Milneburg, Lake Pontchartrain’s port facility and day-trip resort

Milneburg, Lake Pontchartrain’s port facility and day-trip resort

Milneburg, Alexander Milne’s port on Lake Pontchartrain.

‘Winter in the South’ – Article from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, December 1858. Woodcut engraving ‘The Light-House-Lake Pontchartrain’. (h/t Pontchartrain.net)

Milneburg – Port village on Lake Pontchartrain

A short drive or bus ride from downtown out to the campus of the University of New Orleans brings you back to one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, Milneburg. The area is all commercial-use now, but it began as port area, then resort, then an important part of the city’s contribution to the war effort in the 1940s.

The area at Elysian Fields and the Lakefront was swampland when the French established New Orleans near the Mississippi River. The Spanish colonial government, seeing little value in the land, sold it to a Scottish businessman, Alexander Milne. Milne came to New Orleans in 1776, where he started a brick making business. That business became quite profitable after the great fires of 1788 and 1794, when the Spanish ordered the city be rebuilt with brick structures, rather than the wooden ones built by the French. Milne worked to develop his lakefront property, particularly on the eastern side of the city. By 1830, he had encouraged a group of businessmen to form the Pontchartrain Rail-Road Company, which built a five-mile right-of-way, connecting Faubourg Marigny with Milneburg.

Bypassing the Mississippi River

Milneburg

Fishing camps along the lake in Milneburg, 1923 (photo: public domain)

Milne constructed a small port on the lakefront, building a pier which extended out into the lake far enough that ocean-going ships could dock there, and their cargo could be taken by rail to the city. The path from the Gulf of Mexico, through Lake Borgne, to the Rigolets Pass, into Lake Pontchartrain and finally to Milneburg, was attractive to ship captains, since it was faster than coming up to New Orleans from the mouth of the river. To improve safety at the port, the Port Pontchartrain Lighthouse was constructed in 1834.

Milneburg

Theresa Gallagher and her husband, Conrad Freese, at Milneburg, New Orleans c. 1880 – 1890 (Photo: public domain)

Milneburg was the terminus of the Pontchartrain Railroad. The trains ran down what is now Elysian Fields Avenue, to the company’s station at Elysian Fields and Chartres, in the Marigny. The Pontchartrain Railroad operated for over a century.

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Quarella’s Restaurant, Mlineburg, 1914 (photo: public domain)

Commercial use of Milneburg boomed during the antebellum years, and continued through the Civil War. The U.S. Navy so totally dominated the Confederate forces in 1862 that New Orleans surrendered without a land battle. Milneburg’s use as a commercial port waned in the late 1800s, but the area continued to be a popular day trip from the city. Saloons, clubs, and restaurants popped up in Milneburg as early as the 1840s. By the 1900s, the area was a network of fishing camps, resorts, and restaurants.

Jazz

Milneburg also became known for its music. In his biography of Edward “Kid” Ory, Creole Trombone, John McCusker writes of Ory’s memories of busking for tips in Milneburg. Ory and his band would come into the city from LaPlace, and would head out to Milneburg during the day, going from fishing camp to fishing camp, playing for tips. Perhaps it was Ory and his band that influenced a number of Italian-American boys like Sharkey Bonano, who lived in Milneburg to play Jazz. Either way, Jazz stayed in Milneburg even after Ory’s band became well-known and played paying gigs uptown and in Storyville. Younger musicians would ride the “Smokey Mary” (as the Pontchartrain Rail-Road was known locally) out to the resort area, hang out, and play.

Milneburg in 1921 (photo: public domain)

Food and music kept Milneburg popular long after its usefulness as a port had diminished. The railroad continued passenger operations until 1932. When land reclamation projects around Bayou St. John and Spanish Fort pushed Pontchartrain Beach further back from the the lake shore, Harry Batt persuaded the city and the WPA to build bath houses and a beach area at Milneburg. He re-opened Pontchartrain Beach at the end of Elysian Fields in 1939.

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NAS New Orleans, Pontchartrain Beach, and Camp Leroy Johnson, 1947. (Photo: courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

Milneburg at war

World War II changed the character of Milneburg and the overall lakefront dramatically. The War Department appropriate the land on either side of the amusement park. Naval Air Station New Orleans opened on the western side of Pontchartrain Beach.  On the other side, the Army built Camp Leroy Johnson, a supply depot. The aircraft manufacturer, Consolidated Vultee, built an aircraft factory at the end of Franklin Avenue. Consolidated built  PBY seaplanes there. The assembly line ended at the lake. The planes rolled right out into the lake for testing.

Modern Milneburg

After the war, the Navy moved the air station down to Belle Chasse. They returned the Lakefront base to the Orleans Levee Board. The OLB leased it to LSU. The school opened Louisiana State University in New Orleans, now UNO. The Army gave back the western section of Camp Leroy Johnson to the OLB. The board developed that parcel into what is now the Lake Oaks subdivision. The Consolidated Vultee aircraft plant on Franklin Avenue became an American Standard factory. The Army also gave the eastern portion of Camp Leroy Johnson back to the state. That area became the University of New Orleans “East Campus.” That parcel is now home to the UNO Lakefront Arena and the Privateer Park baseball stadium. The Department of Defense retained the eastern section of the Army base. It’s now home to the Army and Navy Reserve centers, and the local FBI headquarters.

Milneburg the port was long gone by the end of the 19th Century. Milneburg the resort vanished by World War II. Pontchartrain Beach closed in 1983, so now all that’s left of the original town is the lighthouse. Well, that and “Milneburg Joys.”

The Irish-Italian Podcast!

The Irish-Italian Podcast!

The Irish-Italian connection/tradition originates with the two cultures merging in New Orleans after WWII.

The Irish

In terms of numbers and influence, the Irish were first in New Orleans. O’Reilly is an outlier on this; the Irish influence begins in the 1820s.  That first wave of Irish immigrants provided the manpower to build the New Basin Canal.

Crescent City Living’s video on the Irish Channel, produced by Crista Rock, with commentary from NOLA History Guy.

The Irish in New Orleans

Love New Orleans? Thank an Irishman

The story of St. Alphonsus and St. Mary’s Assumption churches

The Irish Cemeteries

Ten Contributions the Irish Made to New Orleans

These are articles about the Irish I’ve written over the years. This podcast doesn’t go into a ton of detail, since its focus is how all these folks ended up in the same parade. 🙂 Don’t let that deter you from looking further into the Irish. Their story is an important part of the bigger story of New Orleans.

The Italians

In many ways, the Italians get more exposure in the touristy writing than the Irish. That’s mainly because the Italians all but took over the French Quarter. This was in the 1880s and 1890s. The Italians left a lasting mark on the French Quarter. It’s the one neighborhood just about every visitor sees. Naturally, this is going to leave an impression. The Italian groceries, St. Mary’s Italian church (next to the convent), so many other Italian-owned businesses. Even the building the Louisiana State Museum currently uses as a warehouse for their massive collection was at one time a pasta factory!

Anyway, I wasn’t kidding about going to the Beauregard-Keyes House, either. The mafia connection is fascinating!

It’s not all about the Quarter, though, for the Italians.

Five Italian Contributions to New Orleans

The Hotel Monteleone was built by Italians

So, the Italians migrated from the Downtown side of Canal Street. They went to Gentilly, Metairie, and St. Bernard Parish. The folks who went out to Metairie teamed up with the Irish for the big parade.

 

 

Henry Clay and Moonlight Towers on Canal Street

Henry Clay and Moonlight Towers on Canal Street

Dr. Campanella wrote a piece for da paper today on “moonlight towers”, the big structures erected in urban centers in the late 1800s, as a first step in providing electric street lighting. When Susan Granger shared it to our New Orleans group on Facebook, Froggy added a link to some photos in the Commons, showing moonlight towers.

Moonlight Towers lit up Canal

moonlight towers

Henry Clay Monument, New Orleans, 1892

This photo of the Clay Monument is from 1892. The moonlight tower is visible in the rear. If the size of statues is any indication, Henry Clay was incredibly popular in antebellum New Orleans. The massive monument to him, located on Canal Street, at the intersection of Royal Street and St. Charles Avenue, remained in place until it was moved to Lafayette Square, in 1901.

King Cotton

moonlight tower

Cotton wagon crossing Canal Street, 1890

A big cotton wagon crosses Canal Street at Carondelet Avenue, in 1890. Better view of the moonlight tower. The cupola of the Mercier Building, later Maison Blanche Department Store, is visible in the background, through an electric pole’s cross beams.

Cut down to size

moonlight towers

Henry Clay Monument, 1895-1897

Here’s Clay again, sometime after the Canal streetcar line was electrified, and the statue was relocated. You can see the base of the monument has been removed, so tracks would run straight through the intersection. Even then, the cars passed too close to the statue.

Location of the tower on Canal

The tower on Canal Street was positioned at Canal and Dauphine, It cast its light in a 360-degree radius, extending for blocks around. This meant it illuminated the street as far back as Basin Street and the Southern Railway terminal. Even though electric lighting evolved from this format into storefront lighting and individual street lamps, most stores closed around 5pm-6pm in the evening at this time. Night hours were still decades away.