Sunday, December 28, 2008

New Orleans 1885: The City.....

In 1885 New Orleans was the largest city in the south, having a population of approximately 225,000 residents. In preparation for the exposition, and the large number of visitors expected, the city established an accommodations bureau which would locate and provide lodgings for up to 50,000 persons. Rates for hotels and boarding-houses were to be from $1.00 to $3.00 per day, depending on the type of accommodations required. Unfortunately, the prices advertised did not hold true, with some hotels demanding rates upwards of $12.00 per day. This greediness caused outrage among persons who planned to visit the exposition, and caused many to cancel their travel plans. In addition, many railroads also demanded exorbitant rates for travel to New Orleans during the exposition period. Eventually special "excursion rates" were made available to travelers, but even those rates were still much higher than normal, and directly affected exposition attendance. Transportation within the city was slightly better, with New Orleans containing 650-miles of streets, of which 150-miles were served by economical streetcar lines. Many of the roadways in New Orleans were still unpaved in 1885, which turned them into mud-filled bogs during heavy rains. Several of the major thoroughfares were paved with cobblestones, and some with a new paving material known as asphalt. The city's commerce centered around the levees, where the Mississippi River allowed for economical transportation of numerous goods, of which cotton, sugar, and rice were the major exports. Levee workers, known as stevedores, quickly loaded and unloaded the large number of commercial steamboats and ships that docked at New Orleans. Industry abounded in the city, and the wharves were usually piled high with cotton bales, barrels of sugar, and many other goods bound for domestic and foreign ports. Canal Street formed the main business district of New Orleans, and separated the older and newer sections of the city. In the older part of town was located the Vieux Carré, or French Quarter, where the majority of the city's Italian immigrants resided. Many of these immigrants worked in the old French Market, and sold numerous varieties of fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, spices, and other staples from around the world. Facing tropical-landscaped Jackson Square was located the venerable old St. Louis Cathedral, flanked by the Presbytere and the famous Cabildo, where the Louisiana Purchase was signed in 1803. The cobble-stoned and unpaved streets in the area passed numerous old and historic structures, of which the majority were in various states of dilapidation. Nearby were located several of the city's oldest cemeteries with their unusual above-ground burial vaults, necessitated by the high water-table of New Orleans. On the upriver side of Canal Street, beyond the business district, was located the area known as Uptown. Numerous pre-Civil War townhouses, and newer homes of the city's elite, lined many of the streets leading toward the exposition grounds. Fresh water was a precious commodity, even in the wealthier areas, and large cisterns caught rain-water channeled from the roofs of homes. The majority of streets in New Orleans contained open-drains, located at the curbs, where water and various forms of sewage flowed toward Lake Pontchartrain, located at the opposite side of the city. The lack of adequate drainage caused numerous health issues, especially during the annual warm and humid periods, and yellow fever epidemics remained a constant threat to the inhabitants of New Orleans.

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