Historic Photo: Busy New Orleans waterfront, about 1900.

new orleans 1900

It’s time for another look into the past in the Historic Photo series! My passion for urban landscapes of history is evident once again. This is a view of the waterfront at New Orleans, Louisiana, at the foot of Canal Street looking down the Mississippi River. It’s not entirely certain when this picture was taken, but the copyright date (long expired) by Detroit Photographic Company is 1900 and it certainly looks to be about that time. The riverboat is a dead giveaway as to where we are. I’m not sure what the sacks that are stacked up in the middle ground contain–corn or grain of some type, perhaps?–but my guess is that the barrels in the foreground contain molasses. Contrary to what you might assume from a Southern port at this time, I don’t see obvious evidence of cotton being traded here. Cotton was typically shipped in large wrapped bales that look different than this.

Note that most of the people you see in this shot–stevedores, probably–are African-Americans. Louisiana, like most states of the Old South, had virtually a slave economy in 1900, thanks to the Jim Crow laws that sought to reimpose slavery in everything but name.

I lived in New Orleans for three years during the 1990s. Beyond being able to tell (mostly from the riverboat and the size of the port) that this was New Orleans, there is virtually nothing recognizable in this picture from what I recall. I believe this area is now the home of the Convention Center and the Riverwalk.

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