During the early settlement and growth of New Orleans, the Mississippi River was a dominant factor, but was also supported for several decades by Lake Pontchartrain which had significant commercial value in transporting needed supplies from the northside and from the Gulf Coast communities of Mississippi and Alabama. The Lake was also a major factor serving as the main water body to transport passengers from the Big Easy to northshore and gulf coast towns and villages.
To reach the heart of downtown New Orleans, canals were dug and railroad and streetcar lines were built atop the bordering levees extending to the Lake.
There were three primary avenues or traffic corridors established --- each at its terminus having had built a series of lighthouses that were always rebuilt after damaging hurricanes.
1. The Oldest of these was what is referred to as Spanish Fort, first built by the Spanish and later maintained by the French. This location was early on used as a resort and picnic grounds by Orleanians and before that as a trading route by the Indians. There was already portions of a waterway which was deepend and lengthened in 1794 by Baron de Carondelet establishing an anchorage in the heart of old New Orleans and leading into the Lake. This waterway was and is called Bayou St. John. Also, known as the 'Old' Basin Canal and originally called the Carondelet Canal, mules pulled barges filled with people to the Lake.
2. After 1803, New Orleans immediately had competition between the French/Spanish old guard and the new English/American population. While the Spanish Fort area was considered the "Old Guard" resort, West End was in process of being drained and filled while the new populations established their own resort at the Lakefront. Before and after the Civil War the area became famous for entertainment.
The term West End referred to the West End of Orleans Parish as compared to neighboring Bucktown (#4) which is also called East End for East End of Jefferson Parish. Therefore in many instances, a person can be in West End and East End at the same moment.
A Second traffic source was the "New Basin Canal" serving between New Orleans and West End at the Lake. The New Basin Canal was built circa 1833 with its anchorage near the Union Station Depot near Poydras. The Lighthouse was built circa 1838.
3. A Third resort was established in 1830,at the lakefront called Port Pontchartrain, later Milneburg, for its builder, Alexander Milne. The first steam railroad west of the Alleghenies connecting New Orleans with the Milne development at the lakefront was called Smoky Mary having had its tracks laid along the Turnpike Road built by the Milne interests.
While the port handled cargo from the Gulf Coast communities, the surrounding land developed into a resort area, with the Lake House tavern and Washington Hotel including three bathhouses. There were other hotels, restaurants, camps, and saloons. Eventually, the name Milneburg connoted a resort area rather than an industrial port.
4. The 17th Street Canal had its origin at the start of the 1850s as a canal dug through swampy ground to raise a parallel right of way for the Jefferson and Pontchartrain Railway (1853 to1864) connecting the town of Carrollton at the Mississippi River with a proposed shipping port on Lake Pontchartrain at Bucktown, a distance of 5 miles. At the time, most of the land between the two terminals was undeveloped swamp.
When New Orleans annexed Carrollton, the canal became the boundary line between Orleans and Jefferson parishes. By the 1870s, the canal became the main source of drainage serving to carry rain water to the lake from the majority of Uptown New Orleans.
The location at Bucktown is sometimes confused with the resort named West End.
And this is where I was born and learned to swim and fish in the 17th Street Canal bordering Buck Town.