Along the garden path
The late John Bordes grew up in Carrollton around the turn of the 20th century. Later in life he wrote the column “John Paul Sez” for a long ago newspaper, The Carrollton News, and drew on his memories for his material.
He would ride along with his father on a milk cart making deliveries of his mother’s homemade cream cheese and milk from his grandfather’s dairy. Some of his favorite memories were of trees and flowers: China Ball trees with purple flowers in spring, red St. Joseph’s Lilies in the alleys, honeysuckle on the fences and the aromas of Magnolia fuscata, sweet olive and night-blooming jasmine. He talked of his mother’s “marchneil” (Maréchal Niel) pale yellow roses twining up a trellis.
The Carrollton neighborhood has always been known as a garden spot. When a little rail line was chartered in 1833 to run along today’s St. Charles Avenue to the suburban town of Carrollton as an incentive to travelers, the railroad company created a resort: Carrollton Gardens, at the upper end of the tracks, with a hotel and gardens on its four-acre site. One famous guest was the author William Makepeace Thackeray, who visited in the 1850s.
Carrollton was created out of the MaCarty Plantation land. Begun in 1781, by the 1815 Battle of New Orleans it was headquarters of General Andrew Jackson. It is also where Major-General William Carroll and his 2,500-strong Tennessee militia encamped, and presumably left enough of an impression to grant his name to the community, later laid out by surveyor Charles Zimple.
Carrollton was part of Jefferson Parish from 1825 to 1874, and at one time was the seat of Parish government. In 1854, architect Henry Howard designed the building at 709 South Carrollton Ave. for the Jefferson Parish Courthouse (it included jail cells and even hosted a few hangings). In later years it became a schoolhouse, housing Benjamin Franklin High School at one time.
Carrollton even rated a mention in the 1891 children’s book Lady Jane by Mrs. C.V. Jamieson: “Pepsie’s cottage in the country was about to become a reality. In one of the charming shady lanes of Carrollton they found just such a bowery little spot as the girl wished for, with a fine strip of land for a garden.” Pepsie’s benefactress was the young heroine of the novel.
Another touch at literary fame is the house at 1738 S. Carrollton Ave. at the corner of Hickory Street. This was the home of the mother of Williams F. Buckley Jr., the late conservative pundit. The Steiners were parishioners of Mater Dolorosa Church, just a few blocks up Carrollton Avenue.
Carrollton had a large German community – Mater Dolorosa had numbers of German families and the St. Matthew’s United Church of Christ in the 1300 block of Carrollton Avenue is the current denomination of the German Evangelical and United Church, one of the city’s largest German Protestant groups.
By the late 19th century, there was ferry service between Carrollton and Nine Mile Point on the West Bank. With the St. Charles Avenue line going to downtown New Orleans and a railroad going out along Carrollton Avenue near the New Basin Canal route out to the lake, Carrollton was well connected. (Plus, it was only a short walk over the Protection Levee to Jefferson Parish gambling spots at Southdown.)
Jazz aficionado and retired educator Justin Winston points out that Ellis Marsalis is a longtime Carrollton resident, and jazz musicians from the area in the past included Pops Foster and Alvin Alcorn. The Carrollton and St. Mary’s cemeteries (bounded by Adams, Spruce, Lowerline and Birch streets) have been the sites of many jazz funerals.
Winston, who grew up in the area, also recalls Carrollton shops (even a poultry emporium from which he mistakenly brought home live chickens he was supposed to order “dressed”). The corner of Spruce Street and Carrollton Avenue had a hardware store named Siren’s that, according to a receipt found on an unsold butter plate, was in business in the 1870s. For groceries, there was a Hill’s Store (later a Winn-Dixie, on Carrollton at Maple Street) and a Piggly-Wiggly (now Willie Mae’s Scotch House at 7457 St. Charles Ave.).
There were movie theaters, the Poplar (on Willow Street, which had once been called Poplar) and the Mecca, off Maple Street.
Carrollton has certainly filled in since then, but you can still eat some good chicken and smell the roses – and you don’t have to leave your home neighborhood to enjoy New Orleans.