New Orleans is defined by its unique parts of town. New Orleanians regularly refer to the section of the city upriver from Canal Street as “Uptown,” but that area of town is really a combination of a number of distinct neighborhoods. We hear about the Garden District and Riverbend neighborhoods all the time, but the rest of “Uptown” has a rich history as well.
New Orleans’ natural growth was upriver and downriver from the French Quarter, but the land in those areas was already occupied. French and Spaniards claimed the rich, fertile soil on either side of the Mississippi River, planting cotton, indigo, and a lot of sugar cane. The section of the east bank of the river from what is now Upperline Street to General Taylor Drive was a plantation originally owned by Valentin Robert Avart. The plantation was divided upon Avart’s death in 1816 and General Wade Hampton of South Carolina acquired a large portion of it. Hampton in turn sold it to Louis Bouligny in 1829.
Bouligny did not intend to maintain the land as a plantation, however. He had the area mapped by engineer and cartographer Charles Zimpel and developed the land into a neighborhood. Zimpel laid out streets for the plantation on his map, but it was Pierre-Benjamin Buisson, the surveyor of the City of Lafayette (which included the Garden District), who named them. Buisson was an artillery officer in Bonaparte’s Grande Armee’. Paying tribute to the Emperor, Buisson named the main street in Faubourg Bouligny “Napoleon Avenue.” Buisson named the streets on either side of Napoleon for important battles in Bonaparte’s career, such as Jena, Milan, Marengo and Berlin. The neighborhood became known as “East Bouligny” and “West Bouligny,” depending on which side of Napoleon you were on.
At the same time Bouligny began to subdivide his property, the New Orleans & Carrollton Railroad Company began rail operations down Nayades Street (St. Charles Avenue). The railroad acquired property on the corner of Nayades and Napoleon, building a car barn and other rail facilities. Napoleon Avenue became a more-or-less midway stop on the route to Carrollton, causing Faubourg Bouligny to boom.
Realizing their land was now more “the city” than “the country,” planters upriver from Bouligny also subdivided and developed. By 1850, these new neighborhoods were combined and incorporated into Jefferson City, a municipality just north of the City of Lafayette, and south of the City of Carrollton. These cities were actually part of Jefferson Parish. The City of New Orleans began to annex these municipalities, beginning in the 1850s, eventually pulling all of them in by 1870.
Like other areas carved out of plantations, East and West Bouligny now break down into unique neighborhoods, based on their proximity to the river. The area from Tchoupitoulas to Magazine is basically an extension of the Irish Channel. While the area from Magazine to St. Charles is not as grand as the Garden District, one can see the “step up” from the other side of Magazine Street. Heading towards the lake from St. Charles, the character of Faubourg Bouligny changes once again. These basic dividing lines of Uptown run true throughout Bouligny/Jefferson City.
Even though the neighborhood became part of New Orleans in 1870, residents of Jefferson City maintained their identity. In 1890, men from the neighborhood formed the “Jefferson City Buzzards,” a social club that marches on Carnival Day. The Buzzards are still parading and representing Jefferson City to the world.