Camp Nicholls, Bayou St. John

Camp Nicholls, Bayou St. John

Camp Nicholls – for Civil War Veterans

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Camp Nicholls, on Bayou St. John, in the early 1900s

Camp Nicholls along the bayou

New Orleans has always been good to its native sons returning home from wars. After the Civil War, an “Old Soldiers Home” was founded as a refuge for veterans, located on Bayou St. John. That tract of land has had interesting and historical uses ever since as an escape for soldiers from both the Civil War and World War II and then as the property of the National Guard.

Since New Orleans was spared most of the ravages of war experienced by other cities, locals were able to look to the future of the post-war world. Caring and housing returning veterans was already on the minds of folks in 1866. The State of Louisiana appropriated funds to establish a home for these men. As Reconstruction politicians acquired control of state government, however, the continuing appropriation for the home was cut off. The home continued as a privately-funded institution, but struggled.

Francis T. Nicholls

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Governor Francis T. Nicholls, former CSA Brigadier and patron of Camp Nicholls

The cause of a Confederate Veterans Home grew by the 1880s. Veterans’ associations petitioned the state for financial assistance. The state re-enacted the original 1866 legislation. The project was funded. In 1883. The leader of the project’s board was Francis T. Nicholls. Nicholls served a term as governor, and was a lawyer in New Orleans. During the war, Nicholls was a CSA Brigadier. He lost his left foot at the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863.

This board purchased a large lot, located on Bayou St. John. Joseph R. DeMahy sold the property DeMahy was, a former Lieutenant in the Confederate Navy. The board worked with several veterans associations, parish police juries and private citizens for money, They held fund raising events such as battle re-enactments on the property. They raised enough money to hire architect William A. Freret. Freret designed a complex of several buildings.

The home accepted its first inmate, James Adams, on February 5, 1884. Adams was a veteran of the 1st Louisiana Infantry. Dedication of the site as “Camp Nicholls” took place on March 14, 1884. Over 600 people attended that ceremony, including the daughters of CSA Generals Robert E. Lee, “Stonewall” Jackson, and D. H. Hill. Nicholls’ success in fund raising for the home became a model for other veterans’ associations in various states, and helped propel him back into the Governor’s office in 1888.

The Submarine

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CSA “submarine” found in Lake Pontchartrain, after the war, at Camp Nicholls in the early 1900s

The Old Soldiers Home then became a fixture in Faubourg St. John. So, it received listing in tourist guides as a place to visit along the bayou. In 1909, construction workers discovered a prototype “submarine” in Lake Pontchartrain, by the mouth of Bayou St. John. They raised the wreck and cleaned it up. The salvage company donated the vessel to the Camp Nicholls. The home displayed the submarine for years. When Camp Nicholls was in decline, the home donated the boat to the Louisiana State Museum. LSM displayed it at the Presbytere in the French Quarter. It’s now on display at the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge.

With so many of the Confederate veterans passing away, Camp Nicholls lost its original purpose. While the US Army ramped up for war in 1917, Camp Nicholls changed control. The complex housed the First Louisiana Infantry, the Washington Artillery, and the First Separate Troop Cavalry. After these units deployed to Europe, the home calmed down once again, housing just old veterans.

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Cover of a pamphlet documenting the use of Camp Nicholls prior to WWI. (Photo courtesy of Tulane University Howard-Tilton Library)

Rebel Yell

The tradition of the “Lost Cause of the South” remained strong in New Orleans, and the former Confederacy as a whole, even going into the 1930s. In 1932, as part of an effort to preserve the oral histories of surviving Confederate veterans, the Times-Picayune newspaper arranged to gather a number of veterans together at Camp Nicholls and film them doing the infamous “Rebel Yell.” The group gathered along the bayou on February 11, 1932, and a number of veterans, clad in their Confederate uniforms, stepped up to a microphone and did the battle cry.

Transition/Repurpose

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Letterhead from Camp Nicholls, 1901 (Courtesy LaRC, Tulane University)

There were no living Confederate veterans at Camp Nicholls by 1940. The Old Soldiers Home formally closed. The Louisiana National Guard took over the complex. The Guard used Camp Nicholls as an armory and vehicle depot throughout World War II. The Guard turned the facility over to the City of New Orleans in the 1960s, who used it to house the NOPD’s Police Academy and 3rd District Headquarters until the 1990s.

Camp Nicholls site today

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Camp Nicholls property, as it is today. (Photo courtesy of Mid City Messenger)

The complex sustained heavy damage in Hurricane Katrina. In 2009, after determining that the remaining buildings all dated from the 1950s, the city was granted permission to raze the site, and it’s been an empty lot since. Last year, Deutsches Haus, a non-profit organization whose mission is the preservation of German culture in New Orleans, leased the property. They plan to build the “new Deutsches Haus” along the bayou.

The Camp Nicholls property is fenced off and not accessible to visitors, but if you take the Canal Streetcar Line to City Park, you can cross over Bayou St. John and look through the fence. Maybe you’ll even feel the spirit of one of the “old soldiers,” as many have reported in the past.

Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store

by Edward J. Branley

Heather Elizabeth Designs

For almost one hundred years, generations of New Orleans shoppers flocked to Krauss. The Canal Street store was hailed for its vast merchandise selection and quality customer service. In its early days, it sold lace and fabric to the ladies of the notorious red-light district of Storyville. The store’s renowned lunch counter, Eddie’s at Krauss, served Eddie Baquet’s authentic New Orleans cuisine to customers and celebrities such as Julia Child. Although the beloved store finally closed its doors in 1997, Krauss is still fondly remembered as a retail haven. With vintage photographs, interviews with store insiders and a wealth of research, historian Edward J. Branley brings the story of New Orleans’ Creole department store back to life.

Toll Road at West End along the New Basin Canal, New Orleans, 1907

Toll Road at West End along the New Basin Canal, New Orleans, 1907

West End, 1907

Day trippin to West End

West End was very active in the early 1900s, right up to the great Hurricane of 1915 (hurricanes weren’t named at that time). The last piece of Pontchartrain Boulevard, the road on the western side of the New Basin Canal, was a toll road, the toll receipts used for road upkeep. The West End Streetcar line traveled on the east side of the canal, parallel to West End Boulevard (just out of the frame here, on the right).

Messages – windows to the past

The message on the postcard says:

I did not get a chance to send the thread sooner, but I did not get a chance to go out. Mama is very bad off. There will be another consultation today. Ed (?)/Eda (?) is here, & Ernest is leaving Sunday. Lariern left Wed and came to see us Tuesday. Love to all. (illegible) soon, Bertice.

The postcard is typical of the period, a black-and-white photo that is then hand-colored and printed. It’s interesting that Bertice wrote her message on the bottom of the front. Perhaps she was afraid that the recipient would admire the photo and not read anything on the back?

The choice of scenes for this card is also interesting. She’s conveying what appears to be bad news about “mama”, yet the postcard is of a part of town usually associated with happy experiences. West End was a big day-trip destination at the time. Of course, I’m probably reading too much into this. It’s more likely that Miss Bertice grabbed an inexpensive card at the drugstore to send a quick note, not giving much thought to the image on it. I hope mama’s consultation went OK!

Image courtesy of the Louisiana Research Collection (LaRC) at Tulane. If you’re on Facebook, you want to follow their page. They post some cool stuff, and it’s fun to look at the stories behind what they share.

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Lake House Hotel, 1860s

Podcast #3 – Beating the Summer Heat in Old New Orleans

Be sure to check out the latest episode of NOLA History Guy Podcast, which presents the history of West End as a day-trip destination for New Orleanians looking to escape from the heat and humidity of city life.

A Plan Book for the Spanish Fort Amusement Area, 1911

Spanish Fort

Plan Book of Spanish Fort, New Orleans, drawn in 1911.

This is a “plan book” from 1911 of the area around Spanish Fort, at Bayou St. John and Lake Pontchartrain. I got the illustration from the New Orleans Notarial Archives website, where it’s one of a number of sample plan books they’ve got up. A trip down to the Archives office and a look at the original would give us the full story. Therefore, naturally, I’ll have to do just that!

A Plan Book for Spanish Fort

Plan Books were part of the official record for real estate transfers prior to color photography. They’re the equivalent of the form an appraiser would do now to describe a property. When the property in question was a residence or commercial building, the plan book would include detailed architectural drawings of the building, along with a layout of the block surrounding it. In this case, the plan book is for the sale of Fort St. John and the surrounding land. A view of the overall area, rather than a detailed drawing of the ruined fort was more in order.

The amusement area at Spanish Fort is part of the latest episode of the NOLA History Guy Podcast. The area was initially accessible by steam train, and you can see the station, just above the top left corner of “Spanish Fort Park”. That building was still in place at the time of this drawing, but electric streetcars replaced the train line by 1911. The streetcars ran from West End, down what is now Robert E. Lee Boulevard, and ended on a pier extending out into the lake. The dashed line running into the lake marks the streetcar tracks.

Waning Days

While Spanish Fort was called the “Coney Island of the South”, it was past its heyday in 1911. It held on going into the 1920s. Pontchartrain Beach started there, in the 1920s, but moved to Milneburg, at the end of Elysian Fields Avenue. After that, Spanish Fort was never a big amusement destination.

Screenshot from 2016-07-31 20-26-32

The Office of the Clerk of Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans maintains the Notarial Archives office for the Parish. On a day-to-day basis, the Notarial Archives is where title insurance companies send researchers to verify that someone who claims title to a piece of property in the Parish actually has the right to make that claim. Since these companies sell a home buyer insurance guaranteeing that someone won’t come along and claim they really own the property after the buyer(s) have paid for it, they want to be sure they get it right. In addition to all the records of real estate transfers and other civil legal documents, the Notarial Archives has all the old Plan Books. These Plan Books range from simple drawings to masterpieces of architectural drawing.

Contact info

The Research Center is located on Poydras Street, not far from the Superdome:

1340 Poydras Street
Suite 360
New Orleans, Louisiana 70112
(504) 407-0106
Fax (504) 680-9607
E-mail: civilclerkresearchctr@orleanscdc.com

Hours:
Monday – Friday 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM

Podcast #3 – Beating the Summer Heat in Old New Orleans

Podcast #3 – Beating the Summer Heat in Old New Orleans

Podcast #3 – Day trips out to West End and Spanish Fort, by train or streetcar. Beating the summer heat is an ongoing challenge in New Orleans!

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“The Coney Island of the South” – Spanish Fort

Introduction

Welcome to NOLA History Guy Podcast! We’re back, talking about our hot New Orleans summers with an edition we call Beating the Summer Heat in Old New Orleans

Hot summers in New Orleans are certainly not a new phenomenon. Staying cool in the Summer months has been a challenge since the French and Spanish explorers came Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. These days, we run from our air-conditioned homes to our air-conditioned cars to our air-conditioned offices, then back again in the evening.
Now, think about doing that at a time when there was no air-conditioning! Every work day, riding the streetcar or a bus to the office, and home again. Older homes were designed to maximize air flow, and electrification provided power for fans in any rooms in the house. Still, it got hot. You know how that goes, when the a/c is broken and you have to rely on ceiling fans!
The men who went off to work had to deal with the same heat and humidity as the women, but they were on the move more. Mom was stuck at home with the kids. Day in, day out, doing the housework, cooking the meals, supervising the kids, Mom needed an escape!
The easiest escape route for mom and the kids, sometimes even dad, if he could take a day off, was on the streetcar, heading out to the Lakefront. There were two popular escape destinations, West End and Spanish Fort. We’ll talk about the attractions at both, and how folks got out to Lake Pontchartrain.

1860 – 1880 – Summer Heat at West End

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Lake House Hotel, 1860s

1880 – 1900

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West End Resorts, 1892 (Charles Franck photo)

1900 – 1920

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West End Lighthouse, 1910 (courtesy NOPL)

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Entrance to the West End Garden, 1911 (Charles Durkee photo)

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1912 Postcard of West End

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Mugnier Photo (stereo), bridge connecting New Basin Canal with West End Amusement pavillions, 1900s

Spanish Fort

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Confederate Submarine at Over the Rhine at Spanish Fort, 1895 (Mugnier photo)

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Casino at Spanish Fort New Orleans, 1890s

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Barney & Smith motorized streetcar pulling dummy cars, 1911

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Spanish Fort Casino, 1890s (Mugnier Photo)

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Spanish Fort midway, 1900s (Franck photo)

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End of the Spanish Fort Streetcar line, at the bathhouse, 1912 (Franck photo)

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Swimmers at Spanish Fort, 1900s (Franck photo)

 

West End, 1892

Dinner at West End

West End 1892

Bird’s eye view of Mannessier’s and West End Restaurant at West End, New Orleans, Louisiana. (LSM Collection, in the Public Domain)

Fridays in Lent usually bring out all the memories of going to Bruning’s, Fitzgerald’s, and other seafood places out at West End. Here’s a photo from an earlier vintage of West End, 1892. The restaurant on the left is Mannessier’s, on the right, West End Restaurant.

Mannessier's Pavilion at West End, 1900s. (NOPL collection in the Public Domain)

Mannessier’s Pavilion at West End, 1900s. (NOPL collection in the Public Domain)

Mannessier’s Restaurant was owned/operated by the same family that owned Mannessier’s Confectionary at 705 Royal Street, in the French Quarter. They opened the West End location in the late 1880s. They added a pavilion to the property in 1899, which was taken down in 1911.

At this time, West End was more of a day trip from downtown/uptown. You made your way to Canal Street and took the West End streetcar line out to the lakefront.

(h/t WebsitesNewOrleans.com for the pavilion photo)

Streetcar at the New Orleans Custom House, 1916

Ford, Bacon and Davis streetcar, operating on Canal Street, ca 1915-16

Ford, Bacon and Davis streetcar, operating on Canal Street, ca 1915-16

Streetcars on Canal

The record for this photo of the Custom House by Frank B. More (in the University of New Orleans collection) is undated, but the streetcar narrows it down a good bit. The Ford Bacon, & Davis single-truck streetcar has “NO Ry & L Co.” painted on its side. This stands for “New Orleans Railway and Light Company”, the second attempt at consolidating streetcar operations in New Orleans. The company was formed in 1915, and eventually became New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated, in 1921.

The FB&D streetcars were the workhorses of the “backatown” lines at the turn of the century. While the larger, “double-truck” streetcars ran on the larger lines, such as St. Charles and Canal, the smaller “single-truck” cars spread out into the neighborhoods. Their smaller size enabled them to navigate turns on streets that would dramatically slow down the larger cars. At this time, the Custom House was undergoing extensive interior renovations. The building originally housed the federal courts for New Orleans, but what is now the John Minor Wisdom Building on Camp Street, by Lafayette Square, was just completed. The federal courts and the Post office moved out of the Canal Street building, over to the new location.

Another interesting aspect of this photo is the street vendor to the left, on Decatur Street. Unlike in the movies, I don’t have the technology to “clean that up”, and miraculously read the sign on the cart, to determine what he’s selling. Given all the federal employees that worked in the Custom House, I’m sure that cart did a brisk lunch business.

The easiest way to date most old photos is to look at the make and model of any automobiles in the photo. In the absence of automobiles, however, it can be a challenge. Streetcars were used for decades; the FB&D in this photo likely arrived in New Orleans and went into service in 1894-95. Since the iconic Union Sheet Metal light poles, with their three fleur-de-lis lamps are not visible, we can at least establish that this photo was taken prior to 1930. But the streetcar itself helps anyway for this one, because of the company name.

This photo is also in my book, New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line.