Street names change over time

Street names change over time

It’s no surprise that street names in New Orleans change over time.

street names

Street tiles for General Pershing Street, renamed from Berlin Street. (Infrogmation photo)

The changing of street names.

City government changes street names for a number of reasons. Here are some examples, using the Robinson Atlas of 1883. Let’s start with the French Quarter.

Custom House to Iberville

street names

Custom House Street, 1883

The first street after Canal Street, inside the French Quarter, was originally named “Custom House.” It was later changed to Iberville Street. While we associate both LeMoyne brothers with the founding of New Orleans, Bienville had the greater role. Iberville’s contributions weren’t initially considered significant enough to earn a street.

Calle del Arsenal

street names

Calle Del Arsenal (Infrogmation photo)

The street was originally named for the Ursuline nuns. When the Spanish took over, streets received names in their language. Spanish troops were quartered on the lower side of the city, hence Barracks and Arsenal. Calle del Arsenal reverted to Ursuline after New Orleans was sold to the United States in 1803.

Hospital to Governor Nicholls

street names

Hospital Street, 1883

In the Lower Quarter, Hospital changed to Governor Nicholls, in honor of Francis T. Nicholls, governor of Louisiana from 1888-1892. The city changed the street after he passed in 1912.

Outside the French Quarter

Tulane Avenue from Common Street

street names

Common Street, from Claiborne to Broad, 1883

Common Street, above Elk Place, changed to Tulane Avenue in 1884, in honor of philanthropist and namesake of Tulane University, Paul Tulane. Several street name changes took place around this time. In addition to the creation of Tulane Avenue, Delord Street (which ended at Tivoli Circle) changed to Howard Avenue.

Adams to Lee to Toussaint

street names

segment of the Robinson Atlas of 1883 showing Lakeview

Before electric streetcars, transit to the West End and Spanish Fort recreational areas along Lake Pontchartrain was accomplished via steam trains. West End converted first, in 1898. The Spanish Fort train closed, but returned in 1911 as an electrified streetcar line. Both streetcar lines ran out to the lakefront on West End Boulevard. Spanish Fort turned on Adams Street (named after Presidents John and John Quincy Adams). With the increased significance of the street after 1911, the city renamed Adams for Robert E. Lee.

The city renamed the street a second time, in 2022. Perfectly normal course of action. So, is it revisionist? No. Would it be revisionist to say Robert E. Lee had a significant impact on the history of New Orleans? Yes, because, in his entire life, he only spent about thirty-six hours here.

Tivoli to Lee to Harmony

street names

Lee Circle, 1883

The roundabout on Naiads Street, now St. Charles Avenue, at Delord Street (now Howard Avenue). The city originally named it, “Tivoli Circle.” In terms of city ordinances, that name remained until 2022. From Wikipedia:

On July 31, 1877, “Lee Place” within “Tivoli Circle” was authorized by Ordinance A.S. 4064[4][5] Although the traffic circle is commonly referred to as “Lee Circle”, this ordinance makes clear that the “enclosure” containing the statue is to be known as “Lee Place”, while the traffic circle itself continues to be known as “Tivoli Circle”. This ordinance contains no reference to the name “Lee Circle”.

While the monument and park honored Lee, the roundabout never changed from Tivoli Circle. This demonstrates common usage colliding with legal names. So, since the Lee statue stood at the center of the park, the entire area became, “Lee Circle.”

In 2022, the City Council formally re-named Tivoli Circle, Harmony Circle.

street names

Harmony Circle via Google Maps

Was this “revisionist history?” No. Street names changed all the time. Would it be revisionist history to argue that Lee wasn’t on the losing side of the Southern Rebellion? Yes.

Plan of the English Turn 1814 #watercolorwednesday

Plan of the English Turn 1814 #watercolorwednesday

Barthélémy Lafon drew this map of English Turn in 1814.

english turn

English Turn 1814

“Plan of the English Turn” by Barthélémy Lafon, 1769-1820. This section of Mississippi River is just south of its connection with the Intracoastal Waterway.

The Turn gets its name from what Mike Scott, in his article for Da Paper, called “the single biggest con in New Orleans history.” While that sounds like a bold claim, he’s right:

THEN: For months, they had seen only native Americans. So French explorer Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne — better known as Bienville, the man who would go on to found New Orleans — was understandably piqued when, in late summer 1699, he and his men rounded a bend in the Mississippi River just below present-day New Orleans to find moored there an English corvette, the Carolina Galley, loaded with 10 cannons and dozens of settlers. Bienville, with five men in two bark canoes, paddled over and informed the English captain, Louis Bond, that the area already had been claimed for France, which he said was ready to defend it with fortifications established upstream. It was a total and absolute lie, but Bond bought Bienville’s bluff, turned around and sailed away. From that moment, that bend in the river became known as “English Turn.”

And we all know, the English were rarely popular in New Orleans until maybe World War I.

The mapmaker

Barthélémy Lafon was a Frenchmen who came to New Orleans around 1790. With skills as an architect, surveyor, and urban planner, Lafon found employment in the then-Spanish colony. English Turn, as Scott notes, got its name ninety years earlier. So, Lafon merely documented the settlements downriver. He didn’t play a role in the legend. Lafon was responsible for many developments in early-American New Orleans, including plans for what is now the Lower Garden District. He served as Deputy Surveyor under Claiborne’s territorial government from 1806-180i.

One of Lafon’s most-recognized designs is the Vincent Rillieux house on Rue Royale. That house became the residence of chess champion Paul Morphy, and is now Brennan’s Restaurant.

This watercolor map is a public domain document in the THNOC collection.


Pontchartrain Railroad Station

Pontchartrain Railroad Station

The Pontchartrain Railroad station in Faubourg Marigny was on Decatur Street.

pontchartrain railroad station

Pontchartrain Railroad Station

The Pontchartrain Railroad operated from Faubourg Marigny to Port Pontchartrain, in Milneburg. While the lake terminus extended out onto a shipping pier, the operated a regular terminal on the river side. The Robinson Atlas of 1883 shows the Marigny depot, and the businesses/residences surrounding it. The map shows the route of the Clio Street line, passing next to the station, before turning for its inbound run.

This plate also shows the ferry landing for the New Orleans, Opelousas, and Great Western Railroad.

Streetcar connection

The Pontchartrain Railroad operated a simple route: to the lake and back.  Day trippers took the railroad out to “Lake City” (Milneburg), for a gathering or meeting, perhaps staying overnight at the Washington Hotel. These gatherings included more than people who lived within walking distance of the station. So, the St. Charles Railroad company extended its Jackson Depot line (later the Clio Street line) across Canal Street, into the Marigny. Folks rode streetcars from various lines to the St. Charles Hotel. They purchased railroad tickets at the hotel, then hopped on the Jackson Depot line. After passing by the Illinois Central station, the streetcar turned into the French Quarter, heading to Elysian Fields Avenue.

When the Louisville and Nashville Railroad acquired the Pontchartrain in 1880, that streetcar connection grew in importance. While L&N operated its own station on Canal Street, passengers from Uptown rode the Clio line to the Pontchartrain Railroad station. The L&N trains turned onto Elysian Fields, then headed out of town via Florida Avenue. So, passengers hopped on L&N trains there.

The railroad ferry

This plate shows a ferry landing on the right side. This ferry carried trains for the New Orleans, Opelousas, and Great Western Railroad to their station in Algiers. Morgan’s Louisiana and Texas Railroad and Steamship Company acquired the NOO&GW in 1883. They continued the ferry connection for a few years, then built a new ferry link in Jefferson Parish. That ferry crossing continued after the Southern Pacific acquired Morgan’s, and lasted even after the Huey P. Long Bridge opened.

Kenner Sanborn Maps

Kenner Sanborn Maps

Kenner Sanborn maps offer insight into the city in 1926.

kenner sanborn maps

Kenner Sanborn maps

This plate shows a section of Kenner, LA. Fire insurance companies used these maps to set rates for customers. Kenner Sanborn maps provide the underwriter with details on structures, streets, and railroads. They offer the historian a rich set of information on the evolution of a metro area. This map shows the area from what is now the Canadian National (formerly Illinois Central) right of way at Kenner Avenue, down to 3rd Street, towards the river. In modern Kenner, the top of this map marks the start of “Rivertown,” along Williams Boulevard.

Fire insurance

David Alfred Sanborn lined up clients for his map project in 1866. His work gained traction quickly. Insurance companies sought improvements in setting rates. He began with Boston and expanded to other large cities. Sanborn mapped the details insurance companies desired to set competitive rates. By 1916, Sanborn’s company grew to the point where they bought out all of their major competitors. So, by the creation of Kenner Sanborn maps 1926, these maps were the standard.

Kenner in 1926

The maps illustrate the city’s role at the time. Kenner was the “town” that Sicilian truck farmers drove to when they went “into town,” for supplies, news, and social functions. Kenner had two Baptist churches (segregated) and a Catholic parish, St. Mary’s. The archdiocese renamed St. Marys to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in 1936.


Railroad links defined Kenner in 1926. Kenner Sanborn maps show three railroads, the Louisiana Railway and Navigation Company Railroad, and the Illinois Central Railroad. The IC splits at Kenner. The IC segment turns north, heading across Lake Pontchartrain to Hammond, LA. The Yazoo and Mississippi Railroad continues west. “Kid Ory” and his jazz band took the Yazoo and Mississippi into New Orleans from LaPlace, to play gigs in the city on weekends.

The map shows freight and passenger platforms on the IC line, along with a number of industries on both sides of the railroad right-of-way.


Lower Mississippi Valley 1720

Lower Mississippi Valley 1720

Lower Mississippi Valley map showing the region in 1720.

Lower Mississippi Valley

Lower Mississippi Valley

French map showing New Orleans and the Lower Mississippi Valley, ca. 1720. The image features a plan of the Vieux Carre. The draftsman overlaid the city plan on top of a map of the larger region. The regional map shows waterways stemming from the Mississippi River. The map description and commentary are in French.

Plan of the city

This map is dated as 1720. While that’s close enough to develop a sense of the region at the time, it is off by at least a couple of years. Adrien de Pauger, an engineer and cartographer on Bienville’s staff, arrived in New Orleans in 1721. Bienville tasked de Pauger with surveying the land and planning out the city. He completed the project towards the end of 1721. Additionally, de Pauger traveled to Mobile, planning the original layout of that city. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette lists the publication date of this map as circa 1730. That matches better than the 1720 origin date.

Just a plan

This map reflects a serious issue researchers face when examining old maps and surveys. While de Pauger laid out the full grid for the neighborhood we now call the French Quarter, it was a plan. It would be decades before residents moved away from the streets closer to the river. There are several reasons for this. First, civilians built homes in the Southwest corner of the grid in the first half of the 18th century. Bienville established Fort St. Charles in that corner. The fort housed the small garrison assigned to New Orleans. Additionally, it offered a refuge to citizens in the event the settlement was attacked. So, naturally, New Orleanians desired to be close to the fort.

Maps showing the extent of fire damage in 1788 detail areas of de Pauger’s grid that were occupied at that time. Almost all of the planned grid above Dauphine Street (called “Calle de Bayona” during the Spanish Colonial period) remained occupied, fifty-plus years after this 1720ish map.

This trend isn’t limited to 18th century maps, as we’ve seen with railroad maps in the 1840s-1850s. Exercise caution when using a single source!

Imaginary Map 1874

Imaginary Map 1874

Imaginary Map 1874 – “What-if” illustrations are timeless.

imaginary map 1874

Imaginary Map 1874

What-if illustrations exist going back millennia. This one focuses on our rivers in Louisiana. They are a strong force of nature. The rivers are the Red, Atchafalaya, and Mississippi. They define Louisiana and its people.


The convergence displayed on Imaginary Map 1874 presented issues to riverboat pilots. In 1831, Captain Henry M. Shreve dug a canal to bypass Turnbull Bend in the Mississippi. Shreve and others removed the Great Raft logjam. This increased the direction change of the Mississippi. While the rivers were separate, these man-made changes increased the turn of the Mississippi into the Atchafalaya. (Additionally, the Great Raft provided the name for a great Shreveport brewery.)

Baton Rouge and New Orleans

Geologists and other scientists realized the problem. So, the Mississippi moving to the Atchafalaya meant cutting off the two largest cities in Louisiana from the river. Additionally, Nature presented a huge challenge to man. Scientists warned the government. Technology in 1874 limited the response. Still, the warning went out, in the form of imaginary map 1874.

Old River Control

Fortunately for Louisiana, imaginary map 1874’s warning required time to become reality. So, cientists observed the changes in the region. Seventy-nine years later, the USACE prepared to take action:

Between 1850 and 1950, the percentage of latitude flow entering the Atchafalaya River had increased from less than 10 percent to about 30 percent. By 1953, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded that the Mississippi River could change its course to the Atchafalaya River by 1990 if it were not controlled, since this alternative path to the Gulf of Mexico through the Atchafalaya River is much shorter and steeper.

This conclusion meant that Baton Rouge and New Orleans lose their water link. The Mississippi below Old River becomes a salt-water estuary. While this didn’t necessarily mean the end of the world for the cities, government grew concerned. The result, the Old River Control Structure, pitted man against nature. The structure opened in 1963. It forced most of the water flow into the Mississippi, not the Atchafalaya.

The Map

imaginary map 1874

The map’s notes state:

Imaginary Map showing effects of natural action on the Mississippi, Red and Atchafalaya Rivers if not counteracted. E.H. Angamar, C.E. Prepared by A.F. Wrotnowski, C.E. to accompany special report of Board of State Engineers, 1874. Plate V.

The Louisiana Research Center at the Howard-Tilton Library, Tulane University, holds the original.