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McDonoghville Historic District

Gretna City, Jefferson Parish, LA


Buckingham Friends Meeting

Shotgun home at 1226 Washington Street, located in the McDonoughville Historic District, Gretna. The age is unknow; home is approximately 775 sqft. Photograph from the McDonoughville Historic Structures Survey, 2019-2020, irma.nps.gov, accessed September, 2022.


Gretna identifies McDonoghville as a local historic district. It was founded in 1815 by education philanthropist John McDonogh. It's other names include "Freetown" where his freed slaves settled and "Gouldsboro" (as identified in an 1896 map of New Orleans, below) for railroad magnate Jay Gould. McDonoghville was incorporated into the City of Gretna in 1913. In the past, parts of McDonoghville spanned the neighborhood of Algiers in the Orleans Parish next to it.

Named for its philanthropic and reclusive founder, John McDonogh, McDonoghville was established in 1815, which makes it Gretna's earliest subdivided development. The McDonoghville Historic District is characterized by modest residences set back on sizeable lots and a lack of commercial corridors, which gives it a sleepy, pastoral atmosphere that is rooted in its origins as a residential farming community. The 1845 guidebook Norman's New Orleans remarked in its brief mention of the place ("MacDonough") that "the country, the beautiful country is all around—and the noise and confusion of the city no longer annoy you." Although McDonoghville has been part of the city of Gretna since 1913, this sense of being removed from city life continues to distinguish it from its more urbanized neighbors.

Before McDonogh purchased the former plantation of Francois Bernoudy in 1813 and founded his namesake settlement, the western bank of the Mississippi River was a long row of working plantations backed by woodlands. McDonogh's property was the site of Monplaisir, a 1750 plantation house built for Jean de Pradel that sat near the present-day McDonoghville-Algiers border. The house and its auxiliary buildings were taken by the river in the late 19th century. McDonogh, who had been residing in New Orleans, moved into the house and divided the remaining land into regular lots and narrow, thirty-arpent strips for farming, which he sold or leased to laborers and some free people of color. While living there, he owned several slaves, whom he educated and encouraged to work for their freedom. Many of those freed men and women settled in a portion of McDonoghville called Freetown.

Because of McDonoghville's rural nature and the absence of local business, early residents had to travel to do their shopping, either at the New Orleans markets, which were accessible by ferry or skiff, or in Algiers and Gretna once those two communities had developed commercial districts. Many of the settlement's early dwellings were Creole cottages, a handful of which remain today, as well as some early shotguns and a few grander plantation-like residences with outbuildings, gardens, orchards, and livestock.

McDonogh died in 1850 and was buried in McDonoghville Cemetery on Hancock Street. Ten years later, his remains were moved to his hometown of Baltimore, but his tomb still stands with an inscription of the guiding principles he wrote as a young man. Rules such as "Never spend but to produce" and "Labor then to the last moment of your existence" communicate McDonogh's hard-working and frugal nature, which made it possible for him to amass a vast personal fortune. Although many accused the man of miserliness, in his will he famously established the John McDonogh School Fund, which provided enough money to create thirty-six public schools throughout New Orleans, including McDonogh No. 26 and No. 27 and McDonogh-Jefferson High School (No. 33) in McDonoghville.

By the 1880s, McDonoghville had become an important railroading center with a roundhouse, railyards, and numerous spurs. At this time, the community also became known as Gouldsboro, named for railroad magnate Jay Gould. The rise in economic opportunities led to a population increase and a building boom, which produced McDonoghville's robust collection of Italianate and Queen Anne / Eastlake S>hotguns and cottages. Another flurry of development took place in the years after McDonoghville's 1913 incorporation into the City of Gretna. In the early 20th century, fire insurance rates in the area had become prohibitively high due to the lack of a waterworks system. When a system was finally installed in 1914, however, it gave newcomers the confidence and means to settle there. Numerous residences, many of them in the Neoclassical Revival and Craftsman styles, sprang up throughout the district. The McDonoghville Historic District was locally designated in 2005.

Established in 1815 by John McDonogh, businessman and philanthropist making it Gretna's earliest subdivided development. The McDonoghville Historic District is characterized by modest residences set back on sizable lots and a lack of commercial corridors, recalling its originals as a residential farming community.

By the turn of the century, Gretna and nearby McDonoghville made up nearly half of Jefferson Parish's total population. This period of expansion was responsible for Gretna's numerous shotguns in the Italianate and Queen Anne/Eastlake styles, as well as many of its corner stores. In 1901, Front Street opened to connect the riverfront communities, and, a few years later, an electric streetcar service between Gretna and Algiers replaced the mule-drawn streetcar that had been running since 1884. Soon to follow were Gretna's two railroad depots on Third and Fourth streets (1902 and 1906, respectively) and the Renaissance Revival Jefferson Parish Courthouse (1907), which has operated as Gretna City Hall since 1961.

The McDonoghville Historic District is characterized by modest residences set back on sizeable lots and a lack of commercial corridors, which gives it a sleepy, pastoral atmosphere that is rooted in its origins as a residential farming community. The 1845 guidebook Norman's New Orleans remarked in its brief mention of the place ("MacDonough") that "the country, the beautiful country is all around—and the noise and confusion of the city no longer annoy you." Although McDonoghville has been part of the city of Gretna since 1913, this sense of being removed from city life continues to distinguish it from its more urbanized neighbors.

Adapted from: Calhoun $plus; Rolf Preservation Works for the City of Gretna, McDonoghville Historic Structires Survey Report, 2019-2020, irma.nps.gov, accessed September, 2022.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
4th Street • Adams Street • Americus Street • Anson Street • Franklin Street • Hancock Street • Monroe Street • Ocean Avenue • Washington Street