In 1699 Native Americans showed French explorer Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville the Esplanade Ridge portage route, which allowed for easy access to the Mississippi River from Bayou St. John.
In 1718, the trade advantages of this portage route directly influenced where Jean-Baptiste Bienville, another French explorer, decided to locate the city of New Orleans. Because of the portage route, houses and businesses were built along the banks of Bayou St. John in the early 1700s, and bridges soon followed.Bayou St. John was the primary industrial waterway in New Orleans until the mid 1800s. As many as 80 barges and boats a day passed through its narrow, brackish, cypress-stump clogged waters. During this time, most of the barges brought in from Lake Pontchartrain were broken apart after off-loading at the portage, and the sturdy barge-board lumber was then used to build the houses that still line the bayou in Faubourg St. John.
In addition to the land portage, the Carondelet Canal was opened in 1795. It connected the end of Bayou St. John with what is now the northern boundary of the French Quarter. In 1838, the New Basin Canal was opened. Eclipsing the Carondelet Canal in its capacity, it became the City’s primary commercial waterway, causing a great decline in commercial traffic on Bayou St. John. But industrial activity continued for another century, with commercial houseboats docked on the banks of the bayou, and two busy shipyards operating, one at Dumaine Street and the other at Esplanade Avenue.
The Carondelet Canal finally closed in 1927, the same year that Bayou St. John Improvement Association was established. The president of this new organization was Mr. Walter Parker, and he remained president until his death in 1950. For 23 years Walter Parker tirelessly pursued his vision for Faubourg St. John. Parker’s intention was to transform this squalid, neglected, unhealthy stretch of bayou into a clean, safe waterway that would be the anchor of a beautiful residential neighborhood.
With the advent of the Works Progress Administration in the 1930’s, Parker was finally able to package his dream and obtain financing and management for it through the WPA. The eighth point of his eight-point plan was “Future Developments”:
“While this project does not contemplate the full and final development, it provides the foundation, or essential features upon which further and future developments will increasingly make it one of outstanding value, beauty and interest, not only to the citizens of New Orleans, but to their thousands of yearly visitors and sight see-ers.”
We see our current bridge restoration project as one of the ‘further and future developments’ referred to by the visionary Mr. Parker some 80 years ago.
The Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association (FSJNA) was established in 1977 and was incorporated in accordance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code in 2008. The FSJNA is actively dedicated to preserving and bettering the livability and character of the Faubourg St. John neighborhood.
Faubourg St. John is a thriving and eclectic neighborhood in the heart of New Orleans. We love our bayou and we love our historic bridges.