As a recent homeowner in Bywater, I've heard conflicting accounts of the faubourg's history and boundaries. The sign on the St. Claude Avenue neutral ground at the railroad tracks just off Press Street says the establishment of Bywater was 1803, but the earliest map record we can determine is 1807. What do you think?
-- Bywater Newbie
I think you'd better go back and look at the sign. The last time I saw the sign it read "Bywater, Established in 1809, National and Local Historic District." The date on the sign is interesting, however, because the development of the area began much earlier. Of course, it wasn't known as Bywater until much later.
Here's a brief history of the area. Just after the founding of the city in 1718, parcels of land were given to private owners, concessions from the Company of the Indies. Original maps of these land grants in the Bywater area show plantation strips beginning at the river, and the original owners were named Dreux, Cantillion, Trudeau, Dupuy, leBlanc and de la Tour.
By the 19th century, there were at least six Creole plantations in the Bywater area, collectively known as Faubourg Washington. They were Daunois, Montegut, deClouet, Montreuil, Carraby and Lesseps. The plantation originally owned by Dreux, known as "La Brasserie" or "the Brewery," was one of the first manufacturing enterprises in the city.
Surveyor Barthelemy Lafon originally planned Faubourg deClouet in 1807, the earliest known subdivision of the district, and redesigned it in 1809. In 1810, the deClouet home was sold and became an amusement center known as Frascati, and a few years later the property was bought by the city as a potential site for Charity Hospital, built elsewhere.
As in other parts of the city, plantations changed ownership many times, and by the 1790s the Dreux plantation was owned by Nicholas Daunois (or Daunoy). The family sold a quarter of the tract, which was eventually purchased in 1831 by the Levee Steam Cotton Press Company, after which Press Street is named.
One owner, Robert Gautier Montreuil, named two of the streets that cut through his land for his daughters, Desiree and Elmire. But street names in New Orleans have been changed over the years. Elmire was changed to Gallier in 1923 to honor the famous father and son architects, and Desiree was shortened to Desire, famous for the streetcar immortalized by the Tennessee Williams play. St. Claude Avenue, one of the main streets in Bywater, was once called Good Children.
L.B. Macarty was a 19th-century property owner who built a big house and large formal gardens. A large part of his plantation became the public square we enjoy today, located between North Rampart and Burgundy and Alvar and Pauline streets.
When the Industrial Canal was completed in 1923, it created the boundary on the east. So with two water boundaries, the name for this neighborhood was logical, and in 1947 a group of businessmen began promoting the area using the name Bywater. Bywater was also a telephone exchange used in this area.
In the early 1970s, city planners began to use the term "neighborhood" for planning and gathering socioeconomic data. Bywater is one of the 72 official neighborhoods in New Orleans. Its boundaries are Franklin Avenue, the Industrial Canal, St. Claude Avenue and the Mississippi River.
However, the Bywater Historic District boundaries are different. As of 1993, Bywater is described as an urban district of about 120 blocks with boundaries roughly the Mississippi River from Press Street to Poland Avenue, then over to Manuel Street and back along St. Claude. The upper boundary includes some of Marais, Urquhart, North Villere, North Robertson and Louisa streets.
When Bywater began in the early 19th century as a Creole downriver suburb, the first to settle there were Creoles and free persons of color. Germans, Irish and Italians followed these. So the neighborhood is rich in both ethnic origin and architecture, which includes Creole cottages, bungalows, camelbacks, and a fine collection of shotgun houses.
I'm sure you will begin to feel right at home in your neighborhood and will soon cease to call yourself a "newbie."