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Hole in the Ground

DID NEW ORLEANS COME FROM A HOLE IN THE GROUND ON BAYOU LIBERTY?

There is a "mystery hole" at the heart of Camp Salmen next to the old Spanish era trading post on Bayou Liberty (a.k.a. “Salmen Lodge”). Its a brush-filled low spot that does not appear to be connected to the bayou in any geologic way and without a manual, its purpose can only be conjectured. There's talk of eventually building a pond in it, which might bring it full circle to how it originally began. How does it fit into the history of the bayou and the park?

Among the first white settlers on the bayou was a man named La Liberte' who showed up in French colonial records in the 1720s. He got the bayou named after him and with the other colonists figured out ways to make a living from the local pine trees. They produced lumber, charcoal, shingles, barrel staves and refined the sticky ooze bleeding from the trees into what were called “naval stores” - pitch and tar for waterproofing boat parts and other things. They fired clay dug from the ground for bricks also burned shells from the lakeshore to make lime for mortar. They used these materials to build their own homes and carried them under sail to help build the new colonial capital of New Orleans.

Some eighty years later, when the area was under Spanish control, Joseph Laurent followed the same idea. He built a trading post out of local materials on a bluff a little further up the bayou at place that later became known as Camp Salmen. He also sailed his products to New Orleans and brought back trade goods for the Native Americans and white settlers. His bricks sold especially well because two huge fires had burned down the old wooden French city and the Spanish decreed it would never happen again as all new construction would henceforth be of brick and mortar. The game was on for north shore brick makers.

About a hundred years after this Fritz Salmen bought the land and also mined local clay for bricks for the New Orleans market. The city and surrounding communities were growing by leaps and bounds in this, the Gilded Age, and Salmen became a wealthy man; the area's first mogul. His enterprise grew and diversified and with the help of the railroads he put Slidell on the map.

The clay is from very fine river sediment that accumulated in quiet swampy areas next to bayous like Liberty. Could it be that the clay used by Liberte', Laurent and Salmen was dug from our mystery hole? How much of the French Quarter that we see today came from this hole in the ground next to Bayou Liberty.

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