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New Orleans
Crescent Cities

Compare Maps | 1798 | 1849 | 1862 | 1920s | 2005

1920s: Reshaping the Land in the Early 20th century
Like Philadelphia and New York, the city had a grid already planned out; unlike those cities, lots in New Orleans were laid out perpendicularly to a curving river resulting in a pattern of spokes radiating out from the swamp. Still, attention had to be paid to the river. Downriver, Captain James Eads built jetties in 1876 that flushed out the passageways of the river to allow larger ships to navigate the Mississippi. Also downriver, a levee was destroyed to allow drainage from the 1927 Flood -- unnecessarily, it turned out. As railroads superceded river travel, New Orleans found itself more isolated.

Map of New Orleans with highlighted places from the 1920s

Cotton Exposition. 1903 pumping stations. New Lakeshore. The Spanish Fort. Inner Harbor Lock.

World's Industrial & Cotton Centennial Exposition at New Orleans, La. 1884. 1. Cotton Exposition.
"The World's Fair and Cotton Centennial Exposition" of 1884 served as a debutante ball for New Orleans following the Civil War. The Exposition itself lost money, but the grounds left its mark as Audubon Park on the riverside of St. Charles Avenue and as the campuses of Tulane and Loyola Universities on the lakeside.

A Pumping Station. 2. 1903 pumping stations.
In the early 20th century, the city began pumping water from the swamps into the canals that led to the lake. In 1915, eleven of A. Baldwin Wood's eponymous screw pumps were installed, some of which are still operating. As the water was removed, however, the swampland sank even deeper below sea level and deep and expensive pilings were required before building could begin.

The new seawall and the network of drives paved by the WPA in a vast lakefront improvement program. 3. New Lakeshore.
As the city moved northward in the 1920s, the Orleans Levee District developed a radical proposal to build a sea wall in Lake Pontchartrain, fill in the area behind it, and create new land five to ten feet above the level of the lake. The Depression struck the Levee District, but their plan was taken up and completed by the WPA.

The Old Spanish Fort transformed into an amusement park. 4. The Spanish Fort.
The Spanish Fort, built by Baron de Carondelet in 1770 to defend Bayou St. John, became an early tourist destination with a hotel, theater, and casino; Oscar Wilde, William Makepeace Thackeray and Ulysses S. Grant were notable 19th century visitors. The "Coney Island of the South" closed in 1926.

View of Industrial Canal lock. 5. Inner Harbor Lock.
The Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (or "Industrial Canal") was dug in the 1920s to attract industry to the city. However, the water level of Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi varies by some 10 feet; locks were needed to make the transition and these locks soon backed up with traffic.

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New Orleans American Experience

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