Bayou St. John and the Carondelet Canal: Interconnections of History

Robert W. Grafton, View of the Turning Basin. Oil on canvas, 1915-17. 

This exhibit ran from January 6 - March 5, 2016 at the Pitot House.

Louisiana Landmarks Society is pleased to announce the reopening of the exhibit: Bayou St. John and the Carondelet Canal: Interconnections of History, curated by Louis W. McFaul. The rich history of the Bayou St. John area in combination with the newly developed Lafitte Greenway inspired this presentation that is as informative as it is visually engaging. Archival maps and artistic renderings of the bayou and canal system during the past two centuries bring a dynamic narrative to life within an authentic setting along Bayou St. John.

Many of the images used come courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection, the New Orleans Public Library, and the New Orleans Notorial Archives. 


Introduction to the exhibit, by Louis W. McFaul:

When Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, was choosing where to locate New Orleans, he recognized that Bayou St. John offered an advantage for importing goods into the fledgling city from settlements along the Gulf Coast and areas to be settled north of Lake Pontchartrain. The route to market was shorter going through the Rigolets or across the lake and into the bayou rather than sailing out into the Gulf and then up 90 miles on the Mississippi River.


The problem with the bayou route was that goods needed to be unloaded from boats into wagons for a rough two-mile trek on Old Bayou Road. That road was built upon the Chitimacha tribe's canoe portage. Seeing this difficulty, in 1794 Governor Carondelet began building a canal that would allow shallow-draft ships direct access into the back of the city.


James Pitot, for whom the Pitot House is named, was President of the New Orleans Navigation Company, which was granted the right to operate the canal in 1805 and render tolls for its maintenance.


This exhibit outlines how a natural bayou and colonial canal interconnected, and how this waterway changed usages over time. In addition to water and then rail transportation, the canal and bayou were important to drainage, for military logistics, and also water-based recreation.


Along the banks of the bayou and canal industries flourished and residential growth followed. Leisure activities such as parks and "Pleasure Gardens" benefitted from the waterfront setting. The picturesque end point of the canal, called the "Turning Basin,"  gave Basin Street its name, and was often a favorite subject of early photographs and paintings. The street fronting along the canal was named "Carondelet Walk," later called "Lafitte Street."


This exhibit, in reviewing history, celebrates the future and the opening of the Lafitte Greenway, a long-awaited project that brings new life to the footprint of the Carondelet Canal in the heart of this unique city.