S ettlers along the river were required to build levees within a certain time period or lose the land. These levees were about two feet high and six feet wide, with both a foot and a horse path on top. Through the years, improvements and enlargements were necessary. Thus began two centuries of lingering threats of flooding on the German Coast from levee breaks, called crevasses. Not until after the first quarter of the twentieth century (with the construction of the Bonnet Carré Spillway) would residents of the German Coast be freed from such annual flooding threats. Levees were in place on both sides of the river as early as the 1730s from about twenty miles below New Orleans to the upper end of the German Coast. This was an impressive accomplishment for the small farm settlers of the German Coast who did not have the labor force of the large concessionaires downriver. Historians always emphasize this fact in their writings. However, levee construction would over the years contribute to wetland loss and rich land building sediment loss as man begins to tame the river.


French colonial laws and directives required landholders along streams and bayous to build roads and levees fronting the waterways. Stricter enforcement would be applied in the later eighteenth century under Spanish rule.


In 1732, Louisiana Governor Etienne Perier issued a directive ordering every man who owned land along the Mississippi River to build a public road in front of his property and with that order, construction of the Mississippi River Road began. Even today, the State of Louisiana only holds tacit title to most of the land known as River Road. In 1990, with the passage of Public Law 10-398, the United States Congress created the Mississippi River Corridor Study Commission that resulted in the creation of Louisiana’s Mississippi River Road Commission and the development of the Mississippi River Road Master Plan, a blueprint for the River Road’s future. In 1991, the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the historic Mississippi River Road Corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans on the nation’s eleven most endangered historic properties.


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• Bonnet Carré Crevasse




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Between 1849 and 1882, the Bonnet Carré Crevasse left a large, fan-shaped imprint on the landscape. (Map from the New Orleans District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Brochure on the Bonnet Carré Spillway) A sugar cane field is covered with water following the Hymelia Crevasse break. (Photo courtesy of the George Lorio family)

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Flooding in Hill Heights is depicted in this 1973 view. (Photo courtesy of Fay Walker Louque.)

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Copyright © This text is copyright material by Marilyn Richoux, Joan Becnel and Suzanne Friloux, from St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History, 2010.