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Canal Street, The Border Between the Ceoles and the Americans


St. Charles Avenue Streetcar

St. Charles Avenue Streetcar

Sharon Keating

The Other Side of Canal Street:

After you see the French Quarter, cross over Canal Street, one of the storied streets of New Orleans into the American Sector.

Canal Street is a must see any time of the year, but especially at Christmas time, when it's lit and is the center of several Christmas season activities.

A Short History:

When Louisiana was sold to Spain, the French were furious and there were a number of bloody uprisings. Although the new Spanish settlers were every bit as proud and snobbish as the French, the two cultures would eventually learn to co-exist peacefully. However, once the territory became a part of the United States, the Creoles were united in the common belief that the raw Americans must be kept separate from their far more cultured company. Canal Street became a kind of dividing line or "commons area" where the Creoles conducted trade, but did not socialize, with the "Americains."

The Americans:

The Americans were chiefly judged by the rough men who came downriver on flatboats for trade and commerce. These flatboaters were certainly not typical of the Americans who came to settle in New Orleans--the wealthy businessmen who made fortunes from cotton, sugar, banking, and trade. The upriver plantation Faubourg Ste. Marie became known to the Americans who settled there as St. Mary, and they tried mightily to outdo those Creoles. Gallier Hall was built by the famous architect James Gallier to rival the seat of government, the Cabildo, in the "Old Town." Lafayette Square was the American answer to Jackson Square. St. Patrick's Church on Camp Street was constructed for the Irish immigrants and other non-Creole Catholics who felt that St. Louis Cathedral catered only to the French and Spanish. The Americans may not have had the pedigree of the Creoles, but they usually had a lot more money.

On New Orleans Warehouse/Arts District Julia Street in the Faubourg St. Mary is a row of townhouses built in a style uncharacteristic of the local architecture. "Julia Row" was built in the American Federal style with which northeasterners were familiar. However, the New Orleans weather and its natural geological features were unsuitable for these homes, designed for a colder, drier climate. For example, they lacked the open galleries that allowed for air circulation. The residents partially lived on the first floor, but they soon discovered that the periodic flooding required raised housing, the style most common in the region. These beautiful structures eventually fell into disrepair and disrepute, but in recent years, these townhomes have become the center of the Arts District in New Orleans.

The Modern Divide:

In present day New Orleans, the American Sector is home to the central business district. Here Poydras Street, which runs roughly parallel to Canal Street, is the main thoroughfare for business and commerce. Even today on Canal Street, the legacy of the divide between the Creoles and the Americans is still evident. You will notice that every street, with its original French name in the Vieux Carre, crosses Canal Street and begins again, in the American Sector, with a new name. Here you can catch the famous St. Charles Avenue streetcar to view the entirety of the American sector.

A visit to the American Sector is a visitor's delight.

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