Outing Number One – City Park, Bayou St. John, and back along Esplanade

This is the first of three self-guided walking tours of New Orleans developed by Susan Tucker for the CoSA/SAA 2013 local host blog. I’m thrilled Susan has written up these self-guided tours for the blog. To do these tours, I recommend grabbing a neighborhood street map, or a fully-charged smartphone with a good maps app. As New Orleans is a big city, please use common sense safety measures when exploring neighborhoods. The following two tours will appear over the next two weeks.

According to Susan, these are “three adventures that take into consideration both the beauty of vernacular architecture and the August heat in New Orleans.” Susan Tucker is Curator of Books and Records at the Newcomb College Institute, Tulane University.  She is the author and editor of a number of books on women, material culture, and archives. -Eira Tansey, local host blogger

Outing Number One – City Park, Bayou St. John, and back along Esplanade

The entire outing here (streetcar and bus ride and walk) is for the truly heat tolerant folks, however, you can modify by shortening or returning by streetcar, bus, or taxi for a part of this trip. I use United Cab (504 522 9771).  In the descriptions, I have also suggested places to take the bus back before the end of the trip.

From the streetcar stop, by Harrah’s casino (only one block from the Hilton), take the streetcar marked City Park/Museum.  You will ask the driver to let you off just before the end of the run, near a street called Sherwood Forest. This is such an odd name for a New Orleans street, but it is a very small street and typically New Orleans in the way it accommodates a lot of small lots and a mix of small and middle-sized homes. The street dates from the 1920s, as well, and thus shows the movement of the city outward.  Take Sherwood Forest (a three-minute walk) to City Park Avenue. Take a right here and cross Carrollton where you have just come from streetcar.  You are in the Faubourg St. John neighborhood now.

Continue across the street onto Moss Street and follow the curve of the bayou to the Magnolia Bridge (1850). From this vantage point you can see the dome of Holy Rosary Church (1907) and the Pitot House (1799). If you are getting too hot, cross the bridge here.  The Pitot house is a typical Creole country home and is open to the public. Once the home to an early New Orleans mayor, it is worth a stop.

However, you can also just pause and consider that bayou was the entrance to the city for many people over centuries. The Native Americans called it Bayouk Choupik. The first European trappers used it to come sell their goods and later the French used it to connect the city to Lake Pontchartrain.  A canal used to connect the bayou with the river.  The Bayou has not been navigable since the 1930s except to very small boats.

Look closely here at the other older homes on the left side of the Bayou as you walk back towards the city. If you have not crossed at the bridge, continue along and cross at Dumaine Street (going around a curve) and ultimately doing a U-turn back towards Grand Route St. John (about three streets ahead, where the Bayou curves, but on the other side). This is the place where colonial travelers began their foot journey into the city along a sliver of high ground called the Esplanade Ridge.  This is still high ground and did not flood in 2005.

The houses here date from the early nineteenth century to the 1940s, but as on Sherwood Forest, show the variety of New Orleans housing: there are large two story homes, as well as little shotguns, a number of double shotguns, and a bungalow or two. Proceed along this street until you come to Esplanade Avenue and a series of little shops and restaurants.

At this corner of Esplanade and Grand Route St. John, if you would like a journey to see the New Orleans propensity to both preserve and build, take a left and go down two streets to Verna Street. Take a right on Verna and soon you will see the decrepit but outstanding Luling mansion (1865), half ornate, half-twentieth century mistakes. You will like the balustrades and the (again) small houses surrounding it. In the distance at the end of the street is the back of the New Orleans Fairgrounds, where horses race and where the Jazz Fest is held each spring.

Better not to follow the small streets, though they are wonderful, but head back to Esplanade. Here after getting something cool in a café or restaurant, hop on the Esplanade bus. You will pass lovely larger homes, notably both on your right just past Broad Street (the first big intersection): Le Musée de Free People of Color (yes, again mingling English and French) at 2336 and the Degas House at 2306 (built in 1854, the home for many years of the Musson family where Degas visited his uncle and aunt and painted a number of well-remembered works).  If you want to stop at these houses, check online ahead of time and set up an appointment.  Otherwise, take the bus, all the way to Rampart Street, where it will turn right.  You are now at the back of the French Quarter and here you might want to get a taxi, or meander only a few blocks before stopping for other refreshments.  You can cut a line in a sort of diagonal across the French Quarter, staying under the galleries (the balconies offering shade) to the river and almost to the Hilton.

There are many architectural wonders, however, on this section of Esplanade itself, where the most prosperous of the Creoles and the people New Orleanians called the Foreign French built their homes especially in the nineteenth centuries. So, you can also walk along Esplanade to the river and come into the French Quarter at Decatur Street and the French Market (just behind the Mint).  Online see various walks as set out by Frommers or by looking in Google books for New Orleans Architecture: The Esplanade Ridge, co-authored by one of New Orleans archivists, Sally Reeves.

You may want to stop at the Mint and see the exhibit celebrating 50 years of Preservation Hall and Jazz in the city. See more information on this exhibit in Outing Number Two in this blog.  You can also, just behind the Mint, go into the big entrance at the river, a brick fence, just adjacent to where you will see a parking lot exit, the last stop on the red Riverfront streetcar. Take the streetcar back to the hotel here.