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Charles Zimpel: Architect, Surveyor, Businessman

Streetcars on St. Charles Avenue, 1901

Back in January I included a few photos of Canal Street in New Orleans which featured the iconic streetcar. The history of the streetcar, which was originally a railroad, is intertwined with that of the Carrollton area of the city and not just because one end of the route is on Carrollton Avenue, but also because it introduces a less well-known contributor to the city’s history, Charles Zimpel.

In 1833 the New Orleans & Carrollton Rail Road was chartered by the Louisiana legislature with the intent to link the city of New Orleans with a new area to be called Carrollton being developed on land that was once the Macarty Plantation.  That same year the city commissioned Charles (or Karl) Zimpel to create a map of the city.

Carrollton area, Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1896; Vol. 4.

Charles Zimpel (sometimes erroneously written as Zimple) had come to New Orleans in 1830 and became the city’s deputy surveyor and chief engineer. As part of his job he created a topographical map for the city and that work ended up coinciding with his work as chief engineer of the New Orleans & Carrollton Rail Road Company.  Zimpel’s job as a surveyor for both the city and the company come together in that map because it included this new railroad line and the layout for the new area of Carrollton that was in the works.  While the development of Carrollton took time, the new railroad was put into service in September 1835.

Today, Carrollton is part of New Orleans, but originally it was part of Jefferson Parish. It was incorporated as a town in 1845 and even served as the parish seat from 1852-1874.  As a town/city and parish seat, it had a courthouse, its own police, schools, and even a resort – Carrollton Gardens.  It operated as a “bedroom community” for New Orleans until 1874 when it was annexed into the city of New Orleans.

Norman’s New Orleans and Environs (1845 p. 152)

While his work for the city and the railroad became one of Zimpel’s most important contributions to the city of New Orleans, his contributions don’t stop there. He also designed several buildings, including Bishop’s City Hotel at the corner of Camp and Common, the Bank of Orleans in 1831, the Banks Arcade in 1833, and the Orleans Cotton Press completed in 1835. The book New Orleans Architecture features drawings of several of Zimpel’s buildings — Bishop’s City Hotel v2 (p 47), Banks Arcade v2 (p 182), and Orleans Cotton Press v1 (p 18).

Orleans Cotton Press from Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1896; Vol. 1 (Sheet 119).

In the years since Zimpel, much has changed in New Orleans.  Carrollton is still very much a neighborhood, but the Banks Arcade is now the St. James Hotel. The Orleans Cotton Press, which was partially destroyed in 1844, continued operations (it was still listed in the 1897 Soard’s directory), but eventually it faded away.  Now that location -between Thalia and Terpsichore at South Peters – is the parking lot for the convention center.

While Zimpel’s sojourn in New Orleans was fairly brief – he seems to have left New Orleans in the late 1830’s and returned to Prussia – he did leave his mark. In the end, it was fitting that they would name a street in his honor and put it in the most obvious place – Carrollton – the place he helped to create. If you want to get an idea of the neighborhood Zimpel created as it was at the turn of the century, the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps from 1896 are a great resource.

Zimpel Street from the Key for the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from New Orleans 1896. V4.

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