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Arts & Culture

NOLA History: Faubourg Marigny, New Orleans’ First Subdivision

The history of the Faubourg Marigny, the first subdivision of New Orleans that developed from a factory area to the culturally rich neighborhood filled with Creole cottages it is today.

The city of New Orleans started with the area now known as the Vieux Carre, or the French Quarter. New Orleans grew north from Rampart Street into what is now Faubourg Treme, eventually linking up to Bayou St. John, in what is now Mid City. As the city continued to grow, plantation owners began breaking up their tracts of land into smaller lots to sell to newcomers. The first plantation owner to do this owned the land just downriver from Esplanade Avenue, Bernard Marigny de Mandeville.

Once the French town of Nouvelle Orleans was laid out and founded by the LeMoyne brothers, other Frenchmen came to Louisiana, acquiring claims to the land surrounding the city. As more and more people came to the area, the demand for residential property became greater than the area available in the neighborhoods north of the Vieux Carre. By 1805, the city was part of the United States. Exiles from both France and Haiti flocked to the city in the wake of revolutions. Forty years of Spanish control of Louisiana attracted a number of people from Spain and her colonies. Looking upriver from his family’s plantation home, Bernard Marigny realized that subdividing the plantation would be more profitable than farming it. Bernard began by extending the streets of the French Quarter downriver from Esplanade Avenue. The neighborhood’s boundaries are Esplanade Avenue on the upriver (west) side, Rampart Street/St. Claude Avenue on the north (lake) side, Franklin Avenue on the downriver (east), and the Mississippi River on the south side. A main boulevard, Elysian Fields Avenue, bisects the neighborhood. Elysian Fields originally had a drainage canal in the middle of the street, which was used as an open sewer.

Marigny originally sold 30’x100′ lots. Buyers would build small creole cottages on those lots. As the neighborhood grew, residents would purchase adjacent lots and build larger homes, mostly in the Greek Revival style. By the late 1820s, Faubourg Marigny was its own small town, the “Third Municipality” of the city of New Orleans. Creole families built homes. Businessmen opened shops along Frenchmen Street. A public square By 1830, Bernard had the Elysian Fields canal closed, and he sold that filled-in neutral ground area to the Pontchartrain Railroad Company who constructed tracks and started rail service between Faubourg Marigny and the Milneburg village at Lake Pontchartrain. Bernard Marigny gladly sold lots in his subdivision to French-speakers, either whites or free blacks. The neighborhood maintained its French character well into past “re-unification” of 1851, where the original city (the Vieux Carre) was combined with the American Sector, upriver of Canal Street, and Faubourg Marigny below Esplanade Avenue. Irish and German families moved into the Marigny from the uptown-side of the Irish Channel neighborhood, giving the Marigny a multi-ethnic character. Italians followed in the 1870s and 1880s, operating various businesses in the Vieux Carre and living just downriver in the Marigny.

faubourg marigny new orleans
Narrow-front shotgun double, on Chartres Street in Faubourg Marigny (courtesy Carlos “Froggy” May).

Because of the railroad connection on Elysian Fields, light industry and manufacturing developed along that street rather than shops and small businesses. The Marigny attracted factory workers, like the Germans who worked at the Columbia Brewery in the 1890s. When the city constructed a municipal sewer system in 1914, residents with some means left the Marigny, building homes in other neighborhoods where they could install indoor plumbing. The older houses they left behind became rental properties, attracting factory workers and others needing low-cost housing. This trend of Faubourg Marigny as a “low-rent” neighborhood continued through the Great Depression and World War II.

The post-war housing boom made the Marigny affordable to black veterans, as white families abandoned the city’s original neighborhoods for Gentilly and suburban neighborhoods in Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes.

columbia brewery new orleans
Columbia Brewery in the 1890s, located on Elysian Fields in Faubourg Marigny. (Courtesy

The next big transition in Faubourg Marigny began in the 1970s, as young professionals began the “gentrification” process. Recognizing the potential of the old single and double shotguns as homes and small offices, young families began to acquire these properties, restoring them for their own use, or as rental properties. Neighborhood associations formed and the community began to bond. Dedicated homeowners in Faubourg Marigny have worked hard over the years to preserve the neighborhood’s character, while at the same time, working with the city to add improvements (such as the new streetcar line). Restaurants, clubs, and B&Bs, particularly on Frenchmen Street and nearby blocks add an important commercial component to the area. Faubourg Marigny’s development and resiliency has been an important contributor to neighborhood associations in nearby areas, such as Bywater and the Ninth Ward.

Bernard Marigny de Mandeville is usually thought of as a Creole dandy who brought the dice game Hazard (we now call it “craps”) to North America, but his long-lasting contribution to the city he loved is the New Orleans’ first subdivision.

Edward Branley is the author of New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line, Brothers of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans.  His latest book, Maison Blanche Department Stores, in Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series, is available at bookstores in the city and online. He is owner of Yatmedia LLC (Social Media for Social Justice), and is @Yatpundit on Twitter.

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