Like nearly every property in New Orleans, the South Market District boasts a rich and colorful history. South Market lies within the area known as the Faubourg Ste. Marie, named after its former landowner, Dona Maria Josefa Deslondes Gravier. Later anglicized to Faubourg 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 in the 1830s. South Market lies between the site of the former Poydras Market and the terminating point of the former New Basin Canal. 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, and featured the local seafood and produce brought to the area by the New Basin Canal. The public open-air market provided foodstuffs and related goods to the neighborhood until it was demolished in 1938.
Given its ideal positioning as a commercial hub, the area was 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 South Market site in 1845 by John Shakespeare and eventually passed on to his son Joseph Shakespeare, who would become Mayor of New Orleans. The factory 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 today. In addition to its commercial past, South Market also has a rich history as a thriving theater district along with being home to several notable theaters such as the Shubert and Lafayette.
The area’s commercial significance gradually diminished, and by the time construction of the Superdome was completed, the area 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 an excitement, energy, and character that is uniquely New Orleans.
Read more about the neighborhood from Richard Campanella, geographer & historian at Tulane University.