Challenging assumptions and seeking solutions with the dangers of Gallatin Street

Gallatin Street was named after Albert Gallatin, the secretary of the treasury under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. This street covered two blocks that were located along the Mississippi River. These two blocks were in Downtown New Orleans, including both Gallatin Street and The French Market, and are famous for different reasons. When one thinks of a street being dangerous, one would never think of what is now the French Market, a place where one can gather to shop, eat, and spend time with friends and family. In the mid-1800s New Orleans, with the name Gallatin Street, was the most dangerous street a person could walk down and no longer exists. Gallatin Street was a notorious spot known for passing through New Orleans or a resident involved in crime and dangerous activities. Gallatin Street was the most dangerous street in the country in 1841 because of high levels of prostitution, the presence of Yellow Fever, dangerously packed living quarters, and a high immigration population wreaking havoc on the city.

With the high influx of immigrants living on Gallatin Street, because it approximated railroad tracks and the port, crime, and street gangs were a result, this street was a pit stop or a place to gather after work for mostly lower-class people. Gallatin Street had close to half a million immigrants walkthrough when the ships stopped at the port. Many immigrants chose to stay in New Orleans and try to find work. Trends over time tend to show areas with these circumstances being more dangerous and avoidable by the common man.  Also, with Gallatin Street being a populated destination, immigrant women took up prostitution around this street looking for the company of visitors or locals roaming the bars. Fifty percent of these women who were working as prostitutes had sexually transmitted diseases. Ads were posted all around the city at this time, offering cures for citizens with venereal diseases.

Many of these women sought out a job as a prostitute on Gallatin Street because this profession was known as the second most profitable industry in New Orleans at this time. With prostitution being a significant source of income throughout New Orleans and specifically Gallatin Street, there was a large transmission of sexually transmitted diseases that would be the cause of death for most of these women at a young age. Just another factor making this street dangerous. The scary thing is if sexually transmitted diseases were not the cause of death, these women would most likely die from violence on Gallatin Street from bar owners, drunk men, and crime. For example, around this time, “A young Irish immigrant named Mary Jane died by the knife of an angry customer in John Swan’s brothel after refusing certain sexual services. Such violent acts were not uncommon on Gallatin Street.Women were not respected and most of them had no chance of ever getting off Gallatin Street. Many brothels were located here as well, which increased the number of prostitutes and crime in the area. Overall, one thing leads to another and the influx of new people in a crime-ridden area eventually leads to dangerous living conditions for anyone nearby. 

Gallatin Street was a place that was avoided at night by everyone but the immigrants living there and the street gangs. An effect of the dangers and high crime was less police help and more neighborhood street gangs chaotically taking care of issues that would arise. The only time that the police would make an appearance to patrol Gallatin Street would be during the day, in large numbers. Police especially would not be as present during the Antebellum era, which took place after the War of 1812 and before the Civil War. According to Judith Kelleher Schafer, during this time the police were understaffed and underpaid, making them susceptible to bribes and apathy. The citizens’ safety was not taken seriously by police in this crime-filled area. New York City Police struggled with similar issues during this era. Bar owners, drunks, prostitutes, and even brothel owners became the law in the two blocks that made up Gallatin Street causing danger to all.

Gallatin Street New Orleans in 1841. (Photo by: Times-Picayune)

With the railroad tracks also being close to Gallatin Street, many people would avoid this street as a place to live. This is how Gallatin Street became such a popular place for immigrants to live… cheap housing. There were many open spaces and cheap living for these new people. Gallatin Street was the most dangerous street in the country not just in the sense of direct violence but in several ways. For example, Gallatin Street was near the Mississippi River, keeping it very damp. This dampness around Gallatin Street made it a significant attraction for mosquitoes, leading to many disease outbreaks. Mosquitoes are attracted to humid, damp weather, and Gallatin Street perfectly fits this mold. The 1800s were when the Yellow Fever was a significant cause of death in this region. With Gallatin Street being a large gathering place of immigrants coming and going, it caused infectious diseases to spread rapidly, killing many. Many people would say that you would be lucky if you died from the disease on Gallatin Street, as most people were stabbed, shot, or robbed. The “easy way out” from this street was to die from Yellow Fever, or any other sickness sailors and visitors brought through. With murders as a daily occurrence, one never knew what they would get living on or visiting Gallatin Street. 

For many different reasons, Gallatin Street has become infamous, from the danger and the line of work that has become the new normal at this time. The bars nearby were known for having chaotic fights break out and aggressive owners, who were drunks themselves most of the time. When men would come in from the ports or train station to visit Gallatin Street, they would sometimes end up never getting out and being dragged in by the gangs and a life of crime. There were rumors that men would disappear after visiting dance halls and other establishments in the two-block radius of Gallatin Street. These businessmen would come in with valuable watches and loads of cash from a recent vacation and would be lucky even to survive. The lawless immigrant culture on Gallatin Street allowed for criminal acts like this to occur daily. 

The houses on Gallatin Street were also dangerous to live in. They were all cheaply made and families all crammed into one room. Corruption by property owners caused this issue to increase space for businesses and the immigrants who came to live on Gallatin Street did not have enough money to live anywhere else. The reason Gallatin Street was thriving was mainly from the port traffic. This port had a steady rotation of new shipments coming in from all over the world. 

When thinking of a dangerous place to live, typical factors are violence, sickness, overpopulation, and gang activity. Gallatin Street was not just dangerous because of the violence of crime and street gangs with little protection, but also the diseases and overpopulated, harsh living conditions. No other street at the time had so many dangers at hand, leading to high death rates.  However, even the sailors knew that you could not step on Gallatin Street once the sunset or you were not guaranteed your life. 

Quote Collection 

“The Ghosts of Gallatin Street: Former Red Light District in New Orleans.” Ghost City Tours, 

Jessica Anne Dauterive et al., “Gallatin Street: An Introduction,” New Orleans Historical, accessed April 16, 2021,

Jessica Anne Dauterive et al., “The Barrooms and Brothels of Gallatin Street,” New Orleans Historical, accessed April 16, 2021,

Jessica Anne Dauterive et al., “The People of Gallatin Street,” New Orleans Historical, accessed April 16, 2021,

Karst, James. “Gallatin Street, Once New Orleans’ Most Dangerous with ‘Crime and Depravity in Every Inch’.”, 25 June 2017, 

Karst, James. “On Gallatin Street, Carnage and Deceit.”, 27 Aug. 2016, 

  1. “Close to half a million immigrants came through New Orleans’ port between 1841 and 1860, and many of them didn’t make it past Gallatin Street” (Dauterive)
  2. “According to historian Judith Kelleher Schafer, the majority of prostitutes in and around the area were immigrant women.”(Dauterive)
  3. “If public women didn’t die of disease, they died from being subjected to violence at the hands of drunken patrons or angry bar owners.” (Dauterive)
  4. “While women were often victims of violent crime, some women were also active criminals.” (Dauterive)
  5. “A group of men known as the Live Oak Gang frequented Gallatin Street. Although a motley crew, they were the closest thing to organized crime in the area.”(Dauterive)
  6. “Police were known to avoid Gallatin Street without a partner, especially at night.”(Dauterive)
  7. “A small, two-block stretch called Gallatin Street, now called French Market Place, was once the headquarters of vice in New Orleans.” (Dauterive)
  8. “Gallatin street is wet and slippery, it is dimly lighted, for rows of tall houses with battered, broken shutters, and windows unlighted, look down on the stones below. Gallatin Street has a puddle here and there on the sidewalk, but these cannot be seen, as the moon has not come yet over the edge of the tall, seemingly untenanted houses by which the street passes. But the houses with the wet bricks and the dark broken windows are inhabited by hundreds of human beings. This is one of the haunts of poverty. Squalor and misery are sleeping above in chambers so dark and damp as the cold pave stones below.” (Dauterive)
  9. “We reach the doorway of a large room, whence the music proceeds. We pause, look in, and a sailor with a blue shirt and trousers and a blue flat cap on the back of his head, half grunts, half hiccoughs as he says, ‘Sail in if yer after fun an’ frolicking.” (Dauterive)
  10. “Gallatin Street sheltered some of the most dangerous criminals, prostitutes, street gangs and con men of the mid-1800s in New Orleans.” (Dauterive)
  11. “The port of New Orleans during this time was never empty, keeping a constant flow of men and women through Gallatin Street’s infamous boarding houses, brothels, and saloons.”(Dauterive)
  12. “ . . . boarding, or rather lodging, houses, occupied, many of them, by crowds who only sleep there, eating and working out, with no privies (these being monopolized by the tenants on the ground floor). The streets and levee opposite are used for this purpose; whole families sometimes occupy small rooms; some use them for raising fowls and dogs, and as receptacles for vegetables for market, and the refuse of the unsaleables of the market from day to day with little regard to removing the half-decayed relics.”(Dauterive)
  13. “Gallatin Street: a place where poverty and vice run races with want and passion.” (Ghost City Tours)
  14. “The Times-Picayune reported that owning a bar on Gallatin Street required “Courage, Brutality, and Diplomacy.” (Dauterive)
  15.  “Gallatin Street in New Orleans became infamous in the mid-19th century for the brawls at its saloons and dance halls, and for the disappearances of men who visited them” (James)
  16.  “It had the reputation as being the toughest street in a tough town and one that policemen refused to set foot on, except in large numbers and during the day.” (James) 
  17. “there were crime and depravity in every inch” (James)
  18. “The stranger who entered it at Ursuline Avenue with money in his pocket and came out at Barracks with his wealth intact and his skull uncracked had performed a feat which bordered on the miraculous,” (James)
  19. “It’s relatively safe these days, but for much of the 19th century, when it was known as Gallatin Street, it was infamous for its concentration of carnage and sin.” (James)
  20. “the toughest two city blocks of all the waterfronts of the world,” (James)
  21. “Gallatin Street was made up of cheap boarding houses, rowdy dance halls, and houses of prostitution, lining both sides of the street and packed together on the wharf where sailors from every port in the world came ashore.” (James)
  22. “The street was also filthy, ground zero for yellow fever epidemics, not to mention the venereal diseases that spread among the sailors and prostitutes.” (James)
  23. “I’ve known one man who wished that he had died before he made his way there,” (James)
  24. “Yes, many a good man has gone to hell in Gallatin Street.” (James)
  25.  “It was a great place for murders, once upon a time,”(James)
  26. “At one groggery – a drinking establishment too seedy to be called a saloon – thugs would rob men on the upper floors of the building and then drop them down a chute, to be deposited into the street below.” (James)


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