How was new Orleans Built

Geography and geology generally determines the structure of a city and New Orleans is no exception. For New Orleans, both its location and economy, have been largely determined by the Mississippi River which is responsible for the movement of people and goods in the mid-continent of North America.

Explorers found the location of New Orleans ideal for the control of, and access to, movement of goods and people. However, they faced a problem in finding a high enough site to build the city. The site that was identified for this purpose was of course the site that is now New Orleans, but it was far from ideal. The location was fraught with potential problems that could be worrisome; annual floods, hurricanes, swamps, and excessive heat and disease.

The city that is now New Orleans was founded by Bienville in 1718 and from then until 1810, its physical shape and design was mainly European in character. Designed by Adrien de Pauger, a French engineer, a symmetrical girdon pattern was utilized. The plan laid out a central square, walls, towers and a church.

Construction of the elements of the city left much to be desired and the infrastructure was shoddy at best. Growth proceeded at a snail’s pace throughout the 17th century under both Spanish and French rule. There were no brick buildings built until later, the city was plagued with natural disasters and fires and hurricanes destroyed many of the buildings. The three foot levee built during this period was practically useless.

When New Orleans became American in 1803, its physical character started to change significantly. In 1804, American businessmen began to develop the area above Canal street known as Fraubourg St Mary. The French Quarter was subdivided by Bernard de Marigny, into parcels that would be called Fraubourg Marigny and so by 1830, New Orleans had three main sections which were the Fraubourg Marigny, the original French Quarter and the American Sector.

Growth continued with the construction of the New Basin Canal in 1838. Many of the workers on the canal were immigrants from Ireland and as they settled close to the docks, that area came to be called the Irish Channel. This area was, however, soon acquired by businessmen resulting in more developments including the establishment of the Garden District. More development continued with the building of other neighborhoods; Lafayette, Jefferson city, Algiers city, and great homes on Esplanade Avenue

As neighborhoods grew so did the infrastructure. There was the construction of drainage canals built along plantation property lines. The natural levee was divided into small lots and cross streets were built in a circular fashion crossing boulevards. Between the river and the swamps, St Charles became the principal residential area and the location for the Carrollton Railroad.

Residential building patterns showed signs of a racial/class divide. African Americans and immigrant whites built on small streets within larger core areas while whites preferred the avenues and main boulevards. And while African Neighborhoods, until the 20th century, were somewhat scattered, there were African Americans of different social statuses who lived in close proximity to whites. However, there were still a significant number of African Americans who lived, isolated along the levee and back swamps.

The story of how New Orleans was built is a fascinating one. It is a story of a people’s will and desire to adapt to challenging geographic and geological conditions while at the same time taking advantage of the city’s strategic location to build its economic base.