How 9 New Orleans Neighborhoods Got Their Names

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iStock

One of the most historic cities in the U.S., New Orleans dazzles with its ornate cathedrals, lush gardens, and neighborhoods that seem to melt into one another—so much so that it can be hard to know where exactly you are. But whether you find yourself in the Gentilly or the French Quarter, one thing’s for sure: The area’s bound to have a rich, compelling story to tell.

1. BYWATER

Known for its colorful Spanish and French architecture, Bywater encompasses—but is not limited to—much of the Bywater Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This area has gone through a few different nicknames—it was first Faubourg Washington (faubourg being an old French term meaning something like suburb) and later Little Saxony, for its sizable population of German immigrants. But in the 1940s, when the telephone company gave each area a unique code name for the rotary phone dial (to help make phone numbers easier to remember), they went with BYwater for this neighborhood, due to its close proximity to the Mississippi River. Later, the code was changed to WHitehall, but it was too late by then: Bywater had caught on for good. Today, it’s also part of what’s affectionately known as “the Sliver by the River,” referring to the area along the water that saw no flooding during Hurricane Katrina, thanks to its slightly higher elevation compared to the rest of New Orleans.

2. PIGEON TOWN

Located in the 17th Ward, Pigeon Town is a working-class nabe known for its concentration of musicians and artists. It’s also sometimes called Pension Town, usually by newcomers to the area, and there’s been great debate over which name came first and is therefore correct. In 2015, The Times-Picayune tried to get to the root of the matter, finding local histories explaining the origins of both names. They found that Pension Town may date to late 19th-century wars and returning soldiers buying land with their army pensions, while Pigeon Town could be a reference to immigrants who once populated the area and spoke in “pidgin” English. Meanwhile, the city officially calls the region Leonidas, for the street running through its center, and it’s also called West Carrollton—as it once comprised about half of the town of Carrollton before it was incorporated into New Orleans. Pigeon Town or Pension Town are still the most common names you’ll heard these days, though, and locals often sidestep the whole issue by just calling it “P-Town.”

3. VIEUX CARRÉ

The balconies of the French Quarter decked out for Mardi Gras
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The oldest part of the city, Vieux Carré is perhaps better known as the French Quarter, and it literally translates to “old square” in French. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this was the site of the original central plaza built by the French settlers in the early 1700s. Most of the neighborhood’s current buildings, however, were constructed by the Spanish during their rule of New Orleans in the later 1700s—and this is partially because the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788 wiped out most of the French buildings. Buildings in the Vieux Carré are particularly known for the lacy, elaborate ironwork found on their signature “galleries” (a wider version of a balcony, supported by columns). The Vieux Carré is also the name of a classic cocktail from the 1930s—rye whiskey, cognac, vermouth, Benedictine, and two kinds of bitters—which was coined in the area’s own Hotel Monteleone.

4. LITTLE WOODS

This one isn’t too strange if you look at its original name, Petit Bois: It’s a direct translation of Little Woods. What’s perhaps more of a mystery is the fact that there were no forests growing in this area when it was first developed by the French. The "Little Woods" they were referring to was, in fact, the swamp vegetation on Lake Pontchartrain, which the neighborhood faces. Close enough.

5. ST. ROCH

The entrance to St. Roch cemetery
Bess Lovejoy

A subdivision of Bywater, St. Roch was known as Faubourg Franklin for its first century or so. But in the mid-19th century, a yellow fever epidemic hit the city of New Orleans, whereupon German priest Peter Leonard Thevis vowed to St. Roch, the patron saint of good health, to build a chapel in the area dedicated to him if no one in the parish died of the disease. The saint apparently provided, because Thevis built the chapel, along with a shrine and cemetery, both of which shortly became New Orleans landmarks. The neighborhood has been called St. Roch ever since.

6. TREMÉ

Although Claude Tremé only owned land in the area for a short time—and his wife was actually the one who inherited most of it—he’s somehow managed to be the lasting namesake of a neighborhood that has really gone through some nicknames. It was first called Place de Nègres, after the main plaza where slaves would gather to dance and play music. This name—both the plaza and the neighborhood—was later updated to Congo Square. In the late 19th century, the city of New Orleans renamed it Beauregard Square, after Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, but people ignored that and kept calling it Congo Square. Then the area was called Back of Town for many years, for its location away from both Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi and at the “back” of the French Quarter. In the ’70s, the city created Louis Armstrong Park and christened an open space within it “Congo Square,” in a callback to the area’s history. Today, its official name is actually Tremé-Lafitte, since it’s incorporated the Lafitte Projects. According to “The King of Tremé,” drummer Shannon Powell, the name “Tremé” has only been in use to refer to this area as of the 21st century. “We always called this neighborhood part of the 6th Ward. Local people called it that. No one local called the Tremé Tremé.”

7. ALGIERS

There are two main theories behind the name of this neighborhood that’s also known as the 15th Ward. One is that its location was so far-flung that the French settlers compared the distance between it and the rest of the city to the distance between France and Algeria. The other is that a soldier who had fought in Algeria said that the neighborhood looked similar to the north African landscape he’d recently returned from when viewed from a ship. Neither of these tales have been proven, however.

8. GENTILLY

Gentilly is a corruption of the word chantilly, but it’s not the lace that this neighborhood is named for. Instead, it’s the town of Chantilly, located just outside of Paris, for which the lace is also named—and more specifically, it was the town's grand Château de Chantilly that the French settlers had in mind when they developed this area just outside of New Orleans. It’s said that the G was swapped in because “French tongues have a hard time with something starting with ‘Ch.’”

9. METAIRIE

A footbridge over Lafreniere Park in Metairie
A footbridge over Lafreniere Park in Metairie
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Although it abuts the city limits to the west and is technically not a part of New Orleans, Metairie isn’t a separate city either, only an unincorporated “census-designated place,” so we’re counting it. The community got its name from four French brothers, the Chauvins, who owned thousands of acres in Jefferson Parish in the 1720s, which they split up to employ sharecroppers who paid their rent in produce. The French word for such a tenant farm is—voilà—métairie.

The History Behind 7 New York City Street Names

deberarr/istock via getty images
deberarr/istock via getty images

Modern life means constantly rushing to get places, especially in New York. Whether it’s the daily grind to get to work or the rush to hit happy hour, residents are probably concentrating more on getting somewhere than carefully considering the details of their surroundings.

But next time you're in New York—or if you're a resident already—try looking up from your phone to take a peek at the street names above you. Along with your more common numbered designations and things like "Park Avenue," you’ll notice the city has some pretty strange denominations. Here are seven of the more eye-catching, and the brief history behind their names.

1. Asser Levy Place

Tucked between the generically named 23rd and 25th streets, Asser Levy Place stands out like a sore thumb. Located not far from Stuyvesant Town, this unassuming street bears the name for a pretty prominent historical figure.

Said to have been born in what is now Poland and Lithuania, Asser Levy was one of the first Jewish settlers to land in the predominantly Dutch New Amsterdam. The governor at the time, Peter Stuyvesant, was “violently opposed” to the freshly emigrated Jewish community, unhappy at the fact that they were now allowed to trade and reside within the area [PDF]. Levy was not only the first kosher butcher in the land but also the first Jew to gain rights of citizenship in the country. Additionally, Levy donated funds to help New York fight the British Crown, and eventually took up arms against the British himself.

2. Maiden Lane

The history behind Maiden Lane’s designation is just as picturesque as it sounds. Known to Dutch settlers as Maagde Paatje (or “maiden path”), this portion of land once ran alongside a brook where women and girls would wash clothing. There are darker associations with the area too, though: Maiden Lane also saw a brutal slave revolt in 1712.

Today the street is one of many centers of commerce for the city, although the concrete still holds remnants of the city’s more ornate past. Passersby can take a look at the Barthman Clock, a 19th-century timepiece embedded into the intersection of Maiden Lane and Broadway.

3. Mott Street

Located primarily in the heart of Chinatown, Mott Street’s modern associations aren’t the most flattering. Once the site of multiple crime scenes and illegal activities, the street has garnered a somewhat seedy reputation over time.

But before it became affiliated with the seedy underbelly, Mott Street had patriotic associations. Joseph Mott, the street’s namesake, owned a tavern used as headquarters for General George Washington in 1775. His descendants proved dedicated to equally worthy causes, with Dr. Valentine Mott rising to prominence as one of America’s most influential surgeons.

4. Pearl Street

Before the concrete jungle fully took over, the streets of New York were dominated by oysters. Due to their bountiful number, the shells of shucked clams would pile up into what archaeologists call middens—large piles of domestic waste that have survived the centuries. One particularly large heap was located on the modern-day Pearl Street, giving rise to the mollusk-related moniker. Oddly, however, these oysters were not the pearl-producing kind—although they dominated a good portion of the New York market for quite some time.

5. Minetta Lane

Speaking of water-related items, did you know a once-babbling creek was paved over by one of the city’s more famous streets? That’s right: Known to the Dutch as Mintje Kill or “small stream,” Minetta Brook was “[a] brisk little brook full of trout,” according to one 19th century source, that was covered by the city’s expansion around the 1820s. It was also where a community of “half free” African Americans resided in the 17th century—former enslaved people that were allowed to live on the land by paying annual fees.

6. MacDougal Street

MacDougal Street is known for its vibrant nightlife and for hosting the early days of Bob Dylan’s career. But it also holds claim to a not-so-well-known spelling error.

The street was named for one Alexander Mcdougall, a Scotsman who emigrated to what would become the United States as a child in 1740 and settled in New York. Mcdougall made a name for himself in the mercantile trade and shipping business and was an early defender of American independence. He openly voiced his opinions against British rule, and was even imprisoned for passing out revolutionary pamphlets. His colorful life saw him commissioned as a colonel in the First New York Infantry during the Revolutionary War, become a member of the Continental Congress, and rise as the first president of the Bank of New York. However, how or why the second L in his name was dropped in the naming of the street remains a mystery.

7. Margaret Corbin Drive

Located at the city’s far northern tip, Margaret Corbin Drive is named for a young Pennsylvanian woman whose tough life molded her into a tougher lady. Her childhood saw the death of her father by Native Americans and her mother’s capture soon after; years later, the British killed her husband during the Battle of Fort Washington. Margaret, who was standing by his side at the time, quickly took his place in the conflict by handling his cannon—receiving several bullets as a result.

The U.S. government recognized her bravery by providing her disability compensation (as well as rum and whiskey rations) for many years. Although sometimes remembered as a “haughty and disagreeable eccentric,” the affectionately called “Captain Molly” is forever memorialized by the street running along the site where her brave acts took place.

Denver's Tiny Home Village Helps Residents Transition Out of Homelessness

iStock.com/Stefan Tomic
iStock.com/Stefan Tomic

In an effort to help the homeless population in its city, the Denver City Council has approved a plan to relocate a village made up of low-cost tiny homes.

According to Denver news outlet KDVR, the homes were unanimously approved for placement in the Globeville neighborhood of the city. Each of the 20 temporary structures will be able to house two residents looking to transition out of homelessness. The tiny home village will include a communal kitchen and two portable toilets, which will eventually be replaced by permanent bathrooms. The land used will be leased by the city to a nonprofit for just $10 a year.

The tiny home village was forced to move from its original location due to plans for redevelopment on the site. The new location has been met with some skepticism by Globeville neighbors, who expressed concern about criminal activity and complained during council meetings that they weren’t consulted on the decision.

To help offset concerns, the Colorado Village Collaborative, the village's organizer, has agreed to exclude sex offenders from the housing and will set up a telephone hotline for residents who have complaints. Occupants will be expected to clear the area of snow, maintain the premises, and open their doors to city inspectors.

Concentrated areas made up of tiny homes have taken hold as a potential alternative to homeless shelters in recent years, with tiny home villages popping up in cities like Seattle, Kansas City, Austin, and Detroit. Of the 19 residents who lived in Denver’s current tiny home location, five went on to permanent housing.

[h/t KDVR]

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