Meet the man who put the French Quarter on the map (literally)
When French engineer and cartographer Adrien de Pauger arrived in New Orleans in early 1721, serving as second-in-command to chief engineer Pierre Le Blond de La Tour, he found a fledgling settlement that was a planner’s nightmare, consisting only of “some cabins among the woods with no trace of alignment.” His task: Introduce some geographic order to the place. Pauger soon completed drawing up a plan consisting of a neat, 6-block-by-11-block grid of streets — most named after French royalty — centered around a church (present-day St. Louis Cathedral) on an open square (present-day Jackson Square) fronting the Mississippi River. What we now know as the French Quarter had been born.
Three-hundred years later, Pauger’s original street design is still in place. Fittingly, New Orleans’ first geographer also has a street in the city named for him, Pauger Street, which stretches from the Faubourg Marigny to Gentilly.
- When Pauger arrived in New Orleans, some — including La Tour — were pushing to locate the seat of the French colony at Biloxi. According to Lawrence N. Powell’s book “The Accidental City,” when Pauger’s map was completed, New Orleans founder Bienville — who favored locating the seat in his humble new city — forwarded a copy to government leaders in France. They were impressed and responded by issuing orders to establish the colonial capital in New Orleans.
- Pauger’s efforts to whip the city into shape were aided fortuitously by a devastating hurricane that hit on Sept. 11, 1722. The first recorded hurricane to hit Louisiana, it leveled much of the city’s then-patchwork structures — thus giving him a clean slate with which to work.
- Pauger’s plans borrowed heavily from La Tour’s earlier plans for settlements in Mobile and Biloxi, both of which also consisted of a street grid arranged around a central square, all protected by perimeter fortifications.
- Pauger’s plans called for the city to be fortified with palisades on all sides. They looked more impressive on paper than in real life, at least until 1790, when then-Gov. Francisco Luis Hector de Carondelet strengthened them as well as a network of forts encircling the town. As part of the work, he added a rampart at the back of town, which gave the Quarter’s rearmost street, present-day Rampart Street, its name.
- Pauger Street wasn’t the first street named after Adrien de Pauger. His original plans called for a St. Adrien Street, named after him and his patron saint. The name was later changed to Ursulines, which it remains today, honoring the religious order that established a convent there.
- Pauger is also credited with designing the original St. Louis Parish Church, which was built on the site of present-day St. Louis Cathedral. That original church burned in the Good Friday fire of 1788.
- Pauger died before the church was completed, but he requested to be buried in it. It is believed that local leaders granted that wish.
Technically, the founding of New Orleans dates to 1718, but it wasn’t so much a functioning city in those early years as it was a water-logged frontier outpost. That changed in 1721 thanks to Pauger, who was able to commit to paper a vision for what the new New Orleans should look like — and which convinced French leaders, who until that point had reason for skepticism about the city’s viability, that maybe Bienville was on to something. By December of 1721, the seat of French Louisiana was officially established in the new city. Pauger hadn’t just drawn a map of New Orleans. He had also put it on the map.