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Nov 3, 2005

1878 Map Of New Orleans Shows Wisdom Of Original Settlers

With the federal government proposing to spend enormous sums to rebuild New Orleans, you often hear that the city should never have been built there in the first place. However, an article in today's New Orleans Times-Picayune reminds us that the founders of the city knew exactly what they are doing. The paper has compared the city, as depicted on civil engineer T.S. Hardee's 1878 map with the city today and concluded that the areas that were originally settled in New Orleans largely escaped Hurricane Katrina's storm surge. The reason? As depicted on the old map, the only area that was originally developed was the natural high bank of the Mississippi.

Further Explanation:
An 1878 map of New Orleans' settled areas shows that most of the city's 200,000 residents at the time clustered in a narrow swath along the Mississippi River, settling on the natural levees created by periodic floods.

It was still a good idea 127 years later. The city's old footprint corresponds closely to the small area that remained dry in the disastrous floods that came after Hurricane Katrina.

Consider the 1878 map of New Orleans, drawn by civil engineer T.S. Hardee, which shows a city whose east-west dimensions are similar to today's. But most of the populated area in 1878 is confined to a strip of the east bank of the Mississippi River that runs from the Jefferson Parish line down to Poland Avenue in the Bywater.

The old city made a few incursions into the area away from the river, mostly on ridges in Metairie, Gentilly and along Esplanade Avenue. The area between Canal Street and St. Bernard Avenue, toward today's City Park, was fairly well settled.

But other vast areas on the map, well populated when Katrina arrived, were plainly marked "cypress swamp": Lakeview, most of Gentilly, Broadmoor, Hollygrove, eastern New Orleans and the Lower 9th Ward on the lake side of St. Claude Avenue.

11/10/05 - Updated information, including a link to the map here.