Like nearly every property in New Orleans, the South Market District boasts a rich and colorful history. The District lies within the area known as the Faubourg St. Marie, after its former owner, Dona Maria Josefa Deslondes Gravier. Later Anglicized to "St. Mary", the area is also commonly known as the "American Sector". The South Market District takes its name from the important role it played in New Orleans commerce for over a century, beginning around the 1830s. The District lies between the terminating point of the former New Basin Canal and the site of the former Poydras Market. The New Basin Canal opened in 1838 and served as an alternate route from the Carondelet Canal, allowing the American population to bring goods directly to their shops and warehouses in the Faubourg St. Mary. The Poydras Market occupied land in the center of Poydras Street, between what are now South Rampart and Baronne Streets. The public open-air market featured local seafood and produce brought to the area by the New Basin Canal and provided foodstuffs and related goods to the neighborhood until it was demolished in 1938.
Given its ideal positioning as a commercial hub, the parcels in the district were home to a wide variety of establishments including stables, lumber and steel mills, various types of specialty food establishments including candy factories and bakeries, a wide variety of stores selling everything from hardware and furniture to clothing, numerous service providers including tailors and laundries, and several restaurants and saloons. Shakespeare's Iron Factory was started on the site in 1845 by John Shakespeare and eventually passed on to his son Joseph Shakespeare, who would become Mayor of New Orleans. The foundry was responsible for producing a variety of goods, including architectural elements such as columns and storefronts that comprise many of the cast iron facades of Canal Street and other historic properties in New Orleans. In addition to its commercial past, the District also has a rich history as a thriving theatre district, having been home to several notables such as the Shubert and Lafayette.
The area's commercial significance gradually diminished, and by the time construction of the Super Dome was completed, the parcels had been largely cleared for surface parking. Today, development of The South Market District is restoring the area's prominence as a thriving corridor with the excitement, energy and character that is uniquely New Orleans.