Slidell is located in Southeastern Louisiana just north of New Orleans and west of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, two areas known for great entertainment. As part of St. Tammany Parish, Slidell boasts a flourishing business community, ample social calendar, and a nationally ranked school system. Slidell enjoys many community activities such as the Fourth of July fair and fireworks extravaganza, Mardi Gras parades and balls, the annual St. Tammany Parish Trade Fair, theatrical performances, and much more.
One of Slidell's best known features is its exquisite Antique District, which sponsors an Antique Street Fair in April and October. Contact them by calling 985-641-6316. Slidell also attracts marine lovers, as it borders Lake Pontchartrain and features beautiful marinas. Don't forget about the food! Slidell features an abundance of extraordinary restaurants specializing in everything from local Cajun and Creole favorites to exotic cuisine's from across the world. There is something for everyone here in fair Slidell.
In the 1880's, there was no easy way to transport goods from New Orleans to points north. It was either go up the Mississippi River or ferry across Lake Pontchartrain - only to be faced with the slow trek across the Honey Island Swamp. Then came the railroad, catalyst for Slidell's growth in the late 1800s. It provided access to and from New Orleans for all points north, and 19th century Slidell, the area now known as Olde Towne, experienced a period of stable growth as a new transportation era began.
Stores, hotels and saloons (as many as 14 operated on Front Street above Fremaux Avenue) provided for the needs of the growing community. Later, when automobiles became the mode of travel, U.S. Highway 11, running next to the railroad, brought many travelers through Slidell on their way to the Gulf Coast, Birmingham and beyond. As companies such as St. Joe Brickwork's and Southern Shipbuilding attracted more workers, Slidell grew to the point that, at one time, a two-story merchandise store was built for Salmen Company employees to buy goods with "scrip" they got as pay. In the early decades of this century the railroad was ideal transportation for the logging industry, as the woodlands north of Lake Pontchartrain became more accessible. Many roads leading east from Front Street (and the rail line), like Gause Road and Brown's Switch Road, were originally light rail lines that ended at the Pearl River Swamp and its seemingly endless supply of cypress trees. Slidell continued to grow, and as subdivisions popped up in the '50s, so did commuters, many taking the bus across the Highway 11 bridge to New Orleans. Then came the interstate highway system in the mid-'60s. US 11 (Front Street) and the railroad aren't used as much for shipping or travel anymore. The result: What had for so long been Downtown was becoming Olde Towne.
The years since then have brought more subdivisions, shopping centers and commuters, and more business development along the arteries leading to the interstate. With the rapid growth of the city - its complexion changed by urbanization - Olde Towne's heartbeat slowed. But there is now a concerted effort by several groups to revitalize and preserve this important part of Slidell's history. The Olde Towne Merchants' Association has been integral in re-establishing this area as historically significant and economically viable. The committed citizens of this association have sponsored many projects such as the St. Patrick's Day Parade, Newspapers in Education, Adopt-A-School, Olde Towne Maps, The Olde Towne Merchants Newsletter, and more. Its all-volunteer governing board's accomplishments are easy to see when you're in the Olde Towne area: the Olde Towne logo created by local artists; banners; the old style lampposts and benches on First Street; additional lighting; and designation as part of the 13-parish Louisiana Scenic Byways route. Other projects that the corporation has accomplished are not as visible but just as vital. Its executive director acts as a liaison between the corporation and the community and develops working relationships with other associations and organizations interested in Olde Towne development. It has established the Olde Towne Preservation District and created a low-interest loan pool for facade improvements to non-residential property. The corporation also implemented a tax reduction program to entice investment.
The corporation's Olde Towne Preservation District Advisory Com-mission reviews building plans and assists property owners interested in pursuing investment tax credits for historic rehabilitation's. It has applied for the city of Slidell to become a Nationally Certified Local Government, which would allow it to receive grants from State Historic Preservation Offices, participate in nominations to the National Register of Historic Places, and to participate in other statewide preservation programs and planning. It has formed the Economic Development Committee, which is dedicated to strengthening the economic environment of Olde Towne and maintaining an inventory of existing businesses and buildings. A five-year plan has been developed for more capital improvements as well as an ongoing Dedication Program for acceptance of donations of lampposts and benches throughout the Olde Towne area. Its Ways and Means Committee directs events such as the Olde Towne Cochon de Lait and a Celebrity Roast.
Projects currently under development are: a marketing campaign; a brochure promoting tourism; a walking tour brochure and home tour development; a retail leasing plan and recruitment; interstate highway exit signs; and in-city marker signs designating the boundaries of Olde Towne. There are also hopes for an upscale retail development, a farmer's market, a performing arts center, a waterfront park, a railroad museum, bayou tours, commuter parking and rail service.
Olde Towne is striving to experience activity reminiscent of the late 1800s. Already, its "Antique Row," beautiful old homes, and historic flavor are attracting shoppers and tourists from the surrounding communities. With continuing effort by the Olde Towne Merchants Association, the Olde Towne Development Corporation, other area organizations and Slidell residents, Olde Towne will enter the 21st century with a firm anchor in the past and an eye to the future.
Marie Ricca Lasecki, Olde Towne Development Corp., Special Projects, contributed to this story. It was compiled and written by Chamber of Commerce staff.
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