Today in New Orleans History

May 17

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Jean Louis Allard Dies
May 17, 1847 


Five years after New Orleans was founded, the land which would be City Park was deeded to Francisco Hery in a 1723 French colonial concession. Some fifty years later, during Spanish rule, his widow sold the property to Don Santiago Loreins who would leave it to his daughter and son-in-law, Jean Louis Allard (born in 1777). The 1819 Spanish map above shows Allard's land (left of center), Bayou St. John (“Gran Bayu de sn Juan”), Bayou Metairie (“Arroyo de la Alqueria”), and Metairie Road (“Camino de la Alqueria”). Below iit s a modern map showing approximately the same area (Metairie Road, in this section has been renamed City Park Avenue).


Almost a century and a half ago Charles Gayarré wrote in his 1867 History of Louisiana, “On the bank of Bayou, or river St. John, on the land known in our days as Allard's plantation, and on the very site where now stands the large and airy house which we see [shown here], there was a small village of friendly Indians. From the bank opposite the village, beginning where at a much later period was to be erected the bridge which spans the Bayou, a winding path made by the Indians, and subsequently enlarged into Bayou Road by the European settlers, ran through a thick forest, and connected the Indian village with the French settlement of New Orleans”. Pictured is Julius Robert Hoening's 1898 painting by titled Plantation and Oak Tree (Allard Plantation). The house fronted Bayou St. John near Bayou Metairie. The 1910 photo on the following page offers a similar vantage point. The property was used primarily as a dairy farm. (Photo from the Ogden Museum of Southern Art)

Louis Allard was educted in France and returned home in 1798. On January 19, 1798, at the age of 21,  he was appointed syndic (a Spanish term for a representative) of Bayou St. John by Spanish Governor Gayoso.  When the French regained control of the city, Allard was named to the Municipal Court by Governor Laussat.  His duties included inspecting Charity Hospital, serving on the board of health regulating bakeries, and regulating roads and levees in the district of Metairie, Bayou St. John, and Gentilly. In 1806, he was a captain in the militia of the Territory of Orleans.  Allard was also a state representative for the Parish of Orleans from 1824-1826 and in 1831-1832.  He was anti-Andrew Jackson and anti-John McDonogh.


This 1828 map shows Allard's diminished property (lower center), as well as Bayou St. John flowing to Lake Pontchartrain (where a port with a lighthouse and Harvey Elkin's popular Spanish Fort Resort were thriving), Metairie Road (now City Park Avenue), Bayou Metairie, and Alexander Milne's property (which would soon boom as the Pontchartrain Railroad's Smokey Mary began its run in 1831) east of the Bayou St. John to the lake.
 An 1829 mortgage description of Jean Louis Allard's property indicates that it included a two-story master house on 18 arpents fronting Bayou St. John, bounded by Metairie Road (which was renamed City Park Avenue in 1902) for 53 arpents on the ridge which runs three feet above sea-level. Allard grew corn and sugar cane but used the land primarily as a dairy farm with 40 cows. Preferring to use his time in intellectual pursuits he had little interest in business and slowly lost portions of the property until all was sold or auctioned for taxes – which is how John McDonogh acquired the property which he willed to the city.
An 1845 Sheriff's sale resulted in the loss of 654 acres, 19 slaves, 10 horses and mules, 140 head of cattle -- all bought by John McDonogh for $40,000. After McDonogh purchased the property in 1845 he allowed Allard to live the remainder of his life there. He died on May 17, 1847 in the year his  collection of poetry Les Epaves was published. It was often said that he was buried in a quiet spot under a favorite tree (the Dueling Oak, shown here in the 1880s) however St. Louis Cathedral records indicate that Allard was buried on May 18, 1847 in St. Louis Cemetery #2, site #16. (Photo from the Library of Congress)
Despite the myth that Allard's body lay in a tomb under the oak became ingrained in the memory of many New Orleanians.  In 1904 the City Park Commission entertained the notion of adding an inscription to it, which would read "Robert Allard [Louis' brother], Died 1837".  Superintendant Victor Anseman noted that the year of death was inaccurate.  Another board member objected because, he said, no Allard family members had ever been buried there.  Felix Dreyfous thougt it best to leave things be, thinking that no inscription would allow visitors to keep the mystery alive.  In 1908 the commission discussed placing a fence around the tomb, indicating that it was a valuable feature of the park.   City Park's keepers maintained the tomb for more than a century. In fact, the tomb appeared to be in better condition during the 1930s than it did in the 1890s. The to "tomb" was recently removed.
On October 31, 1860, Allard's remaining land was up for Sherriff's auction. It was described as "Fronting the park and partly on Metairie Road with Bayou St. John and the Orleans Canal.  40 arpents front on Metairie Road.  Depth 18 arpents (a French unit of measure slighlty smaller than an acre) on each side  45 arpents on rear line.  except City Park, formerly Allard's Place and a parcel of land n Bayou St. John.  Will be sold as a bloc, and subject to a lease which includes the user of 16 negroes.  $1600 per annually.  Sold to John McDonogh".

Allard's land evolved to become one of the largest and oldest public parks in the nation -- New Orleans City Park. Filling 1,300 acres it is 457 acres it is larger than New York's Central Park. Its age allows for the display of the many architectural styles which came into vogue during its history – neo-classical, art nouveau, art deco, arts and crafts, mission, and modern  

Hurricane Katrina caused extensive damage to City Park but the old tomb remained until September, 2011 when the City Park Improvement Association removed it.  A member of the board of directors stated that it was a "hazard".  John Hopper, Chief Development Officer, said that Allard had never  been buried there, therefore it was of no historic value, thus the decision was made to remove all traces of it.  The Dueling Oak is still, fortunately, there.

From New Orleans City Park (Images of America) by Catherine Campanella. 

May 17, 1954

A fire along Airline Highway and the Brown v. Board of Eduction decision were the top news stories in the Times-Picayune May 18, 1954 edition.  Both of these had occurred the day before, on May 17.
Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S.483 (1954), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional. The decision overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896, which allowed state-sponsored segregation, insofar as it applied to public education. Handed down on May 17, 1954, the Warren Court's unanimous (9–0) decision stated that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." As a result, racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This ruling paved the way for integration and was a major victory of the civil rights movement. 
However, it was not until 1962, after Judge Wright had issued a barrage of court orders neutralizing the Orleans Parish School Board's attempts at evading the Supreme Court, that a handful of black students were admitted into previously all white public schools.  Archbishop Rummel praised Brown v. Board of Education, but he was reluctant to desegregate his own parochial school system. He had announced his intention to desegregate the Catholic schools as early as 1956. However, most archdiocesan parish school boards had voted against desegregation. After Bush v. Parish School Board, some parents had transferred their students from public schools to parochial schools to avoid desegregation. A few local Catholics sent a petition to Pope Pius XII, requesting a papal decree supporting segregation. The papacy responded by describing racism as a major evil.  There was a very real threat that the Louisiana State Legislature would withhold funding (for free textbooks, reduced lunches, and free buses for all students in the state) from parochial schools if they desegregated.  Archbishop Rummel formally announced the end of segregation in the New Orleans parochial school system on March 27, 1962. The 1962-1963 school year would be the first integrated school year in the history of the Archdiocese . (WIKI)
TodayInNewOrleansHistory/1949ColonialHotelCourtsjpyr.gifThe fire in front of the Colonial Hotel Courts at 1500 Airline Highway, near Ridgewood Drive, started at 3:30 in the afternoon. Traffic was halted during the blaze of undetermined origin which was fed by an oil soaked ditch. Twenty-five firemen from Orleans and Jefferson Parish where hampered by a concrete and oil-soaked timber 50-foot cover over the ditch which was at least five deep deep. Standard water hoses were useless, as they could not spray far enough into the ditch to contain the fire.  A load of dirt was dumped at the end of the cover to prevent the oil fueled fire from spreading farther along the road.  After drilling holes through the cover and inserting special nozzles inside, the fire was extinguished at 7:45, and the highway was reopened to traffic. Fire fighter Charles LeBlanc, of 453 Phosphor Street was treated at Charity Hospital for smoke inhalation.  
William Cahill, hotel manager, first discovered the fire and attempted to put it out using the hotel's hand-held extinguisher after calling the fire department. He reported that the fire burned so hot that the hotel front office, 20 feet away from the blaze, smoked and produced steam.
Jefferson Parish District Fire Chief Louis E. Breaux said that oil dumped into the ditch by nearby filling (gas) stations fueled the fire which produced noxious black smoke.  He said that he would ask the parish Police Jury to pass an ordinance to prohibit disposal of oil from station operations.  He feared that otherwise, more fires would occur which would endanger nearby businesses and neighbors.

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The Southern Baptist Convention founded the institution as the Baptist Bible Institute during the 1917 convention meeting in New Orleans. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, or NOBTS for short, was the first institution created as a direct act of the Southern Baptist Convention and was located in the Garden District on Washington Avenue. The institutes's purpose was centered on missionary work, and initially established as gateway to Central America. On May 17, 1946, the SBC revised the institutes' charter to enable it to become a seminary, and the name was changed to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Missions and evangelism have remained the core focus of the seminary.  The Seminary started as the Baptist Bible Institute and relocated to a more spaciouse campus during the 1950s to the current location in Gentilly after purchasing a 75-acre pecan orchard and transformed it into what is now a bustling campus over 100 buildings, including academic buildings, faculty and staff housing, and student housing. (WIKI)

Photo -- the WPA Commodity Warehouse Distribution Center at 1440 South Peters Street, May 17, 1939.

Katherine Buckner Avery, public health nurse, civic leader. Born, New Orleans, May 17, 1896; daughter of Daniel Dudley Avery and Katherine Buckner. Education: Touro Infirmary School of Nursing, graduated 1921. Joined Louisiana Public Health Service, 1927; aided refugees of 1927 flood; first appointed staff nurse, Iberia Parish. Re-tired to ancestral home on Avery Island, 1945. Founder: Iberia Parish Tuberculosis Association, 1929; Iberia Par-ish Crippled Children's Association. Recipient, New Iberia Chamber of Commerce award for outstanding civic service. Honoree, Distinguished Graduate, Touro Infirmary School of Nursing. Died, New Iberia, La., April 6, 1982; interred family cemetery, Avery Island. G.R.C. Source: Obituary, New Iberia Daily Iberian, April 7, 1982.  From

Theodore "Parson" Clapp clergyman, social critic. Born, East Hampton, Mass., March 29, 1792. Education: Yale, graduated 1814; studied theology at Andover, 1818-1819, and ordained in Easthampton, 1822. Departed New England during same year for New Orleans. Became pastor of the city's First Presbyterian Church. At first maintained a strict Calvinist theology, but in 1834 organized "the Church of the Messiah" (Congregationalist) with the help of some of his loyal followers. Acquired reputation as a "Universalist," and his church was loosely referred to as New Orleans' "Unitarian Church." Preached that Christ was of divine origin; yet disputed the concept of the Trinity and recognized the Holy Ghost only as a representative of a Supreme Godhead. With financial aid of his chief patron, businessman Judah Touro (q.v.), Clapp led his congregation until departing in 1856. Clapp's liberal religious views were tolerated in New Orleans because of his reputation as an "intellectual in residence" and his tact. Originally an abolitionist sympathizer, he later adopted a moderate proslavery stance. His support of slavery was partly based on his notions of the South's need of an orderly caste system in light of the African's supposed racial inferiority. Other social and religious topics dear to Clapp's heart included the evils of rampant materialism, the myth of eternal damnation to sinners, the idea of a spiritual elect, the evils of the fundamentalists' revivals, and the dangers of literal Biblical interpretation. Clapp usually maintained closer personal and intellectual ties with New Orleans' Roman Catholic clergymen and its Jewish rabbis than with his own Protestant colleagues. Clapp attained nationwide fame and even met with European intellectuals whenever he traveled abroad. He was often praised for his valiant efforts whenever the city endured recurring epidemics of yellow fever and cholera. For the antebellum traveler, the chief attractions of the Crescent City reportedly were the French Opera, the American Theater, and "Parson" Clapp's church. A typical congregation included a segregated local audience of liberal-minded whites and free-blacks, together with visiting planter-merchants and professional men. Several of Clapp's sermons were published in both Northern and Southern newspapers. Among the most famous was "Slavery: A Sermon Delivered in the First Congregational Church in New Orleans, April 15, 1838." Due to advanced age and ill-health, Clapp moved upriver to Louisville, Ky., where he died on May 17, 1866. Although various successors filled his pulpit, the local congregation faded from New Orleans shortly after the close of the Civil War. His best known work is Autobiographical Sketches and Recollections of a Thirty-five Year's Residence in New Orleans (1857). From

A House of Refuge for juvenile offenders was established in the Second Municipality of the city by ordinance #1104, dated April 29, 1845. Eight citizens chosen annually by the Council were to serve as its Board of Commissioners along with the Mayor, Recorder, and members of the Council's Committee on the Workhouse and Prison. The Board was to care for and educate the inmates as well as to find suitable work with which to occupy them. Following consolidation of the city in 1852, this institution became the House of Refuge for the entire city by ordinance #33, dated May 17, 1852.(NOPL)

By ordinance of May 17, 1836, the First Municipality Council provided for a civil engineer to oversee the various public works within the boundaries of the municipality. A new ordinance, passed on January 30, 1837, established an "office of public works and Surveyor's department," to consist of the Surveyor, a deputy, a clerk for the office, and "other officers or persons employed in the attributes of said department," all under the control of the Surveyor. The Surveyor was required to furnish security in the amount of $20,000 for the faithful performance of his duties. Among those employed by his office were superintendents of the carts and of the works; a store keeper; a carpenter and two assistants; several overseers; and a paver. (NOPL)

At a meeting of the Cabildo on May 17, 1792, the Lieutenant Governor asks the Attorney General to determine a price at which the bakers may sell bread at a profit without detriment to the public.

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Abreviations used on this site: NOPL (New Orleans Public Library), LOC (Library of Congress), LDL (Lousiana Digital Library), HNOC (Historic New Orleans Collection), WIKI (Wikipedia).

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