The following data is extracted from The Creoles of Louisiana.
The people of New Orleans take pride in Canal Street. It is to the modern town what the Place d'Armes was to the old. Here stretch out in long parade, in variety of height and color, the great retail stores, displaying their silken and fine linen and golden seductions; and the fair Creole and American girls, and the self-depreciating American mothers, and the majestic Creole matrons, all black lace and alabaster, swarm and hum and push in and out and flit here and there among the rich things, and fine things, the novelties and the bargains. Its eighteen-feet sidewalks are loftily roofed from edge to edge by continuous balconies that on gala-days are stayed up with extra scantlings, and yet seem ready to come splintering down under the crowd of parasolled ladies sloping upward on theta from front to back in the fashion of the amphitheatre. Its two distinct granite-paved roadways are each forty feet wide, and the tree-bordered "neutral ground" between measures fifty-four feet across. It was "neutral" when it divided between the French quarter and the American at the time when their "municipality" governments were distinct from each other.
In Canal Street, well-nigh all the street-car lines in town begin and end. The Grand Opera House is here; also, the Art Union. The club-houses glitter here. If Jackson Square has one bronze statue, Canal Street has another, and it is still an open question which is the worst. At the base of Henry Clay's pedestal, the people rally to hear the demagogues in days of political fever, and the tooth-paste orator in nights of financial hypertrophy. Here are the grand reviews. Here the resplendent Mystic Krewe marches by calcium lights on carnival nights up one roadway and down the other, and
"Perfume and flowers fall in showers,
That lightly rain from ladies' hands."
Here is the huge granite custom-house, that "never is, but always to be" finished. Here is a row of stores monumental to the sweet memory of the benevolent old Portuguese Jew whom Newport, Rhode Island, as well as New Orleans, gratefully honors-Judah Touro. Here sit the flower marchandes, making bouquets of jasmines and roses, clove-pinks, violets, and lady-slippers. Here the Creole boys drink mead, and on the balconies above maidens and their valentines sip sherbets in the starlight. Here only, in New Orleans, the American "bar" puts on a partial disguise. Here is the way to West End and to Spanish Fort, little lakeside spots of a diminished Coney Island sort. Here the gay carriage-parties turn northwestward, scurrying away to the races. Yea, here the funeral train breaks into a trot toward the cemeteries of Metairie Ridge. Here is Christ's Church, with its canopied weddings here the ring-politician mounts perpetual guard. Here the gambler seeks whom he may induce to walk around into his parlor in the Rue Royale or St. Charles Street. And here, in short, throng the members of the great New Orleans Creole-American house of "Walker, Doolittle & Co."
One does not need to be the oldest resident to remember when this neutral ground in Canal Street was still a place of tethered horses, roaming goats, and fluttering lines of drying shirts and petticoats. In those days an old mule used to drag his dejected way slowly round and round in an unchanging circle on the shabby grassed avenue, just behind the spot where the statue of Henry Clay was later erected by good Whigs in 1856. An aged and tattered negro was the mule's ringmaster, and an artesian well was the object of his peaceful revolution.
No effort deeply to probe the city's site had ever before been made, nor has there been any later attempt thus to draw up the pre-historic records of the Delta. The alluvial surface deposit is generally two or three feet thick, and rests on a substratum of uniform and tenacious blue clay. The well in Canal Street found this clay fifteen feet deep. Below it lay four feet more of the same clay mixed with woody matter. Under this was a mixture of sand and clay ten feet thick, resembling the annual deposits of the river. Beneath this was found, one after another, continual, irregular alternations of these clay strata, sometimes a foot, sometimes sixty feet thick, and layers of sand and shells and of mixtures of these with clay. Sometimes a stratum of quicksand was passed. At five hundred and eighty-two feet was encountered a layer of hard pan; but throughout no masses of rock were found, only a few water-worn pebbles and some contorted and perforated stones. No abundance of water flowed. Still, in the shabby, goat-haunted neutral ground above, gaped at by the neutral crowd, in the wide, blinding heat of midsummer, the long lever continued to creak round its tremulous circle. At length it stopped. At a depth of six hundred and thirty feet the well was abandoned-for vague reasons left to the custody of tradition; some say the mule died, some say the negro.
Source: The Creoles of Louisiana