While walking through the French Quarter, I noticed a plaque that referred to Governor Nicholls Street as Hospital Street. What's the history of the name change?
Governor Nicholls is the third name that street has held since the city was founded. Maps from the 1750s and 1760s on view at the Historic New Orleans Collection show the street as Rue de l'Arsenal, so named because an arsenal was located on the street in the early days. While a 1764 map bears that street name, it also indicates a hospital was located on the street near the Mississippi River. By the 1770s, the name had been changed from Rue de l'Arsenal to Hospital Street.
The street, which runs through the French Quarter and into Treme all the way to Broad Street, would keep Hospital as its name for more than 125 years. In the early 1900s, there was a move to rename the street to honor Francis Redding Tillou Nicholls, the first Louisiana governor elected after Reconstruction. Nicholls, who was born in Donaldsonville in 1834, graduated from Tulane and West Point and was a Confederate general during the Civil War, where he lost an arm and a leg in two different battles. He was elected governor in 1876. After serving two terms, he became a state Supreme Court justice. He died in 1912, three years after Hospital Street was renamed for him.
It is not clear why Hospital Street was chosen for the name change, but a Sept. 26, 1909 editorial in The Daily Picayune applauded it. The newspaper called Nicholls a "venerable and eminent citizen," but questioned whether the street would be called General Nicholls or Governor Nicholls. The next month, the City Council voted to call it Governor Nicholls. Some property owners decried the move, however, bemoaning the loss of a longstanding street name. Even cartoonist and historian John Churchill Chase seemed to criticize the decision in his landmark 1949 book, Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children ... and Other Streets of New Orleans. He explained that Nicholls has a "lonely fate among Vieux Carre streets, in eternal association with Dumaine, Toulouse, the Duke of Orleans, et al. Placing this patriotic Irish-American in this stuffy Bourbon company — even in name only — is a dubious honor," Chase wrote.