Now known as the historic Lower Ninth Ward, this area orginated as a cypress swamp featuring many bayous. In this rural setting, residents enjoyed ready access to fishing grounds and grew okra and other vegetables. In the mid- 1800's, working-class African Americans and immigrant laborers from Ireland, Germany, and Italy seeking affordable housing migrated to the area. The Ninth Ward grew into a unique neighborhood with intergenerational and familial relationships across decades.
In 1923, the 5.5 mile long Industrial Canal (Inner Harbor Navigation Canal) opened, connecting Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississippi River. Equipped with a massive lock, the canal allows large cargo ships and barges access to river wharves. The canal is 30 feet deep and 300 feet wide at its lake end and about 150 feet at its lock end.
The Industrial Canal separates eastern New Orleans from the rest of the city and the Lower 9th Ward neighborhood from the Upper 9th Ward. Approximately half of the waterway's length, from the Industrial Lock on the Mississippi River to a point north of the Florida Avenue Bridge, is confluent with the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW).
Brisk industrial development along the canal in the 1930s created considerable employment due to wharves alongside both banks and dry docks north of the GIWW. These employment opportunities were in addition to employment on wharves along the Mississippi River. During the same decade, the city installed numerous components of an improved drainage system. Better drainage combined with good employment caused many people to settle in the Lower Ninth Ward.
In the late 1950s, a bridge connecting the City and the Lower Ninth Ward, the Judge William Seeber Bridge (a.k.a. the Claiborne Avenue Bridge) was built across the canal at Claiborne Avenue. This spurred retail and commercial development throughout the neighborhood.
In September 1965, Hurricane Betsy pushed storm surge into the Industrial Canal and the east side canal wall breached in the same general area where it would breach again 40 years later during Hurricane Katrina. Eighty percent of the Lower Ninth Ward area went under water and hundreds of people lost their lives; the city reported an official count of eighty–one deaths.
The following year, Congress passed the Demonstration Cities and Metropolitan Development Act. Through the Act, employment in the Lower Ninth Ward increased and neighborhood revitalization occurred as new agencies were established. Until its devastation in 2005, the Lower Ninth Ward retained its heterogeneous population, including socio-economically disadvantaged and middle class residents, predominately African Americans.