The history of the Faubourg Marigny began in March 1805 when the 20 year old minor,
Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville, and his guardian, Solomon Prevost, petitioned the Conseil de Ville (City Council) to allow the subdivision of his plantation located below the Vieux Carré. The request was granted April 19, 1805, and Bernard began selling property in what would become known as a Creole French speaking suburb.
The first lot, situated on Decatur street (rue Victoire), close to Elysian Fields (Champs Elysées), sold in September 1805, and by year’s end 30 more lots had been purchased. The original boundaries of the Faubourg Marigny extended from St. Claude avenue [rue des Bons Enfants] to the river and from 100 feet behind Esplanade avenue to Franklin avenue [rue Enghein]. In 1974 when the area was designated the Faubourg Marigny National Historic District the lower boundary was pushed from Franklin avenue to Press street. (In the tradition of the neighborhood, street and avenue designations will be omitted in the following history, e.g. Elysian Fields, not Elysian Fields avenue).
The plantation’s sawmill canal became the center of the newly laid Elysian Fields and with the river, determined the direction of the suburb’s parallel and perpendicular streets.
In 1809 thousands of Haitian refugees arrived in New Orleans. Bernard Marigny offered to sell property in his new faubourg with no down payment to these French speaking refugees, and many accepted (whites, free people of color - particularly single females - and their slaves).
Single and double Creole cottages were built on the predominantly 30” x 100” lots. By 1811 over 150 households were listed in the city directory. Occupations such as shoemaker, carpenter, physician, butcher, blacksmith, grocer, hunter, tailor, architect, lawyer and gentleman of private means suggest that by this time the faubourg must have had the appearance of a suburb with stores, bars, small professional offices, and even manufacturing businesses. The only public space, today’s Washington Square, remained undeveloped until an 1829 ordinance directed the City Gardener to plant three symmetrically arranged rows of live oak trees around the perimeter of the square.
The original Marigny plantation ended at what is now Franklin
avenue, but the area from Franklin to Press was included in the
Historic District application as the train tracks seemed a natural
division between the Marigny and Bywater (the next neighborhood
below the tracks.)
In the early years of the 19th century, Franklin
(at different times named La
Corderie, Rue d’Enghein, Almonaster, or Lafayette street)
was a ropewalk that physically separated the old Faubourg Marigny from the lower
part of the
city. The ropewalk extended from Chartres to Dauphine and was still in use in
But the history of this lower section predates the
building of the ropewalk by 86 years. The original City of New
in 1718, was laid out in
1721. The Company of the Indies granted land for the first plantation below
the City (today’s French Quarter) to either Pierre or Mathurin
Dreux sometime around 1720. Known then as La Brasserie this tract
of land was actually the site
of the first manufacturing establishment in New Orleans, a brewery (see map
left. click to enlarge).
After Drew’s death in 1743, his heirs sold
the property to C. Villars Dubreuil owner of the adjoining plantation.
After a succession of owners (including Don
Bernardo de Galvez the 1777 Spanish Governor) Nicolas Daunoy purchased the land
in 1795. From this time on the land tract was known as the Faubourg Daunoy and
defined by the land between Franklin up to and including Press, and from the
river up to and including
St. Claude (blue outlined area on map).
Brigitte Daunoy, daughter to Nicolas, sold the land to the Company
of Architects in 1832. She retained several lots and would
build the house at 2709 Royal (see
photo) where she would die in 1866.
It was only in 1871 that Chartres (Moreau street) was opened
to allow for passage from the City through the Faubourgs Marigny
and Daunoy into what is now the
Life in New Orleans during these early years must have been trying. Water had to be brought by cask and cart into the neighborhoods for washing as well as drinking. The ground water’s high mineral content left it unusable for anything but putting out fires, and wells for that purpose were strategically dug. The sewage system was an open gutter into which much filth was emptied. City night soil wagons traversed the neighborhood collecting human waste that was then emptied from the wharves into the river creating what must have been an unbearable stench.
In 1830 Bernard filled in the canal along Elysian Fields and sold the canal bed to the newly chartered Ponchartrain Railroad. Soon the Americans claimed that interests in the French sections of town overpowered those of the English speaking section, and the city was divided into three municipalities, under one mayor but each with its own police, council, budget and schools. Now part of the Third Municipality, suburb Marigny conducted all of its business in French.
Immigrants continued to pour into the city. The Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods became home to a large wave of German immigrants during the 1840’s. Shotgun cottages, some with side halls and side galleries, were built with increasing frequency eventually making them the single most dominant 19 th century house type in New Orleans. Settled groups of French, German and English (Irish) speaking people led to many churches being built in the area each offering services in their respective language. Private schools offered instruction in one of the three predominant languages to both black and white students. An increasing number of corner stores, still easily recognized by their angled door openings, flourished. The first floating baths in the city, situated opposite Mandeville, were “an agreeable walk from any part of the town; yet, those who prefer riding can go from Canal street in ten minutes in the omnibuses that run to the Lower Cotton Press” (today’s Press street).
The large houses that served as boarding houses along St. Claude
remind one of the many jobs found in the area’s active riverfront
and railroads, and in the rice mills, lumber yards, bottling companies,
breweries, and brickyards scattered throughout the suburb. Manufacturing
concerns were built along side residential sections, as no clear
zoning rules seemed to exist.
In 1851 reunification took place and the Third Municipality became the Third District. It became apparent that the English language dominated commerce and trade in the city —Marigny and other French speaking areas gradually took on a second-class role. The American sections and Central Business District fared much better than the downtown suburbs, i.e., funding for street lighting, sidewalks, street repair, garbage pickup and other public amenities was less forthcoming in the Third District, and remained so until well into the twentieth century.
Frenchmen street businesses constituted the most concentrated shopping area in the suburb, but unlike other areas of the city no “main street” developed. In the late 1890’s the Columbia Brewing Company on Elysian Fields and Chartres along with several other German owned breweries controlled the distribution of beer in the city. By buying property and setting up bar rooms and saloons they tried to ensure that their beers were the only ones sold in New Orleans. Bars arguably became the most common business in the Marigny area.
With the advent of the municipal sewer system (circa 1914) room needed to be found in the old houses for indoor plumbing and toilets. Newly built homes elsewhere in the city routinely included indoor plumbing and electric lights that made them more desirable. This area attracted an increasing number of Italian and Spanish immigrants looking for inexpensive rental property.
The post WWII era and integration instigated the biggest changes in the Marigny since the early days when the Santo Domingo refugees flooded the area. Investors bought up land and built thousands of small affordable homes on the outskirts of the city where returning veterans took advantage of the Veterans Housing Act and purchased homes. The new suburbs became even more attractive with integration in the mid twentieth century. Whites fled older neighborhoods as African Americans moved into them. Between 1950 and 1975 the built up area of metropolitan New Orleans almost doubled in size and the “inner city neighborhoods” became more run down.
Faubourg Marigny’s renaissance began in the early 1970’s when young professionals saw the charm of street after street of predominantly nineteenth century buildings. Their new organization, the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association (FMIA), dedicated its early years to protecting the built environment to the point that the area arguably now has one of the most intact nineteenth century stock of houses in the country.
The Marigny again attracts residents looking for a close-knit community. Restoration continues at a rapid pace as houses are refit for life in the twenty first century.
Contributed by Dean Reynolds