New Orleans’ history of public markets began in the 1780s with what’s known today as the French Market. Many markets were opened over the next three decades, and by World War I, there were 32 public markets operating around the city.
The Dryades Market, located at the intersection of Dryades and Melpomene streets (now Oretha Castle Haley and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards), opened to the public on January 10, 1849. The grand opening party featured tables of roasted meats, champagne and claret. It was a successful party, according to a Picayune article, which states that, “the spirits of the crowd rose in proportion as the wine went down, and everybody felt particularly kind to everybody else.”

It quickly became one of the busiest and biggest markets in New Orleans; over the years it was demolished and rebuilt twice and renovated numerous times. Its last major renovation occurred soon after the city’s Division of Public Markets was created in 1931. Over the years, it remained a vibrant market with butchers, seafood and poultry vendors, fruit and vegetable sellers, and at one time, a pickle store.

Over time, changing laws and emerging technologies dictated what the market was able to sell. Fire codes prevented a lot of cooking, but heating of coffee and other drinks was permitted. The arrival of refrigeration made it possible for vendors to provide prepared foods such as cooked meats, sandwiches and fresh mayonnaise. One thing that stayed consistent through the changes, however, was women selling pralines and calas tout chaud (hot rice cakes).

The city gave up control of the market in 1946, at which point it was used as a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps Induction Center and by the USO. After that, the market went into private ownership.