A brief history of New Orleans’ Tremé neighborhood
For much of the 18th century, the land just outside New Orleans’ city limits — that is, the land outside the area we call the French Quarter — was occupied by the Morand Plantation and brickyard, much of which was later acquired by hat maker and real estate developer Claude Treme. Shortly after Treme acquired it, the Spanish government in 1794 dug the Claiborne Canal from the fledgling city to Bayou St. John, splitting the tract and, by making it more accessible, opening it up for development. According to the Data Center, Treme had sold off most of his land by 1810, and by 1812 it had been subdivided for development of the neighborhood that today bears his name.
The neighborhood, which is viewed by many as ground zero of New Orleans culture, seems to be on an upswing as people who have fallen in love with the area’s diverse architecture and culture are buying houses to restore. The Historic Faubourg Tremé Association has been a force in this renaissance. Among the neighborhood’s landmarks are St. Augustine Catholic Church and the Backstreet Cultural Museum, which houses a wealth of Mardi Gras Indian suits.
- Tremé is recognized as America’s oldest African-American neighborhood.
- Much of the neighborhood fell victim to a series of massive projects in the 20th century: the Municipal Auditorium, Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts, Louis Armstrong Park and, perhaps most notably, Interstate 10, which replaced the live oaks that had lined North Claiborne Avenue and robbed the neighborhood of its once-thriving commercial thoroughfare. But still, Tremé thrives.
- Storyville, New Orleans’ legal red-light district at the turn of the 20th century, occupied part of Tremé. The brothels were shut down in 1917, and they were replaced by the Iberville public housing complex.
- “Tremé,” David Simon’s HBO series set in post-Katrina New Orleans, drew its name from the neighborhood, which was home to the character Davis McAlary (played by Steve Zahn). Despite the show’s title, the series — which ran for four seasons — went beyond Tremé’s boundaries to explore post-Katrina life throughout the city.
- Tremé’s population dropped by 53 percent from 2000 to 2010 — from 8,853 to 4,155 — according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s worth noting that Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, although it is impossible to determine from the census data how much of the decline was storm-related.
- Claude Treme, who died in 1828, is buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 2.
Although Tremé has always been a rich source of African-American culture, it has nurtured a host of black and white New Orleans musicians, including Kermit Ruffins, Shannon Powell, Louis Prima and Alex Chilton. Located at the epicenter of New Orleans culture, the neighborhood also has been home to artists, entrepreneurs, doctors and teachers, and it is being discovered by people in search of the often-elusive combination of affordable prices and architectural elegance.