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NOLA History: 8 Fascinating Old New Orleans Maps

With a history spanning almost 300 years, New Orleans has been mapped and charted throughout that time. Here are some of the most interesting maps of the city:

new orleans history map
French map of New Orleans, 1728

1. “La Nouvelle Orleans en 1728”
Originally published in the “Report on the Social Statistics of Cities, Compiled by George E. Waring, Jr., United States. Census Office, Part II, 1886.” Adrien du Pauger, an engineer and surveyor accompanying Bienville, laid out the original street plan for New Orleans in 1720, making this map one of the earliest showing what is now the French Quarter. Du Pauger planned the streets out from the river to Rampart, Canal to Esplanade, but in 1728, the city was only occupied from Bienville to Arsenal (now Ursulines), the river to Dauphine.

new orleans hisotry map
The Great Fire of 1788

2. The Great Fire of 1788
While lacking in detail, this map shows the extent of the Great Fire of 1788. The blocks covered in smoke were entirely burned down, and smoke/soot damage extended for several blocks around the fire area as well. Lost was the original St. Louis Parish Church, re-built as what is now St. Louis Cathedral. Published originally in 1866, as part of a history text.

new orleans history map
New Orleans, after the Battle of New Orleans in 1815

3. “Plan of the City and Suburbs of New Orleans,” 1815
Originally drawn and illustrated by City Surveyor Jacques Tanesse, the map was published by Charles Del Vecchio of New York and Pierre Maspero in 1817. The map is illustrated with prominent buildings in the city in 1815. The illustration at the top of the map is of the Cabildo, St. Louis Cathedral, and the Presbytere. This is a good drawing of the cathedral prior to the renovations and rebuilding which took place in the 1840s, giving the church the look it has today.

new orleans map history
Zimpel topographical map, 1833

4. Topographical map of New Orleans, 1833
Drawn and illustrated by Charles Zimpel, this map also includes a number of drawings of prominent buildings. In the 1830s, much of the land upriver from the Central Business District (what we now consider “Uptown”) as well as below the city, heading downriver, was still active plantations. The map also shows the beginnings of the Milneburg community, located on Lake Pontchartrain by what is now Elysian Fields Avenue.

new orleans history map
Political map, 1860

5. Plan of New Orleans, 1860
From S. Agustus Mitchell’s General Atlas, published in 1863, this map shows the evolution of the “Wards,” the political divisions we have all come to know over time: The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Wards in Uptown, the 4th, 5th, and 6th Wards starting in the French Quarter and extending towards the lake, then the 7th, 8th, and 9th Wards heading downriver, making up Faubourg Marigny, Bywater, and the Upper 9th. The map also shows McDonoughville (Gretna) and Algiers (part of New Orleans) on the West Bank of the Mississippi River.

new orleans history map
Faubourg Treme in the Robinson Atlas set, 1880

6. Robinson Atlas, 1880
Published by Elisha Robinson and Roger H. Pidgeon, the Robinson Atlas consists of 30 hand-colored plates. The maps are believed to have been drawn originally by City Surveyor John F. Braun, in the late 1870s. These plates are a wonderful resource for anyone doing research on New Orleans in the post-Civil War era. They show commercial locations, as well as railroad and street rail tracks throughout the city. This is a section of the plate showing Faubourg Treme.

new orleans history map
Map of the New Orleans street railway system, 1904

7. Streetcar Map, 1904
After the turn of the 19th Century, electric streetcars were the most common method of transit in American cities. New Orleans was no exception, and more than 210 miles of streetcar track were built by the 1920s. This map, created by Walle & Co. Ltd., Mapmakers for the New Orleans Railways Company, was typical of transit maps up until the shift of print maps to the World Wide Web. In addition to the basic map, there are several photographs, illustrations, as well as tourist information.

new orleans history map
Downtown New Orleans, 1920

8. Downtown New Orleans, 1920
From the Automobile Blue Book Publishing Company, this is a fragment of their 1920 street map, showing the downtown area. Notable here are the dotted lines showing the streetcar lines which ran downtown, as well as the railroad tracks leading into the Southern Railway Terminal, located at Canal and Basin Streets. Train tracks came to downtown from the East either along the river, terminating at the L&N Station at the foot of Canal Street, or from Lake Pontchartrain, terminating at the Southern station. The unused railroad right-of-way is now being converted into an urban greenway by the Friends of the Lafitte Corridor.

These are some of many, many interesting historic maps of New Orleans. Tell us some of your favorites!

(All eight maps are 90+ years old, and as such, copyrights have expired, leaving them in the public domain.)

Edward Branley is the author of New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line, Brothers of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans, and Maison Blanche Department Stores, in Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. He is also author of Legendary Locals of New Orleans. Branley’s latest book, New Orleans Jazz, is now available in bookstores and online. Edward is also the NOLA History Guy, online and on Twitter (@NOLAHistoryGuy).

Author of five books on the history of New Orleans, Edward Branley is a graduate of Brother Martin High School and the University of New Orleans. Edward writes, teaches, and does speaking engagements on local history to groups in and around New Orleans. His urban fantasy novel, "Hidden Talents," is available online and in bookstores. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, @NOLAHistoryGuy.

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