Pleasure gardens in nineteenth-century New Orleans: "Useful for all classes of society"

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British-born architect Thomas Kelah Wharton (1814-62) came to New Orleans in 1853 as superintendent for the construction of the Customs House, and for nine years, during a golden age of urban growth and prosperity, he wrote about contemporary life in the antebellum community.1 On 2 May 1854, he described a rail excursion that he took with his family to Carrollton, a community several miles from downtown: The trip was delightful and the cool fresh breeze on the river bank quite invigorating after the heat and dust of a day in town. We met pleasant friends in the gardens and found every thing much changed, and not improved, since last May. The abrasions of the River have made a new Levee, far within the old one, absolutely necessary. Obliterating entirely one of the beautiful and far-famed gardens. The shade lane, too, of lofty oleander which last year was covered at this time with a perfect waste of blossoms. The pleasant walk on the river bank arched over with China trees.2 The lovely alleys of Cape jessamines, and the white bell flowered Yucca, from which years ago I derived my first impressions of the exuberance of southern vegetation, all, all, have vanished and in their place nothing but a long, bald, earthy, embankment, a wind dusty road, immense piles of cord wood (for supplying the steamboats), with rail tracks in every direction to facilitate their transmission from point to point.3 Stagnant pools of muddy water between the old Levee and the new. In short, deformity for beauty, utility for poetry, but the grand river still redeems it all, and the fresh green woods on the distant bank, and the fresh pure air blowing across its restless current.4

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The Pleasure Garden: From Vauxhall to Coney Island

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