Barthélémy Lafon drew this map of English Turn in 1814.
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.
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.
The Pontchartrain Railroad station in Faubourg Marigny was on Decatur Street.
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.
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 offer insight into the city in 1926.
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.
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 map showing the region in 1720.
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 – “What-if” illustrations are timeless.
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’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.