"The levee is . . . one of the most characteristic features of New Orleans. Here is conducted the immense commercial business of the city, and in front of it is moored the shipping of all nations."
Print of the levee at New Orleans. Almost without exception, 19th century commentators on the Crescent City marveled at the levee scene, using words and phrases like "constant activity and bustle" and "the busiest place in New Orleans" and remarking on the " panorama which for variety and life has probably not its equal on this continent" and the "kaleidoscopic view of moored and moving shipping, waterborne sights and sounds and smells from the near and far places of the earth." "Northerners," one foreign writer noted, "found the scene marvelously exotic." This print gives a glimpse of the enormous variety of the levee and the frenetic, unceasing activity that so astonished visitors to the city.Before the construction of the covered wharves that we are familiar with today, the city's business with the river was conducted on the "levee," the wide stretch of land at the riverfront above and below the foot of Canal Street between St. Louis Street and Julia Street. By 1840, the Port of New Orleans was fourth in the world in the volume of its commerce, exceeded only by London, Liverpool and New York. The levee was an international marketplace, with ships tied up two and three abreast at the docks unloading cargo and passengers from all points of the globe and loading domestic cargo for export. In the late 19th century, the levee was replaced by the covered wharves and terminals (some 22 miles of them today) that make up the modern port. Today, iron and steel, coffee, tea and cocoa, forest products, rubber, grain, sugar, pharmaceuticals, coal, petroleum, chemicals, fertilizers, and vegetable oils (among the port's major commodities) arrive and depart for Central America, the Caribbean, South America, Northern Europe, Africa, and the Far East. More than 2400 ocean carriers called the Port in 1995 alone. The modern Port no doubt lacks the charm and eccentricity of the old levee, but the harbor, as it was in the 19th century, remains one of the world's busiest.[Louisiana Division Print Collection]
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