Would New Orleans Look Like STL Today if Not For its 19th Century Expansions?

By on October 12, 2017

From NOLA Media Group:  Recent Cityscapes columns have explored how New Orleans expanded to include the Garden District, Uptown, Carrollton and Algiers within its city limits. These four episodes of New Orleans’ municipal expansion — and Jefferson Parish’s shrinkage — played out a century and a half ago.

The first was the 1852 annexation of the City of Lafayette, today’s Irish Channel, Garden District and Central City, which pushed New Orleans’ upper limit from Felicity Street to Toledano Street. The second and third came on the same day in 1870, when a state law subsumed Jefferson City (most of Uptown, from Toledano to Lowerline streets) into New Orleans, and shifted the unincorporated Orleans Parish community of Algiers to within city limits.

The final annexation came in 1874, when Jefferson Parish’s seat of Carrollton City became part of New Orleans, and Monticello Street became the Orleans/Jefferson Parish line. It remains so today.

The four annexations tend to get short shrift in our historiography — that is, the history of how we’ve understood our history — usually earning only fleeting mention as mere administrative adjustments. In fact, each was complex, hotly debated and perfectly contentious. Each came with costs and benefits for the various parties involved, with New Orleans on the aggrandizing side mostly on account of its larger size and stronger political wherewithal.

Our historical memory also tends to cast New Orleans’ fulfillment of its current borders as an inevitability that was “meant to be.” Historians describe this sort of thinking as “Whig history” — the view of the past as a progressive march toward the present.

In fact, there was nothing inevitable or fixed about our map. History is replete with contingency, and our political jurisdictions, like just any other human decisions, could have been shaped differently.

And, in fact, they were, in other American cities. Look, for example, to another former French colony on the Mississippi River that grew into a major Western port amid a Southern plantation economy: St. Louis, Mo.

St. Louis’s city limits span six miles east to west, pretty close to New Orleans’ length along the river as of 1852. Whereas New Orleans would expand an additional five miles westward and jump across the river, though, St. Louis did not, and remains today bordered on the west by separate cities.

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