Bayou Road is known for its fascinating history, and most importantly, for the sense of community and culture that emanates from it. Before there was a city called New Orleans, there was a landmass that stretched from Bayou Saint John to the mouth of the Mississippi River with an elevated passageway running through it.
Native Americans had long traveled this path that connected these two bodies of water. That elevated path came to be known as Bayou Road, the oldest street in New Orleans.
When the French first arrived in this area, the indigenous people showed the path to the settlers, who used Bayou Road to carry their goods and supplies to and from the river, where trade took place. In fact, it was because of the location of this elevated road and the accessibility that it provided to the waterways that New Orleans would be founded in the place where it now sits.
As New Orleans grew, plantations developed in the area; and much of the historic road was incorporated into other streets. But the distinctive diagonal section of the brick road survived. Cutting across the regular street grid, Bayou Road connects several neighborhoods – Tremé, the Seventh Ward, Bayou Saint John, and the Fairgrounds. The area has enjoyed the cultural contributions of people of African and Afro-Caribbean descent along with Native Americans since the earliest days. In fact, the road’s proximity to Tremé and the Seventh Ward, historically Black neighborhoods where generations of Black New Orleanians have lived and left their indelible fingerprints, has contributed to Bayou Road’s rich and diverse culture that is uniquely New Orleans.
A close look at the recent history of the neighborhood tells that areas surrounding Bayou Road, like many other urban centers across the nation, had fallen into decline by the mid 20th century—plagued by disinvestment, blight, and crime. St. Rose de Lima School closed, the market shut down, and many shops and businesses along the corridor closed their doors. Still, a few remained, but struggled to survive.
Over the years, the neighborhood has taken on an Afro-Caribbean vibe. Since Hurricane Katrina, music and art have gained a stronger foothold in the area through shops, artist support programs, and the presence of cultural bearers. In recent years, several notable rehabilitation projects are have taken place to revive the resources and legacies that have defined this historic section of New Orleans.