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New Orleans History

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New Orleans may be the most written about of all American cities. Yet, very few serious studies have been made that haven't fallen into either the "moonlight and magnolia" romantic view or become stridently critical, perhaps baffled at a place which constantly confounds preconceptions. Tropical in climate, lush in setting, exotic in architecture, sensual, if not hedonistic, in atmosphere, New Orleans is a worldly, yet bustling seaport whose very name evokes romance and myths. No wonder, then, that most writers perpetuate old myths, create new ones, or at the least get lost in the intellectual and critical miasma that is as natural to New Orleans as the fogs of the swamps and lakes that surround it. It is the intent of this book to penetrate the myths, fable and romance that have so often obscured the true uniqueness of New Orleans--that it is a city where no city, in fact, should be and has been a remarkably successful city for a very long period of time. To do so, we shall examine the peculiar geographical, geological, political, social, and economic conditions that determined New Orleans' founding and growth.

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Chapter One

All cities' destinies are largely determined by geography and geology, but New Orleans' more so than most. It would, in fact, be impossible to understand the history and economic development of New Orleans without some knowledge of its unique situation and site. For, New Orleans' economic fate--indeed, its raison d'etre--as well as the pattern of its internal physical growth have been shaped by the Mississippi River. From its beginnings, New Orleans has been a city wed to river and ocean; an almost natural dock for the transshipment of goods.

Table of Contents

Situation and Site

Pierce Lewis, perhaps its most knowledgeable scholar, describes New Orleans as the "inevitable city on an impossible site." His reasons for saying so were as obvious to early explorers as to modern geographers and geologists. A glance at the map of North America reveals that the continent's interior is drained by a single river system--the Mississippi. From the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Rockies to the Appalachians, the Mississippi with its vast network of tributaries, particularly the Ohio and Missouri Rivers, provides a natural waterway system for moving people and goods across the midcontinent of North America and down the Mississippi to its outlet on the Gulf.



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