St. John the Baptist Church photo from 1933.
St. John the Baptist Church
Photo of St. John the Baptist Church from 1933. It is part of a Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). While the record lists the location of the church as Dryades Street, the current name of the street is Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. So, historically, it stood on the corner of Dryades and Calliope Streets.
Here’s the description in the HABS:
Significance: The corner stone was laid in 1857, and the church was completed in 1861, Father Jeremiah Moynihan, the pastor, having supervision of the planning and building. Fifteen stained glass windows were installed in 1902. … The building was erected in a time of opulence and no expense was spared to make it one of the handsomest churches in the city, but by the time it was completed, at the outbreak of four years of war, there ensued much general financial distress. The parish was unable to meet its obligations, and was declared bankrupt in 1878. The church and the adjacent parish school building were bought by the pastor, Father Kenny, and reverted to the Congregation.
– Survey number: HABS LA-1105
– Building/structure dates: 1861 Initial Construction
– Building/structure dates: 1902 Subsequent Work
The construction of St. John the Baptist Church demonstrates the expansion of the Irish community in New Orleans. St. Patrick’s parish formed in 1833, in the CBD. The Irish in the “Redemptorist Parish” of the Lower Garden District and the Irish Channel built St. Alphonsus in the mid-1850s. (The community completed St. Alphonsus in 1857.) So, by the time the Irish finished their second church, the community needed another! The Irish moved towards the lake from the riverfront.
Pre-rebellion New Orleans
“A time of opulence…” New Orleans reached a significant growth point in the 1850s. The port handled shipping second only to New York. While the international slave trade no longer legally existed, New Orleans became a focal point in the domestic trade of enslaved Africans. Wealthy planters maintained houses in the city, as well as on their upriver properties. Cotton dominated the economy (thanks to the labor of the enslaved). Additionally, the Irish kept coming from the Old Country. They worked along the riverfront.
This 1933 photo of St. John the Baptist Church offers a wonderful perspective from a couple of blocks away. The Pontchartrain Expressway now divides the neighborhood. This barrier didn’t exist in 1933. The church stands blocks away from the train station. Streetcars on the Dryades line traveled in front of the church. So, they connected church and school with uptown and further into downtown. Additionally, Dominican nuns from Ireland staffed the school. St. John the Baptist Church formed a nexus.