I saw Bell Street for the first time when I detoured off the main road in the Bayou St. John neighborhood. “What is this?” I asked my biking partner, coming to a complete stop. The wide road was lined with distinctive, large homes. A slim neutral ground split the asphalt into two sides. It looked like a mini-version of Esplanade Ave., just a few blocks east.
I had found Bell Street. Bell Street may have been new to me, but it played a pivotal role in the history of New Orleans. In the beginning of the 1700s, early French settlers used it to transport supplies from Lake Ponchartrain to the Mississippi River. Although a canal was built later that replaced the portage road as the main transportation route connecting the two bodies of water, you can navigate from Bell Street to Bayou Road and finally to Governor Nicholls as a round-about way to get to the Mississippi.
If you’ve only seen the French Quarter and the Marigny, you’ll notice that the houses on Bell vary from the Creole cottages in that part of the city. Many of the homes are large, two-storied bungalows, adorned with spandrels. Bell Street became a fashionable residential suburb in the 1700s and early 1800s and had some of the most grand houses in the area until Esplanade Avenue was built. Esplanade became the site in the 19th Century where Creoles built their most opulent homes, but this explains why Bell Street can be a prototype for the luxury found on Esplanade.
A walk on Bell Street is a perfect way to spend a few hours in New Orleans. Start your journey where the street meets Bayou St. John. Look up as you walk to spot the architectural details on the houses and you may just catch a glance from a cat peering back at you from the windows of a house. Look down to take in the color of the gardens and you may spot sidewalk engravings from when the cement was wet. Once you reach Esplanade Ave, take a left and walk a few blocks to CC’s coffee shop. Enjoy a cup of coffee outside.