We all reminisce for the days of fresh seafood at Bruning’s and Fitzgerald’s, grabbing drinks with friends at the Bounty or the Hong Kong after a day on the water, but what many New Orleanians are unaware of is that this social interaction on the lake has happened for nearly two centuries. West End has always been a major recreational destination for the city with restaurants, jazz bars, ferris wheels, hotels, opera houses and roller coasters and this history was captured by some of the greatest literary minds of the South including Mark Twain, William Faulkner and Kate Chopin.
~ MARK TWAIN ~ 1874 ~ LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI~
“And by-and-bye we reached the West End, a collection of hotels of the usual light summer-resort pattern, with broad verandas all around, and the waves of the wide and blue Lake Pontchartrain lapping the thresholds. We had dinner on a ground-veranda over the water–the chief dish the renowned fish called the pompano, delicious as the less criminal forms of sin. Thousands of people come by rail and carriage to West End and to Spanish Fort every evening, and dine, listen to the bands, take strolls in the open air under the electric lights, go sailing on the lake, and entertain themselves in various and sundry other ways.”
~ KATE CHOPIN ~ 1897 ~ A NIGHT IN ACADIE ~
“One afternoon he took her out to the lake end. She had been there once, some years before, but in winter, so the trip was comparatively new and strange to her. The large expanse of water studded with pleasure-boats, the sight of children playing merrily along the grassy palisades, the music, all enchanted her.”
~ KATE CHOPIN ~ 1894 ~ LA BELLE ZORAIDE ~
“The summer night was hot and still; not a ripple of air swept over the marais. Yonder, across Bayou St. John, lights twinkled here and there in the darkness, and in the dark sky above a few stars were blinking. A lugger that had come out of the lake was moving with slow, lazy motion down the bayou. A man in the boat was singing a song.”
The following is quoted from a Gambit Weekly article (Rising Star, by W. Kenneth Holditch) about William Faulkner’s life in New Orleans:
’In the next few months (1926), Faulkner wrote much of his second novel, Mosquitoes, which was a satiric look at the life of the artists and writers in the Quarter. The story grew out of a yacht cruise on Lake Pontchartrain attended by several members of the creative community the year before.”
~ NATHANIEL BISHOP ~ 1879 ~ FOUR MONTHS IN A SNEAKBOX ~
“My shortest route to the Gulf of Mexico was through New Basin Canal, six miles in length, into Lake Pontchartrain, and from there to the Gulf..The first part of this canal runs through the city proper, and then through a low swampy region out into the shallow Lake Pontchartrain. At the terminus of New Basin Canal I found a small light-house, two or three hotels, and a few houses, making a little village. I rowed out of the canal on to the lake…The skippers of the little fleet were very civil men. Some of them were of French and some of Spanish origin, while one or two were Germans. Night settled down upon us…the evening became lovely. Soon the quiet hamlet changed to a scene of merriment, as the gay people of the city drove out in their carriages to have a ‘lark,’ as the sailors expressed it; and which seemed to begin at the hotels with card-playing, dancing…and to end in a general carousal.”
~ ALICE DUNBAR ~ 1899 ~ THE GOODNESS OF ST. ROCQUE ~
“There had been a picnic the day before, and as merry a crowd of giddy, chattering Creole girls and boys as ever you could see boarded the ramshackle dummy-train that puffed its way wheezily out wide Elysian Fields Street, around the lily-covered bayous, to Milneburg-on-the-Lake. Now, a picnic at Milneburg is a thing to be remembered for ever. One charters a rickety-looking, weather-beaten dancing-pavilion, built over the water, and after storing the children–for your true Creole never leaves the small folks at home–and the baskets and mothers downstairs, the young folks go up-stairs and dance to the tune of the best band you ever heard. For what can equal the music of a violin, a guitar, a cornet, and a bass viol to trip the quadrille to at a picnic? Then one can fish in the lake and go bathing under the prim bath-houses…and go rowing on the lake in a trim boat, followed by the shrill warnings of anxious mamas.”
West End has inspired writers, artists, musicians and the people of New Orleans for two centuries – please join with us and help us return West End to its original splendor.