The Melpomene Neighborhood Before 1880

Stop 10 of 11 on the Melpomene Street Blues Tour

In the Colonial Era, the area that eventually became the Melpomene neighborhood and later utilized for the Guste Homes was located in a low-lying backswamp zone at the rear of the Livaudais plantation tract, straddling land that became the Faubourgs Annunciation and de la Course in the first half of the nineteenth century. While developers first surveyed these tracts for subdivision in 1836, there seems to have been little development within them until after the completion of the New Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern Railroad in 1853, with its rail yard near the project area at Calliope Street between Magnolia and Claiborne Streets. Areas along what was then the undeveloped edge of the city attracted working class immigrants and socially marginalized people, like Elizabeth Boyd, a free woman of color living on Howard/LaSalle Street in City Square 358 in 1860.

During the 2013 excavation of the Melpomene neighborhood, archaeologists did not find any material evidence of the indigenous peoples who lived in southeast Louisiana prior to colonial settlement. In urban settings, the density of later occupation typically obliterates such earlier deposits, even when archaeologists are able to specifically target where they might be located. Some of the architectural remains documented likely date to the first nineteenth century structures built on urban lots, but otherwise little evidence remained archaeologically of this earlier era of historic-period pre-Civil War development, as was the case at the address associated with Elizabeth Boyd.

The Melpomene neighborhood became much more densely developed after the Civil War. After Emancipation, freedmen and women moved to the city to escape the violent exploitation of plantation life, joining poor immigrants on the urban fringe. During Reconstruction (1867-1877) in Louisiana, federal occupation created new hopes for citizenship and political rights for the state’s Black residents. Eventually, this triggered a violent backlash from white supremacist forces, culminating in the so-called “Battle of Liberty Place”, which restored former Confederate elites to power. Archaeological assemblages that adequately reflect the turbulence of these years are rare, but one of the most unusual deposits uncovered in the Melpomene neighborhood likely gives a glimpse of daily life in the era.



1300 Block of South Liberty Street, New Orleans, LA