In a post last fall, in which I documented my trek along the modern-day path of the historic Bayou Road portage route, I mentioned the Ossorno House on Governor Nicholls Street. Well, I just can’t get enough of this old house, and soon after I posted about it, the house went up for sale. Oh, and it went up for sale for the first time in over a century!

Ossorno House, 913 Gov Nicholls St, photo by author

Ossorno House, 913 Gov Nicholls St, photo by author

The house, originally built on the bayou, was dismantled sometime around 1781, presumably carted down Bayou Road, and reassembled in the French Quarter by 1784. Its owner, Gabriel Peyroux, apparently wanted to move it from the rural village that surrounded the lower bayou at the time into town, although the reasons for such a move remain unclear.

In the 1830s, its hipped roof (a roof with four sloped sides; see pictures of other examples below) was replaced by a gabled one, but other than that, the house still retains its French colonial plantation-style characteristics. The only other plantation-style house in the Quarter is the famous Madame John’s Legacy, but the Ossorno House is the only truly authentic plantation-style structure in the Quarter since it was actually utilized as such in a rural setting before being moved to the city. As Richard Campanella tells us in his Geographies of New Orleans, “[the Ossorno House] is over twenty-five years older than any building in the surrounding sixteen blocks, eighty years older than the area’s average age, and possibly the only structure ever to occupy its parcel.” [1]

On top of this, only three families have owned the house over the course of its 230-year history, and it hasn’t changed hands since 1912.

Colloquially-named Spanish Custom House, c. late 1700s, on Bayou St. John; photo by author; note the hipped roof

“The Sanctuary” on Bayou St. John, another French colonial plantation-style house hailing from the same era as the Ossorno House; photo by author; note the hipped roof

So, in short, we have a totally badass house here.

It witnessed the early days of bayou living—saw schooners gliding down the bayou, heavy with smuggled goods; saw fields of indigo and herds of cattle and orchards planted with rows of orange trees; maybe it even witnessed a runaway slave as she slipped silently along the bayou to hide in the cypress swamp beyond. Then, it was broken up and hauled along Bayou Road like nearly all the other goods arriving in the city at the time.

Again, Campanella sums it up elegantly: “That the Ossorno House may have literally come down Bayou Road from the Bayou St. John plantation country and ended up on Gov. Nicholls Street, where Bayou Road entered the city, is also of great significance. One may view it as a structural monument to the historic flow of materials and peoples traveling this route from city to bayou.”[2] Physical proof of the ancient artery of Bayou Road, once a stream of movement and activity, in the form of a slightly run-down plantation-style four-plex—which could be yours today for only 2.7 million dollars!

For awesome photos of the house’s current interior—six bedrooms, four baths, with a little retro kitchen tacked onto the back, and original fireplaces and wood floors—visit Curbed New Orleans.

 To continue traveling down the rabbit hole of this house’s unique history, visit the Historic New Orleans Collection’s Vieux Carré Digital Survey (complete with a brief history of the house, photographs from the 1930s-1950s, old drawings, surveys, and maps).

Better yet, go visit the house! You may not notice it at first, since it’s set back from the street and tucked in between the more stately and ornate townhouses that were built up around it in the 1800s. But don’t let its modest visage fool you—this house has stories to tell!



1. & 2.  Richard Campanella, Geographies of New Orleans: Urban Fabrics Before the Storm (Lafayette: University of Louisiana Press, 2006) 106.Campanella, Geographies of New Orleans, 107.


If you didn’t get a chance to make it out to the 10th annual  Lafitte Greenway hike last Saturday, well have no fear! I took lots of photos and notes for you!


The hike of the recently-opened bicycle and pedestrian trail that follows along the filled-in bed of the old Carondelet Canal (the waterway that connected Bayou St. John to the edge of the French Quarter from the 1790s until the early 1900s) began in Congo Square, at 10am sharp. Hundreds of sunscreened people milled about and formed groups around volunteer tour guides. One of the founders of Friends of Lafitte Greenway, Bart Everson, gave a short speech—and soon enough, the groups were off!

After crossing Basin Street, named after the turning basin where the Carondelet Canal once culminated, we began strolling down the Greenway. Volunteer tour guide Kevin Centanni (who recently purchased the abandoned 10th Precinct Police Station near Delgado and is teaming up with Susan Spicer to open a restaurant in the renovated space, hopefully sometime in the next few months) told us all about the following fascinating features as we walked along:


–The gravel path to the right of the Greenway, where the Lafitte Projects once stood, that gives a nod to the “lover’s lane” that once ran alongside the canal in its early days. City residents would escape the hustle and bustle of the French Quarter and stroll hand-in-hand along the canal, taking in the relative quiet and breathing in the fresh air. This pathway is lined with old stones reclaimed from foundations of demolished buildings that were once in the area.

–The old brick posts that once marked the entrance to the Lafitte Projects. Centanni reminded us that Iberville and Lafitte were once sister housing projects of a sort—one for whites, and one for blacks—across the street from one another.

–A soon-to-be-finished storm water retention pond (among others along the Greenway). Eventually, the pond will hold rainwater and allow it seep back into the surrounding land instead of being pumped out into Lake Pontchartrain.

–Something called an “eco-swale,” which Centanni defined as a “ditch with the right kinds of plants in it.” I don’t know much about how these special ditches function yet, but the idea is to plant native species there in order to promote filtration of runoff into the surrounding land.

–Mr. Fred’s garden, one of the first along the Greenway, behind the Sojourner Truth Neighborhood Center.

–An example of “permeable pavement,” which is just what it sounds like: pavement that allows water to seep through it so it can flow back into the ground instead of spilling off into streets and storm drains.

–The Broad Street pumping station and the open canal that empties into it, recently fenced off for pedestrian safety.

–The “stoplight graveyard” I mentioned in a previous blog post about the Lafitte Greenway (soon to be removed and turned into green space along the trail, says Centanni), where the city piles up broken stoplights and lightbulbs. Don’t the bulbs look like fish eggs?

–The small memorial for David Lee Thompson, who died when attempting to cross a bridge over the canal running alongside the Greenway last December. The bridges have been fenced off to try and prevent people from using them, but they remain in place.

-What?!? Public recycling receptacles in New Orleans?!?!

–Where the Lafitte Greenway passes below Bayou St. John: the spot where the bayou once flowed into the Carondelet Canal, where the top of the “L” met its bottom leg and shot off toward the Quarter. Well…it didn’t exactly shoot, but sort of trickled its way down there—often becoming clogged and impassable, exasperating residents and officials time and time again for decades.

–Sydney Torres’ property, stretching from Jefferson Davis toward Rouses, planned to become a high-end residential and retail space. 

–Some pretty impressive graffiti along the side of a building on Torres’ property.

–A fully-equipped bike repair station (!!!) next to Winn Dixie along the Greenway.

–Where the Greenway ends for the timing being, at N. Alexander Street.

–A pothole full of clam shells that sets me musing about the shells’ possible connection to Indian middens found in the vicinity of Metairie Road….

–And finally, the hike’s final stop at Second Line Brewing! It was a blast to hike the Greenway, learning about the corridor’s many-layered history as we walked along. If I missed anything, reach out and share!

One more thing: you know how I mentioned those hoards of sunscreened folks preparing to set off in Congo Square? Well I was not one of them. As in, I did not wear sunscreen, and ended up with a mega legging calf-burn! Embarrassing, but too funny not to share!


Imagine this: the year is 1730. You’re a 22-year-old clerk for the French Company of the Indies, and you’ve recently been sent from Paris to the new fledgling colony of Louisiana to be a bookkeeper in New Orleans, the colony’s capital. In what’s now the present-day French Quarter, a basic street grid extends a few blocks back from the river, populated by a handful of brick-between-post timber structures shellacked with lime made from crushed oyster shells. Untamed wilderness threatens to overtake the town from all sides. Un-penned pigs wander the streets. The air is thick with mosquitos. Here and there, crumbling ditches have been dug to help with drainage, but still—after a hard rain, the city streets blur into a series of shallow muddy lakes.[1] All around you, colonists are panicking. Violent conflicts between the French and the Natchez tribe upriver have set everyone on edge. At the tavern, talk of the Indians and slaves banding together and murdering colonists in their sleep is all you seem to hear. And yet, it’s Carnival season! And you’ve barely had alickof fun!

In 2004, The Historic New Orleans Collection acquired the unpublished manuscript of one Marc-Antoine Caillot, clerk for the French Company of the Indies, that details his time spent in New Orleans between 1729 and 1731. What resulted is a beautiful collaboration between Erin M. Greenwald, Teri F. Chalmers, and many scholars and researchers calledA Company Man: The Remarkable French-Atlantic Voyage of a Clerk for the Company of the Indies, published by The Historic New Orleans Collection in 2013. For anyone interested in this era of our city’s history, I highly recommend this book. For our purposes today, we’ll focus on the section of the manuscript devoted to a Lundi Gras celebration along the banks of—you guessed it!—our very own Bayou St. John!

Before we get to Lundi Gras, though, Caillot gives us a glimpse of what the area around Bayou St. John might have looked like in 1730: “At three-fourths of a league’s distance on the left you will find a hamlet called Bayou Saint John, where there live five or six inhabitants very rich in livestock.” Greenwald’s footnote explains: “In 1727 the population along Bayou Saint John totaled 121, including forty-one whites, three indentured servants, seventy-three blacks, and four Indian slaves.”[2]Caillot was probably referring to those several landowners that had settled their large concessions along the bayou’s banks in the early years of the 18th century, resulting in a rural “hamlet” consisting of those landowners’ families, servants, and slaves.

Ok, back to the Lundi Gras revelry. Caillot explains: “We were already quite far along in the Carnival season without having had the least bit of fun or entertainment, which made me miss France a great deal…. The next day, which was Lundi Gras, I went to the office, where I found my associates, who were bored to death. I proposed to them that we form a party of maskers and go to Bayou Saint John, where I knew that a lady friend of my friends was marrying off one of her daughters….”

Caillot explains that his associates were like, Oh cool, yeah that sounds fun…it’d be cool to crash the wedding party…but uhhh we don’t have anything to wear! and kind of lost motivation to make it happen. “But, upon seeing that no one wanted to come along, I got up from the table and said that I was going to find some others who would go, and I left.” Caillot couldn’t be deterred. “…I did not delay in assembling a party, composed of my landlord and his wife, who gave me something to wear. When we were ready and just about to leave, we saw someone with a violin come in, and I engaged him to come with us. I was beginning to feel very pleased about my party, when, by another stroke of luck, someone with an oboe, who was looking for the violin, came in where we were, to take the violin player away with him, but it happened the other way around, for, instead of both of them leaving, they stayed. [Doesn’t this sound like just the kind of Carnival fortuitousness we’re used to in modern-day New Orleans?! An impromptu party, and then some guy with a guitar just happens to walk by….] I had them play while waiting for us to get ready to leave. [Oh, we all know this story: the hours and hours it takes for everyone to get out of the house and to the parade!] The gentlemen I had left at the table…came quickly upon hearing the instruments. But, since we had our faces masked, it was impossible for them to recognize us until we took them off. This made them want to mask, too, so that we ended up with eleven in our party. Some were in red clothing, as Amazons, others in clothes trimmed with braid, others as women. As for myself, I was dressed as a shepherdess in white. I had a corset of white dimity, a muslin skirt, a large pannier, right down to the chemise, along with plenty of beauty marks too. [Love the attention to detail. This is what a good Carnival costume requires.] I had my husband, who was the Marquis de Carnival; he had a suit trimmed with gold braid on all the seams. Our postilion went in front, accompanied by eight actual Negro slaves, who each carried a flambeau to light our way. It was nine in the evening when we left.” [3]

On the way to the bayou, presumably along the path occupied by present-day Bayou Road, the travelers came upon several bears, which they scared away with the flambeaux. When they got to the bayou, they sent a slave to go check out the wedding party and see what was going on—as in, are they done with all the boring parts yet? Are they dancing yet or not?

The slave returned with the news that, yes, they had just begun dancing. “Right away, our instruments began playing, the postilion started cracking his whip, and we walked toward the house where the wedding celebration was taking place.” Caillot goes on to describe the wedding party receiving them with excitement, requesting that they join in and dance, and then forcing them to finally remove their masks. Everyone was recognized very quickly, aside from our cross-dressing young friend: “What also made it hard for people to recognize me was that I had shaved very closely that evening and had a number of beauty marks on my face, and even on my breasts, which I had plumped up. [!!!] I was also the one out of all my group who was dressed up the most coquettishly. Thus I had the pleasure of gaining victory over my comrades, and, no matter that I was unmasked, my admirers were unable to resolve themselves to extinguishing their fires, which were lit very hotly, even though in such a short time…”[4]. Our narrator was so sexy and convincing as a lady, the menfolk in the crowd were hard pressed to “extinguish their fires”!

To hear more about the festivities that took place on this 1730 Lundi Gras, and to experience more of Caillot’s adventures, go findA Company Man. And when you go out this Lundi Gras, perhaps you’ll plump your breasts with a little extra gusto—and contemplate, on your way to the parades, some of the ingredients of our city’s founding: the violence, the distribution of power, the bizarre revelry….

1. Lawrence N. Powell, The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012) 66-68.
2. Marc-Antoine Caillot, A Company Man: The Remarkable French-Atlantic Voyage of a Clerk for the Company of the Indies, ed. Erin M. Greenwald, trans. Teri F. Chalmers (New Orleans: The Historic New Orleans Collection, 2013) 82.
3. Caillot, A Company Man, 134-135.Caillot, A Company Man, 135-136.


After a long hiatus, bayou posts are back! I know you’ve been waiting on tenterhooks….

After four months of more general Bayou St. John research, I am about to start focused research for the first chapter of the book—on the bayou’s geomorphic/geographic and Native American history. If anyone has any advice for me—ideas for what to read, who to talk to, etc.—reach out! I get to talk about former Mississippi River pathways, sediment deposits, pirogues, trade routes, slight-but-significant ridges.… CAN’T WAIT.

The past couple weeks, I’ve been on a few bayou adventures.

I biked the almost-100%-completed Lafitte Greenway—a 2.6-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail extending from N. Alexander St., near the base of City Park, to the French Quarter.

New Orleans residents may or may not realize that the Lafitte Greenway follows the path of the former Carondelet Canal, a waterway hand-dug by slaves in the late 18th century, when New Orleans was still under Spanish control, and utilized throughout the 19th century as a commercial conduit between the bayou and the French Quarter. This meant ships laden with goods from settlements north of Lake Pontchartrain or along the Gulf could avoid navigating the Mississippi River altogether and travel through Lake Pontchartrain, down Bayou St. John and into the Carondelet Canal in order to off-load their goods at the rear of the French Quarter.

A vew of the Lafitte Greenway between the bayou and Broad St.

If you ever wondered where old New Orleans stoplights ended up….

The open canal that runs between Broad Street and the bayou, positively gushing as it exits the Broad St. pumping station. Doesn’t it look almost turquoise? Don’t let that fool you. It stinks.

The giant locks at the Broad St. pumping station that control whether water flows up the underground culvert beneath Broad St., or else out to the Orleans outfall canal, via the open canal along the greenway.

There is much more I could (and WILL, in the book) say about the Carondelet Canal. But for now: there is a fabulous (free!) exhibit at the Pitot House on the history of the Carondelet Canal, curated by the Louisiana Landmarks Society, in celebration of the opening of the Lafitte Greenway. So many beautiful old maps and photographs!!! It is both succinct and intensely interesting. I HIGHLY recommend it.

After biking the greenway, I checked out the historic Ossorno House in the Quarter, at 913 Governor Nicholls.

This house was built on the Bayou St. John sometime before 1781 and apparently dismantled and transported, most likely via mule and cart, along Bayou Road to its present location—as were all goods traveling from the bayou to the Quarter before the Carondelet Canal was dug. According to geographic historian Richard Campanella (one of my heroes), in his Geographies of New Orleans: Urban Fabrics Before the Storm, the house is a fine example of a French Creole-style plantation house (although the roof was remodeled sometime in the 1830s)—one of only two plantation-style houses to be found in the French Quarter (the other being Madame John’s Legacy)—which testifies to its rural birth on the bayou. Campanella tells us it’s “the oldest extant structure in the rear of the original city” (106).

I then decided to bike the approximate path of this all-important route along Bayou Road, one of the principal reasons why New Orleans was founded where it was (for access to the river without having to navigate its mouth, as was mentioned above).

In traveling along the (approximate) portage route, one follows Bayou Road, which ends at the crazy, navigationally-nightmarish, odd-angled intersection of Bayou Road, N. Dorgenois, Desoto, Bell, and Kerlerec streets (thank god there’s delicious food right there, at Pagoda Cafe, for the weary, confused traveler) and continues along Bell Street (approximately) to the bayou. The exact location of the original route’s intersection with the bayou was probably somewhere between Bell St. and Desoto (more on this once I continue more in-depth research on the subject).

This terrible panoramic photo (thanks iPhone!) taken from next to Pagoda Cafe, while inaccurate in perspective, I think does justice to the psychological experience of navigating this intersection….

While in this neighborhood, I found…

A historic cornstalk fence at the historic (1870) Dufour-Plassan House.

The approximate general region where Almonaster built a leper hospital in the late 18th century.

An awkward spot where Barracks Street and Bayou Road diverge at a bizarre angle, since Bayou Road does not adhere to the grid plan the rest of the streets in the area adhere to—following, as it does, a natural ridge, the one the Native Americans used to cross the uncrossable swamp between the bayou and what is now the French Quarter.

Finally, I arrived at the bayou itself. Here are a few spots of interest along its banks, a couple of which I was lucky enough to get to go inside of (!!), courtesy of the generous, unsuspecting homeowners I found busying themselves in their front yards.

The house, at 1222 Moss Street, that sits atop what was once a small bayou connecting Bayou St. John and Bayou Sauvage, long since filled in.

What is referred to as “the old Spanish custom house,” although it never officially served as a custom house (there are various theories as to why people refer to it as such). I was lucky enough to get an in-depth tour of the inside of this home (!!!), the owner of which has been painstakingly renovating it for six years. Beneath layers and layers of renovations that have been done over the past two and a half centuries, he has made some amazing discoveries—like anactual iron jail cell, apparently dating from the Spanish colonial period, that the current owner suspects was used to hold folks who were smuggling illegal goods up the bayou, or who perhaps couldn’t pay the toll. ARE YOU KIDDING THAT’S AMAZING.

Below is the plaque that explains a bit more about the house.


Roses that someone had flung into the bayou near the Magnolia Bridge.

And, last but certainly not least, what is perhaps my favorite historic house along the bayou, built in the last decade of the 18th century: “The Sanctuary.” Walter Parker, former mayor of New Orleans, who spearheaded the “beautification” of the bayou in the 1920s and 1930s and who is therefore responsible, in large part, for the bayou as we know it today, once lived in this house. I wasalsolucky enough to be able to see the back courtyard of this home—guarded by a three-hundred-year-old live oak tree that predates the house, and other amazing, old, beautiful things. More on this house, and its many previous owners, to come.


Over the course of the next two years, in time for the New Orleans Tricentennial in 2018, I will be writing a narrative history of the Bayou St. John and its immediate environs (tentatively called Bayou St. John: A Brief History) to be published by The History Press. The History Press has published many local New Orleans authors, like my good friend Benjamin Morris for his book on the history of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and Brian Boyles for his book New Orleans Boom and Blackout: One Hundred Days in America’s Coolest Hotspot.

I feel truly honored to have been given this opportunity to explore a small part of New Orleans’ vibrant history, a history I’ve engaged with extensively in my creative work, over the course of the next couple years. I know I will be meeting and learning from some of the city’s finest researchers, historians, and scholars—not to mention some of its most loyal long-time residents. My job will be to listen closely, to notice patterns, to get elbow-deep in files and archives, and to present it all as concisely and compellingly as possible.

Expect factoids and blog posts, tweets and photos! If you’re a New Orleans resident, and you come across someone or something that might be of relevance, don’t hesitate to reach out! It takes a village, especially for a project like this. I’d love to hear from you.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to the finest small water body in the whole of New Orleans: Bayou St. John!

The bayou flows south from Lake Pontchartrain alongside City Park; it’s like a skinny arm reaching down toward the crescent formed by the curve of the Mississippi, truncating in what could be considered the city’s center, in the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans.

Here I am (the blue dot), at one of the bayou’s little elbows.

The bayou—a recreational hotspot crisscrossed with historic bridges, lined with beautiful houses, host to several annual festivals and celebrations, etc. etc.—has played an important role in the cultural and geographic development of the city from the time of its founding to the present day. Each of the neighborhoods that have grown up around it, in their own way, tell an important piece of the greater narrative of the city’s history. More on all of this to come, of course.

For now, GEESE!

And a tantalizing snippet of info about the portage route stretching from the edge of the bayou to the rear of the French Quarter—a ridge of high ground, back when the city as we know it today was primarily swampland, that proved significant to the founding of the city in its present location.

A view from the historic “Cabrini Bridge,” or Magnolia Bridge, one of New Orleans’ oldest surviving bridges.

And one of the Bayou St. John neighborhood‘s historic houses, about which I hope to be learning more in the coming months.

Thank you for reading. More to come! Research officially begins tomorrow….