Long a respite from the heat and bustle of New Orleans, Mandeville, Louisiana, (population 12,500) still draws visitors thanks to its shady oaks, sandy beaches along Lake Pontchartrain, and nods to the past. The area was agricultural land when the town of Mandeville was laid out in 1834 by developer Bernard Xavier de Marigny de Mandeville. The Marigny family was a prominent family in Louisiana, owning nearly a third of the city of New Orleans. Bernard de Marigny de Mandeville was so taken with the beauty of the area that he named it for himself and took care to ensure others would visit and enjoy its charm.
In 1840 Mandeville was incorporated as a town. It became a popular summer destination for the well-to-do of New Orleans wishing to escape the city’s heat. By the end of the 19th century, the town had become a vacation spot for the middle class as well, thanks in part to the daily steamship route between New Orleans and Mandeville on Lake Pontchartrain.
Not only visitors, but music came to Mandeville from New Orleans. Bands would play on the ships crossing the lake and at pavilions and dance halls in Mandeville, and the city became one of the first places where jazz music was heard outside of New Orleans. Mandeville remained a vacation town until the 1950s, when the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway was constructed, turning Mandeville and other local towns into suburbs of New Orleans. Since then the town has continued to grow in population. Mandeville withstood some moderate damage from Hurricane Katrina, but has been, for the most part, able to recover from the storm.
The city of Mandeville, along with local architects, non-profits, citizen’s groups, and the Tulane Regional Urban Design Center, recently completed the Mandeville Trailhead. The trailhead was designed to act as a town center in Mandeville, and is used as a historical, environmental, and cultural interpretive center for both residents and visitors. The building was designed to look like a railroad depot, and is a composite of several depots that once stood in the area. The Mandeville Trailhead Foundation runs the day-to-day operations of the site, and works with the city to develop exhibitions and programming. In addition to being the site for events, the Trailhead lies along the Tammany Trace, a 31-mile rails-to-trails recreational path. The Mandeville Trailhead Community Market is also located at the site. The market attracts shoppers to Old Mandeville and provides affordable retailing space to local farmers, artisans, and small businesses.
A long term preservation project in Mandeville has been the Dew Drop Social and Benevolent Hall. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Dew Drop was built in 1895 and is thought to be the oldest standing jazz hall in America. The site of many jazz concerts during the early 20th century, it presented greats like Kid Ory, Bunk Johnson, Buddy Petit, and Louis Armstrong. Closed during the Depression, the Dew Drop has recently reopened for bi-monthly concerts. The Friends of the Dew Drop offer these concerts in addition to lectures on the history of Dew Drop, its era, and the neighborhood. The group is also focused on preserving the Dew Drop, while not allowing it to lose its community spirit.
Designated a Preserve America Community in May 2008.