1860 manuscript plan of Jefferson Louisiana, soon to be annexed by New Orleans

W[illia]m H. Willliams, Surveyor & Civil Engineer, PLAN OF THE CITY OF JEFFERSON. [Jefferson, Louisiana?], 1860.
Manuscript in ink and pencil on wove paper, 18 ¼”h x 14 ¼”w plus margins. Lined with linen on verso at an early date. Toned, with some soiling and staining, vertical cracking at center, and some wear along the edges.

Jefferson City Louisiana before its annexation by New Orleans, hand drawn by a prominent surveyor.

The population of the areas just upriver from New Orleans began to grow after the opening in 1833 of the St. Charles and Carrollton Railroad. In 1846 the area between Toledano and Eleonore Streets was incorporated as the Borough of Freeport. The Borough lasted all of four years before giving way to the new and rather larger municipality of Jefferson (or Jefferson City), bounded by Toledano and Lowerline Streets.

“The sparsely-settled New Orleans suburb, an amalgam of seven privately-developed individual faubourgs, received a city charter from the state legislature in 1850. For twenty years after that, Jefferson City had an independent existence complete with its own mayor, aldermen, courts, public schools, cemeteries, public market, port, and other facilities.” (Friends of the Cabildo and Associates of the Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans Architecture. Volume VII: Jefferson City, p. 27)

The new city thrived, but in 1870 it was annexed to New Orleans in what was essentially a hostile takeover. It now forms part of historic Uptown.

Plan of the City of Jefferson
This plan was drawn in 1860 and based on the work of prominent area surveyor William T. Williams (though it is not necessarily in his own hand). It depicts a city centered on the intersection of two broad avenues, Napoleon and Nayades, along the latter of which runs the route of the New Orleans & Carrollton Railroad. The odd layout is due to its being, as mentioned above, an “amalgam” of several privately-owned plantations, each laid out in the French manner as a long strip with narrow frontage on the river. In the case of Jefferson, however, an oxbow in the Mississippi River forced each parcel to narrow to a wedge as it ran inland. The plantations were subdivided at different times for development between 1834 and 1855 as faubourges (suburbs) of New Orleans, each with its own more-or-less rectilinear street plan. The inevitable result was numerous awkward trapezoidal lots along the faubourg boundaries, though Williams has for the most part done a masterful job of limiting awkward street intersections.

Each block is numbered, with each faubourg having its own numbering system, and its dimensions given. The plan has little provision for public space, other than Laurence and Samuel Squres along Napoleon Avenue and two unnamed squares along Nashville. Other prominent features include cemeteries, three brickyards near the river, a ferry and livestock landing at the base of Louisiana Avenue, several unnamed wharves, and the Poydras Asylum (a home for orphans and widows) occupying two blocks along Peters Avenue in Faubourg Rickerville (Though I find no record that the Asylum ever moved to Jefferson City from its location at Jefferson Avenue and Magazine Street in New Orleans.) The whole is surrounded by a very appealing stenciled ornamental border.

The draftsman executed the plan in pencil and at least three different types of ink, with numerous calculations and other notations in pencil faintly visible in the blank areas. As such it bears every sign of having been an original working document and probably served as the basis for a plan of the same title issued in 1860 and bearing the imprint of New Orleans lithographer J. Manouvrier. The two are very similar, though the printed plan lacks both the unusual ornamental border and a note reading “N.B. Dimensions in accordance with original Plans.”

Civil engineer and surveyor William H. Williams (1817-1886) was a prominent figure in the New Orleans area.

“Williams was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1817, and was the son of Jacob Williams, who was a merchant. He was educated in Ohio, and in 1848 he immigrated to New Orleans, where he was subsequently married. He was a civil engineer and followed his profession up to the time of his death in 1886. He was prominently identified officially with the city of Carrollton, which was at that time an independent municipality. He was surveyor of the city and held other prominent positions after coming to New Orleans. For a number of years he was connected with the levee board of the city, and was engineer on the great delta survey of the Mississippi river. Williams was president of the Carrollton school board for seventeen years. In politics he was democratic. His wife, whose maiden name was Lavinia Pollard, was the daughter of Charles Pollard of Virginia. His sons, W.C. Williams and C. Milo Williams owned the firm, W. C. Williams & Brother, architects, New Orleans, Louisiana.” (LAC Group, Finding Aid to the William H. and C. Milo Williams notebooks, 1853-1894 at Tulane University Special Collections)

Tulane holds well over one hundred of Williams’ survey notebooks, including seven from 1860 alone, and it is likely that close examination of those would shed much light on this plan of Jefferson.

In all, an extraordinary cartographic survival from antebellum Louisiana.

Background on the City of Jefferson Louisiana from Richard Campanella, “Cityscapes: A Geographer’s View of the New Orleans Area” (available on line but originally published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune for July 14, 2017) and Friends of the Cabildo and Associates of the Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans Architecture. Volume VII: Jefferson City (Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing, 1989).