The history of the French Quarter is a remarkable example of how an area was able to transform itself through centuries of turbulence and change. It is so called because it was founded by the French. However, it has become the home of various cultures.
The city was founded in 1718 by Jean Bienville, a French naval official. Even at this early stage it would be recognized as a melting pot of cultures. The influence of the French would be apparent in the construction of churches and schools bearing French names.
The Ursuline Convent, Royal and Bourbon Street were established. It was also noted for its Creole culture and its feasts, notably Mardi Gras. The history of the French Quarter is also noteworthy for its mix of blacks and whites.
Under Spanish Rule
1762 saw the Louisiana territory sold to Charles III of Spain. The area would fall under Spanish rule for several years. The period was not without conflict or revolutions, but there were other positive developments. To this day, Spanish architecture like brick houses, balconies and gardens can be seen. More importantly, a strong civil law was established.
In 1803 Louisiana was sold to the expanding United States. Under American rule, the city would prosper like never before in the history of the French Quarter. As immigrants poured in, various businesses were set up. Production of materials like cotton and sugar increased. The harmonious mix of races, culture and culinary dishes became more widespread. French, African, German and Spanish elements were mixed.
From the Civil War to the 1920s
The territory was affected by the Civil War as much as the other states. For a few years the city suffered a decline. However it started to make a recovery by the late 1890s.
A big reason why the city was able to recover had to do with the birth of jazz. Storyville would become the breeding ground for legends like Louie Armstrong, King Oliver and Nick LaRocca among others.
By the Roaring 20s, the area was once again the cynosure of culture and the arts. The history of the French Quarter would bear witness to the presence of great artists. Among them were Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner and Sherwood Anderson.
1930s to the Present
From the 1930s to the 60s, the area started assuming the form people recognize today. Jazz became synonymous with Bourbon Street, as the antiquities would over at Royal Street.
Some of the most historic spots there are the Preservation Hall in Bourbon Street, the Old French Market at Decatur Street and Woldenberg Park. There is also Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral, one of the oldest structures in the city. Even with the onset of other forms of popular music in the 60s, jazz continued to ride high. The other cultural landmarks also draw in tourists.
Today, millions of people come to New Orleans to view the sights and listen to the sounds. But given the history of the French Quarter, it’s no surprise that it continues to be the soul of the city.