History of Metairie
Metairie has a
long history dating back almost to the very founding of New Orleans in 1718. In the 1720s French settlers began farming land along Metairie Ridge, a natural levee formed by an ancient branch of the
Mississippi River that ran through what is today River Ridge, Old Metairie, Gentilly and New Orleans East, eventually emptying into the Mississippi Sound and the Gulf of Mexico.
By the time the French
arrived, all that remained of this branch of the river was a bayou known as Bayou Choupic. Alongside Bayou Choupic was an ancient trail used by the native Acolapissa Indians. Today this old Indian trail is
Metairie Road, the oldest road in the New Orleans area. Filled in over the years as Metairie developed, all that remains of Bayou Choupic are the lagoons in City Park alongside City Park Avenue, an
extension of Metairie Road. Today Metairie Road still follows the long curves of old Bayou Choupic and is not much wider than it was in French colonial days, just wide enough for two wagons (or cars) to
pass in opposite directions!
Metairie became American territory as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and part of the new state of Louisiana in 1812. Just thirteen years later, in 1825, Metairie
would become part of the newly established governmental unit of Jefferson Parish.
Origin of the name "Metairie"
It's popularly believed that "Metairie" is just an old French word for
"farm" or "little farm". However, the history of the word is a little deeper than most of us realized.
Unfortunately for the first settlers of Metairie, Louis XV, king of France,
had already ceded the fertile land along Metairie Ridge to French aristocrats with connections to Bienville the founder of New Orleans. This practice was all in tradition with European monarchies settling the
New World but it would mean the newly arrived French settlers would work as tenent farmers, paying a portion of their crops to their new landlords.
The word "Metairie" is derived from the old
French word "moitoire" used since feudal times in France to describe tenant land or land that was farmed by tenant farmers or "sharecroppers". The word has had different spellings over the nearly
three centuries since Metairie was settled including "Maiterie", "Meteria" and Maitery".
One particular spelling "Metairie" eventually stuck and the road which ran along side of old Bayou
Choupic was commonly referred to as Metairie Road. Metairie Road connected to New Orleans via Bayou Saint John which ran all the way to Basin Street behind the French Quarter. Metairie Road's
physical connection to New Orleans would make it the starting place for future growth of New Orleans grandest suburb. However, the majority of Metairie's residents would remain sharecroppers until
urbanization started in Metairie in the 1910s.
Metairie takes off in the 20th Century!
Metairie experienced extradinary growth during the 20the century. Beginning the century as a
community of mostly tenant farmers along Metairie Ridge, Metairie ended the 1900s as New Orleans most populated and dynamic suburb and the fourth largest community in all of Louisiana.
In the late 1910s,
an electric streetcar was installed running along Metairie Road. In the 1920s, Metairie Road was paved and the last of old Bayou Choupic alongside Metairie Road disappeared. The paving of Metairie Road
and the street car line opened the area to greater development and upscale housing tracts were constructed off Metairie Road in the 1920s. Today, these original Metairie neighborhoods off Metairie Road are
known as "Old Metairie" and have become the most prestigious area of Metairie.
Also in the 1910s, Jefferson Highway was built as part of the National Auto Trail system stetching from New Orleans
to winnipeg, Canada. In the 1920s, the Airline Highway was built. Along these two highways, the first large scale development in Metairie and East Jefferson would take place. But not until the cypress
swamps and marshlands between Metairie Ridge and Lake Pontchartrain could be drained.
With the invention of the giant and extremely efficient Wood Screw Pump, designed by A. Baldwin Wood in 1913 the
swamps and marshes that comprised most of East Jefferson and Metairie could finally be drained. They were first used in New Orleans to eliminate the frequent flooding in the city. After World War II,
canals were dug and new drainage pumps were installed throughout Metairie and the eastbank of Jefferson Parish. In the late 1940s through the 1950s, new neighborhoods were developed along the Airline and
Jefferson Highways including Airline Park, the largest development of its kind in the state at the time.
Federally guaranteed VA home loans for returning World War II veterans made home ownership
available to New Orleanians who for generations had lived as tenents in the city. Cheaper land, lower taxes, and larger lots than in Orleans Parish attracted developers and first time home buyers to
The completion of Veterans Highway in the late 1950s and the I-10 through Metairie in the early 1960s stimulated even more development. The entire length of Veterans Boulevard became
a commercial center while Causeway Blvd near Lake Pontchartrain became the Central Business District of Metairie.
At the intersection of Veterans and Causeway Boulevards, Lakeside Shopping Center first
opened in 1960. Lakeside was the first regional shopping mall in New Orleans and is today the largest and busiest mall in the New Orleans metro area. In the 1970s an area of bars and nightclubs known
as "Fat City" opened adjacent to Lakeside Shopping Center. Today it is known for its vibrant restaurants.
Despite some severe flooding from Hurricane
Katrina, Metairie recovered quickly after the storm. The levees protecting Metairie held which prevented the severity and scope of flooding experienced in the city of New Orleans. During the
months following the storm, as New Orleans slowly recovered from massive damage, Metairie served as a stable base of operations and commercial activity for the entire New Orleans area.
Today, Metairie, with approximately 140,000 residents, is the
most populated community in Jefferson Parish. With over 450,000 residents, Jefferson Parish is the most populated parish in Louisiana. Metairie contains the largest number of middle class residents
in the Metropolitan New Orleans area and acts as the retail hub for the entire metropolitan area.