The summer heat’s broken! As fall approaches in New Orleans, locals and visitors alike want to get outdoors. Riding the streetcar on a sunny day is one of the most enjoyable ways to get Uptown to the Audubon Zoo, or out to City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art. Our “green” streetcars that run on the St. Charles line have been part of the city for 90 years, so we tend to take them for granted, but streetcars were part of New Orleans for 88 years prior to that!

Horse-drawn tram on St. Charles Avenue, 1850s (public domain drawing)

The St. Charles line began operations on September 26, 1835. The line originally operated as a steam-powered railroad, but the noise and smoke from the engines generated too many complaints from residents Uptown and in Carrollton. The operaters of the line, the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad Company (NO&CRR) converted the line to horse-drawn tram cars.

Canal Street, 1850s, prior to street rail development.(NOPL drawing)

In the late 1850s, another group of businessmen developed plans to operate street railroads in New Orleans. While the NO&CRR serviced Uptown, the New Orleans City Railroad (NOCRR) planned to offer steam train and streetcar service to Canal Street/Mid City, and back-of-town folks. NOCRR operated steam trains from their car barn on Canal and White Streets (near Warren Easton High School) out to the West End and Spanish Fort park/resort areas on Lake Pontchartrain. Like Uptown, the steam engines raised concerns about soot and noise among Mid City residents, so NOCRR also switched to animal power. The company chose ‘bobtail’ cars from the Johnson Car Company.

Johnson Car Company ‘bobtail’ car on Esplanade Avenue by the US Mint. (NOPL photo)

The ‘bobtail’ cars served NOCRR so well that NO&CRR began to acquire them for use uptown. If you caught the Knights of Babylon parade during Mardi Gras, you might have seen their “officers’ float,” which is designed to look like one of these old streetcars.

Robinson Atlas, 1880, Plate 15, showing St. Charles and Napoleon (New New Orleans Notarial Archives)

By the 1880, NO&CRR had expanded their operations into multiple lines serving uptown, The company established lines running on Jackson and on Napoleon, from St. Charles Avenue to the river. NO&CRR acquired the land at St. Charles and Napoleon Avenues and built a car barn/animal barn on the river side. The river side block contained an office building and shop facilities. This was the company’s main car barn until the 1910s, when then New Orleans Railway & Light Company acquired NO&CRR and moved operations up to the Willow Street barn.

Experimental self-propelled streetcar on the “Bayou Bridge and City Park line (NOPL photo)

The Civil War slowed growth of street railways in New Orleans, but didn’t stop it. After the Union Navy defeated the Confederates outside the city on Lake Borgne, New Orleans did not offer major resistence, so life in the city was not interrupted by the Union army burning things down. Periments with other forms of propulsion, including a cable system and even an ammonia-powered gas system. The NOCRR tried a self-propelled car on one of the backatown lines (photo above), but the mule-driven cars were still the best possibility. After the war, others obtained permits from the city to offer streetcar service, and the ‘bobtail’ cars became a fixture about town.

‘Bobtail’ streetcar rounding the massive Henry Clay monument, Canal Street and St. Charles Avenue (NOPL photo)

Canal Street was and still is the transit hub of New Orleans. Whether coming in from Uptown or backatown, streetcar lines converged on Canal Street, primarily from Rampart Street to the River. Riders could come into downtown on cross-town lines, then transfer to the Canal or West End streetcars to get out to Mid City or Lakeview.

Before the Civil War, Canal Street was a 140′ wide boulevard with a huge open neutral ground. By the 1880s, streetcars took over that neutral ground, so that tracks were six-wide at some points. It was all about getting from the neighborhoods to downtown.

By the mid-1890s, electricity came to US cities, and another age of streetcars emerged. We’ll tell that story another time. Until then, get on one of the 1923-vintage “green” streetcars at St. Charles and Carondelet Streets in the CBD and imagine riding up to Fat Harry’s or all the way to Riverbend in a mule-car!

The St. Charles line began operations on September 26, 1835. The line originally operated as a steam-powered railroad, but the noise and smoke from the engines generated too many complaints from residents Uptown and in Carrollton. The operaters of the line, the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad Company (NO&CRR) converted the line to horse-drawn tram cars.

In the late 1850s, another group of businessmen developed plans to operate street railroads in New Orleans. While the NO&CRR serviced Uptown, the New Orleans City Railroad (NOCRR) planned to offer steam train and streetcar service to Canal Street/Mid City, and back-of-town folks. NOCRR operated steam trains from their car barn on Canal and White Streets (near Warren Easton High School) out to the West End and Spanish Fort park/resort areas on Lake Pontchartrain. Like Uptown, the steam engines raised concerns about soot and noise among Mid City residents, so NOCRR also switched to animal power. The company chose ‘bobtail’ cars from the Johnson Car Company.

The ‘bobtail’ cars served NOCRR so well that NO&CRR began to acquire them for use uptown. If you caught the Knights of Babylon parade during Mardi Gras, you might have seen their “officers’ float,” which is designed to look like one of these old streetcars.

By the 1880, NO&CRR had expanded their operations into multiple lines serving uptown, The company established lines running on Jackson and on Napoleon, from St. Charles Avenue to the river. NO&CRR acquired the land at St. Charles and Napoleon Avenues and built a car barn/animal barn on the river side. The river side block contained an office building and shop facilities. This was the company’s main car barn until the 1910s, when then New Orleans Railway & Light Company acquired NO&CRR and moved operations up to the Willow Street barn.

Experimental self-propelled streetcar on the “Bayou Bridge and City Park line (NOPL photo)

The Civil War slowed growth of street railways in New Orleans, but didn’t stop it. After the Union Navy defeated the Confederates outside the city on Lake Borgne, New Orleans did not offer major resistence, so life in the city was not interrupted by the Union army burning things down. Periments with other forms of propulsion, including a cable system and even an ammonia-powered gas system. The NOCRR tried a self-propelled car on one of the backatown lines (photo above), but the mule-driven cars were still the best possibility. After the war, others obtained permits from the city to offer streetcar service, and the ‘bobtail’ cars became a fixture about town.

Canal Street was and still is the transit hub of New Orleans. Whether coming in from Uptown or backatown, streetcar lines converged on Canal Street, primarily from Rampart Street to the River. Riders could come into downtown on cross-town lines, then transfer to the Canal or West End streetcars to get out to Mid City or Lakeview.

Before the Civil War, Canal Street was a 140′ wide boulevard with a huge open neutral ground. By the 1880s, streetcars took over that neutral ground, so that tracks were six-wide at some points. It was all about getting from the neighborhoods to downtown.

By the mid-1890s, electricity came to US cities, and another age of streetcars emerged. We’ll tell that story another time. Until then, get on one of the 1923-vintage “green” streetcars at St. Charles and Carondelet Streets in the CBD and imagine riding up to Fat Harry’s or all the way to Riverbend in a mule-car!