New Orleans History -- Lake Pontchartrain
Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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The History Of Bucktown, U.S.A.

Bucktown began more than a hundred years ago as a string of fishing and hunting camps lining the 17th Street Canal and Lake Pontchartrain. The earliest structures were wooden huts raised on stilts. The canal provided a harbor for fishing boats. The people who lived along the canal and out on the lake were squatters who made their living from fishing, crabbing, hunting and trapping, as well as from the rental of boats, the sale of tackle and bait, and the entertainment of vacationers.

Development along this area originally occurred in the mid-19th century with a commercial wharf and resort called Lakeport. Steamboats docked at the entrance to the New Basin Canal (now Pontchartrain Blvd.) and at the terminus of the Jefferson and Lake Pontchartrain Railroad where Bucktown is today. The railroad ran along what is now the Orleans-Jefferson Parish boundary at the 17th Street Canal. Dug as a drainage canal along the upper boundary of the Town of Carrollton, it was originally called the Upperline Canal.

The Jefferson and Lake Pontchartrain Railroad, 1853-1864, was an extension of the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad (today the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line). At the lake end of the railway were a hotel, restaurants, a bowling alley, dance hall, picnic ground, pleasure garden, and bathing facilities. The place later became a famous amusement park known as West End (of Orleans Parish).

Just across the 17th Street Canal, at Jefferson Parish's East End, the rustic fishing village called Bucktown developed during the late 19th century. By the early 20th century, wooden camps built on stilts with wide galleries covered by shingle or tin roofs lined the canal. There were also stores, a schoolhouse, and a jail, as well as saloons, gambling houses, dance halls and clubhouses for sportsmen. Bucktown's restaurants were notable attractions, serving plentiful seafood from the lake and wildfowl and game from the surrounding swamps and marshes.

During the days of Prohibition, Bucktown was known for its speakeasies, houses of prostitution, and gaming dens. Gambling was legal in what was known as 'the free State of Jefferson.' Bucktown was a rowdy, wide-open place where the barroom brawls were common. The settlement is said to have been named for the young bucks who came there looking for a rough time. There are other stories about the origin of the name. Some say that the village was named for the good deer hunting in the area. Others say it was named for a local fisherman, Oliver 'Buck' Wooley.

Amid the unrestrained gaiety, Bucktown was one of the places where jazz was born with such tunes as the 'Bucktown Bounce' by Johnny Wiggs and the 'Bucktown Blues' by Jelly Roll Morton.

Bucktown was exposed to violent storms and the resulting damage contributed to its picturesque, ramshackle appearance. The fishing village survived the hurricanes of 1915 and 1947, as well as the encroachment of urban suburbs.

Until the recent years, the 17th Street Canal at Bucktown was home to a fleet of about one hundred shrimp boats. Yearly on the 4th of July, a festival was held for the Blessing of the Fleet. Through the years Bucktown remained a center where fresh seafood could bought from local fisherman. Deanie's was the first market to be built in Bucktown and one of the firsts to sell boiled seafood for retail sale in New Orleans. Deanie's has grown into more than a market. Today, Deanie's continues the Bucktown tradition of serving the finest seafood through our market, restaurant and shipping services.

by Betsy Swanson