25,000 for the rubber surfacing. Grants came from the Keep Louisiana Beautiful Foundation ($11,000), Home Depot ($3,000) and the Greater New Orleans Foundation ($1,000). The largest contribution came from NBA Cares, the National Basketball Association’s philanthropic division, which paid for most of the $100,000 project.
If readers would like to see a short video of the restoration of Stallings Playground, you can go to www.katrinafilm.wordpress.com/2008/01/21/olive-stallings-playground-renewal-2/.
I think you will be impressed with this group of volunteers who worked with FSJNA President Kathryn Parker and project supervisor Kenneth Briscoe to remake this old playground in just one day. Even better, take your children to the playground to see for yourself. I believe Olive Stallings would be very, very proud.
On January 19, 2008 hundreds of volunteers from various organizations renovated Stallings Playground named in honor of the “Mother of Playgrounds in New Orleans,’ Olive Stallings in just one day.
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.
1803 map of New Orleans overlaid on modern map.http://dsl.richmond.edu/historicalatlas/157/c/
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Battle of New Orleans written and produced by Jeffery Pipes Guice