Flush Times, First Street Pavement
The following data is extracted from The Creoles of Louisiana.
It was a red-letter year. The first street pavement of large, square granite blocks was laid. Wharf building set in strongly. The wires of the electro-magnetic telegraph drew the city into closer connection with civilization. The mind of the financier was aroused, and he turned his eye toward railroads. The "Tehuantepec route" received its first decided impulse. Mexican grants were bought; surveys were procured; much effort was made-and lost. The Mexican Government was too unstable and too fickle to be bargained with. But in 1851, meantime, two great improvements were actually set on foot; to wit, the two railways that eventually united the city with the great central system of the Union in the Mississippi-Ohio galley, and with the vast Southwest, Mexico, and California. These two works moved slowly, but by 1855 and 1857 the railway trains were slamming out across the flowery prairies tremblantes eighty miles westward toward Texas, and the same distance northward toward the centre of the continent. In 1852, Lafayette and the municipalities were consolidated into one city government. Sixteen years of subdivision under separate municipal councils, and similar expensive and obstructive nonsense, had taught Creole, American, and immigrant the value of unity and of the American principles of growth better than unity could have done it. Algiers, a suburb of machine shops and nautical repair yards, began to grow conspicuous on the farther side of the river.
The consolidation was a great step. The American quarter became the centre and core of the whole city. Its new and excessively classic marble municipality Ball became the city hall. Its public grounds became the chosen rendezvous of all popular assemblies. All the great trades sought domicile in its streets; and the St. Charles, at whose memorable burning, in 1850, the people wept, being restored in 1852-53, made final eclipse of the old St. Louis.
A small steel-engraved picture of New Orleans, made just before this period, is obviously the inspiration of the commercial and self-important American. The ancient plaza, the cathedral, the old hall of the cabildo, the calaboza, the old Spanish barracks, the emptied convent of the Ursulines, the antiquated and decayed Rue Toulouse, the still quietly busy Chartres and Old Levee Streets-all that was time-honored and venerable, are pushed out of view, and the lately humble Faubourg Ste. Marie fills the picture almost from side to side. Long ranks of huge, lofty-chimneyed Mississippi steamers smoke at the levee; and high above the deep and solid phalanxes of brick and stone rise the majestic dome of the first St. Charles and the stately tower of St. Patrick's Church, queen and bishop of the board.
But the ancient landmarks trembled to a worse fate than being left out of a picture. Renovation came in. In 1850, the cathedral was torn down to its foundations, and began to rise again with all of its Spanish picturesqueness lost and little or nothing gained in beauty. On its right and left absurd French roofs were clapped upon the cabildo and the court-house. Old Don Andreas's daughter, the Baroness Pontalba, replaced the quaint tile-roofed store buildings that her father had built on either side of the square with large, new rows of red brick. The city laid out the Place d'Armes, once her grassy play-ground, in blinding white-shell walks, trimmed shrubbery, and dusty flower-beds, and later, in 1855, placed in its centre the bronze equestrian figure of the deliverer of New Orleans, and called the classic spot Jackson Square. Yet, even so, it remains to the present the last lurking-place of the romance of primitive New Orleans.
It was not a time to look: for very good taste. All thoughts were led away by the golden charms of commerce. In 1851, the value of receipts from the interior was nearly $107,000,000. The mint coined $10,000,000, mostly the product of California's new-found treasure-fields. The year 1853 brought still greater increase. Of cotton alone, there came sixty-eight and a quarter million dollars' worth. The sugar crop was tens of thousands of hogsheads larger than ever before. Over a tenth of all the arrivals from sea were of steamships. There was another inflation. Leaving out the immense unascertained amounts of shipments into the interior, the city's business, in 1856, rose to two hundred and seventy-one and a quarter millions. In 1857 it was three hundred and two millions. In this year came a crash, which the whole country felt. New Orleans felt it rather less than other cities, and quickly recovered.
We pause at 1860. In that year New Orleans rose to a prouder commercial exaltation than she had ever before enjoyed, and at its close began that sudden and swift descent which is not the least pathetic episode of our unfortunate civil war. In that year, the city that a hundred and forty years before had consisted of a hundred bark and palmetto-thatched huts in a noisome swamp counted, as the fraction of its commerce comprised in its exports, imports, and domestic receipts, the value of three hundred and twenty-four million dollars.
Source: The Creoles of Louisiana