City Spotlight: New Orleans, LA

New Orleans boasts a rich and varied history, some of it even rooted in the haunted and paranormal. While we have a number of books which can inform you in depth about the spookier side things, for now we will focus on a brief history of New Orleans and European influence, then show you some amazing vintage photos of the port city.
A Brief History of New Orleans

New Orleans was first founded by the French in 1718. A gentleman named Jean Baptise le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville decided it would make the perfect strategic port city. Just five feet below sea level, the new port city was located at the juncture of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. Originally named La nouvelle Orleans for the Duc d’Orleans, Philippe, it was centered around the Place d’Armes (later known as Jackson Square). Though the city is vastly larger now, it was initially the area we now call the French Quarter, or Vieux Carre (Old Square).

In 1762, for reasons still not entirely known, New Orleans was lost to French influence, when King Louis XV released it from his purview, and gave it to his Spanish cousin, King Charles III. Though the Spanish rule was relatively short, ending in 1801, Spain would leave a lasting imprint on the city.

Sadly, New Orleans experienced a devastating fire in 1788, wherein over 800 buildings were incinerated. While attempting to recover from the disaster, a second fire in 1794 destroyed another 200 structures. One of the only French buildings to survive these horrific fires was the Ursuline Convent. It is the oldest building in the Mississippi River Valley, having been completed in 1752. As a result of these fires, most of the structures you see in the French Quarter today are the result of Spain’s control of the city in the years following the devastating fires. The distinctly Spanish architectural elements are nearly impossible to miss, even to the untrained eye.

Control of New Orleans changed again when the Spanish ceded it back to the French in 1801. Just a short two years later, Napoleon sold the territory to the United States, in what is considered one of history’s greatest real estate bargains, The Louisiana Purchase. Acquisition of the territory by the United States nearly doubled its size, for the modest purchase price of just $15 million.

Following the Louisiana Purchase, people flowed into the port city en masse. Not only Americans, but European immigrants from Germany, Ireland, and Sicily, too. Unfortunately, the arrival of so many new residents caused tension to build between the European Creoles concentrated in the French Quarter and the Americans. As a result, the Americans settled opposite Canal Street, then referred to as the American sector, and what is now known as The Central Business District. Skirmishes occurred often between the two factions, and the Canal Street median ultimately served as a neutral zone where the two groups come meet for business, without invading the space and privacy of the other’s territory.

More immigrants, in the form of Haitians, arrived as a result of the Haitian Revolution of 1804. This meant that for years to come, thousands of people of Afro-Caribbean descent would eventually call New Orleans home. Their arrivals not only diversified the city’s population, but its culture as well.

Despite the differences and resulting animosities the city’s citizens faced, in the face of true adversity, its bickering factions came together. The Battle of New Orleans, and ultimately the culmination of the War of 1812, saw unlikely bonds form for the sake of the city’s safety. In January of 1815, 8,000 British troops were poised to attack the City of New Orleans. Unexpectedly, they were vastly outnumbered by the American forces, which included a polyglot band of 4,000 militia, frontiersmen, former Haitian slaves, and perhaps most notably, the pirates of the notorious Jean Lafitte. This unlikely union of troops defeated the British at Chalmette Battlefield, just a few miles east of the French Quarter. It remains a noteworthy place for tourists to visit.

After the war, as the city’s different factions began to learn to live and work in relative harmony, New Orleans’ culture began to bloom. The city became the fourth largest in the United States and one of the richest. It dazzled visitors with chic Parisian couture, amazing restaurants, and sophisticated culture. Society’s favorite establishment was, without a doubt, the French Opera House. Professional opera and theatre companies performed for full houses regularly, with over 400 operas premiering during the 19th century alone.

New Orleans is generally viewed as the epitome of a melting pot. Its diverse culture is in great part due to its history of immigration. Influence from the French, Spanish, Americans, Islanders, and West Africans have, over the course of time, cultivated one of the most rich and varied cultures in the United States. This diverse heritage is most assuredly the driving force behind this unique and exotic American city. It’s famous for its incredible cuisine worldwide, rock and roll was born from the sounds of its sultry jazz, and it has long been a source of inspiration for writers and artists alike. For anyone seeking a new and exotic adventure right in their (relative) backyard, New Orleans boasts a diverse history and culture that’s sure to surprise and delight. 

Historic Photos of New Orleans

Greetings from New Orleans. This greetings card shows famous and familiar landmarks placed within the outlines of the letters comprising “New Orleans.” Among them we see the St. Louis Cathedral, the Governor Claiborne House, and the Huey Long Bridge. These sights provide a representation of both new and old in the city. (Courtesy of Louisiana News Company, New Orleans.)
Reprinted from 'New Orleans' by Scott Faragher (Pg. 9, Arcadia Publishing, 1999.)

Jean Baptiste le Moyne

Jean Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, founded the city of New Orleans in May 1718. Bienville named the city in honor of Philippe II, Duc d’Orleans, then Regent of King Louis XV. Born in Canada in 1680, Bienville first set foot in Louisiana in 1699. He served four times as colonial governor and worked tirelessly to make the Louisiana colony a success. In 1743 he moved to France, and died in Paris in 1768. The capital of the vast colony of Louisiana, Nouvelle Orleans, as it was first known, remained under French control until 1762, when it passed into Spanish hands under the terms of the Treaty of Fontainebleau. In 1800, through the treaty of San Ildefonso, France regained Louisiana, although no formal notification was given to the colonists until 1803, the same year the Emperor Napoleon sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States in the monumental land deal known as the Louisiana Purchase.
Reprinted from 'New Orleans' by Eric J. Brock (Pg. 6, Arcadia Publishing, 1999.)

Vieux Carre

The Vieux Carre, or “Old Quarter,” is the historic name for the area also commonly known as
the French Quarter. It is the original town of New Orleans as laid out by the French engineer
Adrien de Pauger in 1721. Prior to Pauger’s arrival, New Orleans had been merely a random
scattering of huts and crude buildings. By 1731, when this map was made, New Orleans’
boundaries were roughly those of the present French Quarter. The built-up portion of the
town then extended only as far back as Dauphine Street; beyond the edge of town was forest
and the swamp.
Reprinted from 'New Orleans' by Eric J. Brock (Pg. 9, Arcadia Publishing, 1999.)

Place d'Armes, 1803
The Place d’Armes, also known as the Plaza de Armas and Jackson Square, was laid out as
the parade ground for the military defending the Louisiana colony. The parish church of St.
Louis stood where the Basilica of St. Louis, better known as St. Louis Cathedral, stands today.
Military barracks once occupied either side of the square. It was here, on December 20, 1803,
that the American flag was first raised above New Orleans.
Reprinted from 'New Orleans' by Eric J. Brock (Pg. 14, Arcadia Publishing, 1999.)

The French Market
The French Market, appearing here in the late 19th century, began in 1791 on its present
site. The oldest part of the present market is the end nearest Jackson Square, built in 1813 but
subsequently remodeled many times. Originally the meat market, this section is now famous as
the home to the Cafe du Monde coffee house. The vegetable market was added in 1823 and the
entire complex was greatly enlarged in 1930. Once New Orleans boasted many such markets,
though the French Market has always been the oldest and best known.
Reprinted from 'New Orleans' by Eric J. Brock (Pg. 22, Arcadia Publishing, 1999.)

Orleans Street
Orleans Street, as laid out by Pauger, ended abruptly at the rear wall of the cathedral. In 1831
the street was stopped at Royal and the remaining space turned into a garden. This engraving
from Harper’s Weekly dates from 1861 and shows the rear of the cathedral seen from several
blocks down Orleans Street.
Reprinted from 'New Orleans' by Eric J. Brock (Pg. 36, Arcadia Publishing, 1999.)

St. Charles Hotel

Reprinted from 'New Orleans Historic Hotels' by Paul Oswell (Pg. 41, The History Press, 2014.)

Tennessee Williams & Dick Cavett at Maison de Ville Hotel in 1974
Reprinted from 'New Orleans Historic Hotels' by Paul Oswell (Pg. 52, The History Press, 2014.)

1984 New Orleans World Fair
Designed by Barth Brothers, Inc., a prominent Mardi Gras float-building company, the City Gate
generated a great deal of commentary—and controversy—due to the mostly naked mermaids on
either side of the main entrance. The figures undoubtedly helped sell a great deal of extra film to
visiting tourists who just had to share this experience with the folks back home.
Reprinted from 'The 1984 New Orleans World's Fair' by Bill Cotter (Pg. 27, Arcadia Publishing, 2008.) 

St. Louis Cathedral
Reprinted from 'Haunted New Orleans: History & Hauntings of the Crescent City' by Troy Taylor (Pg. 12, The History Press, 2010.)

The LaLaurie Mansion

Reprinted from 'Haunted New Orleans: History & Hauntings of the Crescent City' by Troy Taylor (Pg. 41, The History Press, 2010.)

Mary Statue, St. Louis Cemetery, New Orleans
A weathern-worn Mary in St. Louis No. 3.
Reprinted from 'Stories from the St. Louis Cemeteries of New Orleans' by Sally Asher (Pg. 8, The History Press, 2015.) 

To learn more about the Crescent City's history, explore more New Orleans History Books