Columns » Blake Pontchartrain: New Orleans Trivia

Where on the Mississippi River is the crescent that gave New Orleans the nickname "The Crescent City?"

Blake Pontchartrain: The New Orleans N.O. It All


Hey Blake,

Where on the Mississippi River is the crescent that gave New Orleans the nickname "The Crescent City?"

Dear Reader,

  The moniker you mention is one of my personal favorites of all the nicknames used throughout history to describe New Orleans. In fact, your question got me thinking about some of them: "The City That Care Forgot," "Gateway to the Americas," "Birthplace of Jazz" and "Big Easy."

  As geographer and author Richard Campanella points out in his book Bienville's Dilemma: A Historical Geography of New Orleans, the more nicknames a place has, the more interesting it tends to be and the more it deviates from the norm. That pretty much describes New Orleans. Places such as Scottsdale, Arizona or Longmont, Colorado "earn no widely recognized nicknames, neither as terms of endearment or disdain," Campanella wrote in the book, adding, "New Orleans' veritable glossary of lasting monikers seems to imply that something different happened here."

  As for the term "Crescent City," Campanella gives credit for that moniker to Joseph Holt Ingraham, an author born in Portland, Maine in 1809. In a travelogue written in 1835 called The South-West, by a Yankee, Ingraham claimed to have coined the nickname. "I have termed New Orleans the crescent city in one of my letters," he wrote, "from its being built around the segment of a circle formed by a graceful curve of the river at this place."

  Though he attributes the term "crescent city" to Ingraham, Campanella also makes a case that the word "crescent" was used to describe the city from its earliest days, even by the explorer who founded it. Bienville described the city using terms such as "one of the finest crescents of the river..." and "the very fine crescent of the port of New Orleans ..." Other early mentions date to 1758 and 1818, but Campanella contends that after Ingraham's 1835 use of the term, the popularity of "Crescent City" exploded. It was soon used as a name for a shipping line and even a local newspaper.

  As for the exact crescent bend in the river that gave rise to the term, Campanella told Gambit he surmises that because in 1835 the city mostly hugged the bend from present-day Faubourg Marigny/Bywater through the Irish Channel, that's the safest bet for a spot that generated the term. "But surely Ingraham was speaking lyrically and not cartographically," Campanella added.

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