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New Orleans, LA. Skyline. Carol M. Highsmith Archive.

New Orleans Then and Now: the Skyline

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Like skylines in all cities, New Orleans’ skyline has changed quite a bit over its history. In the 300 years since the city’s founding, buildings have gotten taller and the city has spread beyond its original boundaries. In this post I thought I would feature photos that have more of a birds-eye view of the city.

New Orleans skyline in the distance with trees in the foreground
New Orleans, LA. Skyline. Carol M. Highsmith Archive.
Image of the New Orleans skyline from across the river featuring the Riverwalk and the International Trade Building and a few boats in the river
New Orleans, LA. Waterfront. Carol M. Highsmith Archive.

One early landmark on the city’s skyline was a church at the location of the current St. Louis Cathedral. The cathedral currently there is the third church to stand there – and was erected after the Great Fire in 1788 and later modified in the early 19th century when the central tower was added.  Over 100 years later, in 1921, the Hibernia Bank Building  was completed and became another landmark on the skyline. For a few years it was the tallest building in the state, but now you can barely see it unless a photo is taken from just the right angle. The 1970’s saw two new additions. One Shell Square was completed in 1972 and is the tall white building (my father worked on the 49th floor of that building for a number of years) and in 1975 the Superdome was completed.

Image looking down at the Mississippi River bank with buildings in the foreground
New Orleans, LA. View of the river. Keystone View Company, 1935.
Image of the Mississippi River from above with a steamboat and the streetcar line
Mississippi River, Steamboat Natchez, December 2017. Photo courtesy Ellen Terrell.

For all of its history, the Mississippi River has defined the city and been at the center of its commerce.  While the nature of this commerce may have changed some over the years, the river is still a strong presence in the Crescent City.  Products are still shipped through the port, but tourism has become a dominant force in the business life of New Orleans.  From hotels to restaurants, music, Mardi Gras, cultural events, and festivals, many businesses in the city rely on visitors. But wherever the visitors go, the river is never far.

Drawn panorama map of the New Orleans and the Mississippi River with many ships on the river and clear land and swamps on the outskirts of the city
New Orleans, LA. City of New Orleans, and the Mississippi River Lake with Pontchartrain in distance. Currier & Ives, c1885.

While today’s skyline focuses on the buildings of the Central Business District, the Mississippi River was the focus in the past and, of course, that view has definitely changed.

A print of the Mississippi River with buildings in the foreground and a number of ships on the river
New Orleans, LA. View of the city taken from the lower cotton press. B. Dondorf.
Drawing of the Mississippi River with many ships crowding the river
New Orleans, LA. View of the river from the lower cotton press. J.W. Hill & Smith drawn on stone by D.W. Moody, 1852.

The images in the post–not including the ones I took– come from the Library’s rich collection of prints and photographs.  Of course, the collection goes way beyond these images of New Orleans.  The skylines of many other towns and cities across the United States are there to be investigated, so just search our homepage and see what has been digitized.

Drawing of the Mississippi River with many ships in the foreground with the city of New Orleans in the background with Jackson Square and the cathedral in the back on the right
New Orleans, LA. River view. H. Lewis pinx. ; Lith. Jnst. Arnz & Co., 1857.


  1. Thanks for this. I am from (born, still here) New Orleans, and I interned at LC in the mid-80s. I am tickled to see a post from one on the other 😎 It just made me smile.

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