he Garden District was founded by those rarest of birds: wealthy people who couldn’t afford the rent.
Except in this case the rent wasn’t monetary. It was a little thing called cultural capital. See, Americans began moving to what had until then been the French colony of Louisiane in the 19th century. Said Americans, many of whom were cut from the wealthy Southern landowner square of the American demographic quilt, found themselves barred from settling in Creole New Orleans, a strange city of French-Spanish-Caribbean hybridism where Catholicism was the dominant faith and Free People of Color walked the streets.
The new Americans were treated with suspicion by the Creoles, and feeling which they then returned, so they bought up plots of land on the other side of Canal Street and built manor houses to administer their agricultural empires from. Said manors were surrounded by lush gardens, which were later subdivided into housing lots – hence, the name of the neighborhood.
The new residents of what was dubbed the American Sector (and by the way, you will still here old school Yats using that term for any area upriver from Canal St) decided to show the Creoles a thing or two about opulence and made sure their homes were as grand, if not grander, than anything found in the Vieux Carre.
Yes, the Americans who founded the Garden District were once the noveau riche of New Orleans. But it is the nature of this city to replace one ruling class with another; it was the Garden District elite who were behind the mid-19th century revival of Mardi Gras and the formation of the first krewes, like Comus, Momus and Rex, and today those venerable city institutions count many Garden District residents as members and officers.