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New Orleans Then and Now: Canal Street and Henry Clay’s Monument

While looking for images to use for various things we are doing for the New Orleans 2018 Tricentennial celebration, I ran across these wonderful images. The focus of both is a monument to Henry Clay, but beyond the statue itself, the details in both photos are great and contain a number of interesting things, such as the streetcars and the shops along Canal Street – the main historic shopping and business thoroughfare.

But why was there a statue to Henry Clay? According to the New Orleans Bar Association  Clay did actually visit the city and had other local connections. To honor him, money was gathered after his death for a statue, and in 1860 it was placed on Canal Street at the intersection of St. Charles and Royal. You can read some of the coverage in the New Orleans Daily Crescent April 12, 1860, the day the statue was erected, and again the following day. But that wasn’t the end, because the statue didn’t stay there.

Henry Clay Monument. Canal Street, New Orleans. Detroit Publishing Co. (between 1880 and 1897) //www.loc.gov/item/2016817550/

Canal Street, New Orleans. Detroit Publishing Co. ca 1900. //www.loc.gov/item/det1994005247/PP/

Canal was a busy street and the statue stood in an awkward location, so people thought it should be removed. An article in the Daily Picayune from January 8, 1899 reports that the City Council voted to remove the statue and an article from May 27 indicates they had planned to do it the following week. But it didn’t happen then. The August 29, 1900 Daily Picayune states that an ordinance was passed to take it down and move it to Lafayette Square (bounded by St. Charles Avenue and Camp – across from Gallier Hall) and later stories on September 14 and 17 report on the move. The statue still stands there today.

Henry Clay Monument. Lafayette Square, New Orleans, 2017. Photo Courtesy Ellen Terrell.

A closer look at the photos reveals some clues about the life of Canal Street. In the older image, the advertisement for an opera featuring Mr. Ceste on the horse-drawn streetcar is pretty prominent. But if you look at the businesses that line the street, they include: the Crescent Billiard Hall, H.B. Stevens & Co. (importers/finishing goods/clothing), Eugene Robinson’s Museum & Theatre, the well-known Moreau’s Restaurant, Eyrich’s Bookstore, and a wig manufacturer. Even though not all the business names are visible, the ones that are make an interesting collection.

In the more recent photo, probably taken not long before the move, there are definite changes. Most prominent are that the fence around the statue and the small plaza surrounding it were removed – likely to make way for street activity. Other than that, there are now electric streetcars including cars 222, 322, and another headed out to the fairgrounds. Off to the left of the photo the Crescent Billiard Hall is still there and off to the right there was a dry goods store Dreyfous Co. and the Grunewald Music store.

The photos are interesting windows into the past life of Canal Street. Canal did suffer with the changing times as well as the rise of the shopping mall. Businesses came and went, and the streetcars disappeared and then reappeared, but Canal kept going and is still a vital part of the city.

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