NOLA 300: Old Algiers is getting ready for its own tricentennial

NEW ORLEANS -- While the city of New Orleans celebrates its tricentennial year, just across the river, its West Bank neighborhood is getting ready for its own 300-year celebration.

"Algiers was founded in 1719 by the French, who were settling New Orleans in 1718," says Donald Costello, president of the Algiers Historical Society. "So, one year later. And, it's the second oldest neighborhood in New Orleans."

Old Algiers, now known as Algiers Point, was the site of the French military's powder magazine, the landfill, and a slaughterhouse. It was also an important source of food from its farms and a bustling maritime industry.

"Anything to do with maritime purposes like ship repair and dry docks -- people in the governing authority on the East Bank of Orleans Parish did not want it on their side of the river," says Costello.

But, Algiers wasn't always a part of the city of New Orleans -- not until it was forced to be.

"The people of the East Bank, meaning the politicians, saw the flourishing, large railroad yard for the Southern Pacific Railroad, as well as the maritime industry, the shipbuilding, and all the farming that was done. And they said, 'There's a lot of commerce over there. It should be part of New Orleans,'" says Costello.

New Orleans annexed Algiers in 1870, ending about 20 years of its independence as an incorporated entity governed by a police jury.

"People still consider that a bad move, that Algiers should be its own city, or at least have its own councilman on the city council," adds Costello.

Take a trip over the Crescent City Connection today and you can see the legacy left by those early Algiers residents. Of course, they would have taken the ferry.

"In 1827, the first officially licensed-by-the-state ferry started operating between Canal Street and Algiers Point," says Costello.

When ferry riders disembark, they are greeted with one of the iconic structures in Algiers, the courthouse, which was originally the site of the Barthelemy Duverje Plantation home, until it burned down in the Great Algiers Fire in October 1895.

"Even by January, the city engineers had drawn up the plans for the new Algiers Courthouse, which is still at the same address, 225 Morgan Street," says Costello. "That is the third oldest operating courthouse in Louisiana."

Algiers has changed a lot in its 299 years. But, Costello says it has maintained a small-city feel.

"Well, we call it the Mayberry of New Orleans," he says. "It is the charm. It is the slow pace. You can walk your dog. Everybody knows everybody else."