Bayou Road: the Beginning

NEW ORLEANS -- Bayou Road was the portage that Native Americans and French settlers used to carry supplies from Bayou St. John to the Mississippi River. The road still exists today, though with a few name changes.

According to geographer Richard Campanella from the Tulane School of Architecture, Bayou Road is the reason the French chose to build New Orleans at the site of the French Quarter. The existence of the portage gave settlers access to the Mississippi River by entering Lake Pontchartrain from the Gulf Coast, sailing up Bayou St. John, and walking about two miles to the river.

The partial land route to the river was better than relying only on sailing up the Mississippi.

"When the river is low, you have shoaling and sandbars at the mouth," says Campanella. "If your ship gets stuck on the sandbars, you have to wait until the river rises."

Campanella says Bayou Road was formed by an early version of the Mississippi River as it meandered through the 6th and 7th Wards.

"Starting 4,300 years ago, the Mississippi River actually flowed down what is now Metairie Road, City Park Avenue, Gentilly Blvd. and straight east," says Campanella. An offshoot of the river created the natural levee that formed the neighborhood of Esplanade Ridge and kept Bayou Road a dry route during high water.

In the video in this article, Campanella explains more about the formation of Bayou Road and why it was the preferred route or Native Americans and Settlers alike.