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.

Camp Nicholls

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.

The Grand Lodge of Louisiana and Scottish Freemasonry

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Etoile Polaire #1 Lodge, on N. Rampart Street (Infrogmation photo)

Scottish Freemasonry in the Grand Lodge of Louisiana

Freemasonry in the Grand Lodge of Louisiana has a rich history. BBC Travel has a great article on Freemasonry’s Scottish roots and its connections. Very much worth the read. So, I want to add some thoughts on the Scottish and English influences on Freemasonry in New Orleans.

The first lodge in New Orleans was Parfaite Union (Perfect Union). A group of masons organized in New Orleans in 1793. These men petitioned the Grand Lodge of South Carolina in 1794, received a charter under their auspices. As a lodge chartered in South Carolina, they became Perfect Union #29.

Also in 1794, a group of masons formed a lodge, Etoile Polaire (Polar Star).  They petitioned the Grand Orient of France for a charte. The French Revolution complicated that petition. Etoile Polaire then petitioned the Provincial Lodge in Marseilles, in 1796. They constituted under that authority in 1798. In 1804, they finally received a charter from the Grand Orient of France. Because the Spanish governed Louisiana at this time, both lodges were forced to meet outside the city limits. They gathered just outside the city’s ramparts, just to north and east of the original city. Etoile Polaire eventually build a lodge hall there. Its location is at Kerlerec and North Rampart Streets.

Freemasonry in the State of Louisiana

France sold Louisiana to the United States in 1803. That released the masons of New Orleans from the complications of a government subordinate to the Catholic church. Freemasonry “came out” at that time. Louisiana was granted statehood in 1812, and the Grand Lodge of Louisiana was constituted at that time. Because of the confusion and close dates of the charters of Etoile Polaire and Perfect Union, both lodges are listed as “1” in the roll.

Louisiana in the early 19th Century was a complex mix of ethnic groups. This resulted in those groups chartering their own lodges. A number of the early lodges did their work in languages other than English. The original two lodges did their Work in French; Germania and Kosmos Lodges in German, Cervantes in Spanish, and Dante Lodge in Italian. In terms of ritual and traditions, however, they took their cues from the two #1 lodges.

Connections to Scotland

Now, what does all this have to do with Scottish Freemasonry? From the BBC article, it’s clear that “modern” Freemasonry goes back to Scotland:

From the Middle Ages, associations of stonemasons existed in both England and Scotland. It was in Scotland, though, that the first evidence appears of associations – or lodges – being regularly used. By the late 1500s, there were at least 13 established lodges across Scotland, from Edinburgh to Perth. But it wasn’t until the turn of the 16th Century that those medieval guilds gained an institutional structure – the point which many consider to be the birth of modern Freemasonry.

Freemasonry then extends south of Hadrian’s Wall to England, and by 1717, English masons formed the Grand Lodge of England. The Craft also traveled across the English Channel to France. With the House of Stuart living in exile in France, the brand of Freemasonry that came to that country was more directly linked to Scotland than England. As Freemasonry spread from France to the French colonies in North America, that Scottish influence in ritual and organization went along.

Modern “Scottish” Freemasonry

By the time Freemasonry reached Louisiana, there were two distinct styles of ritual in North America. Lodges chartered in the Thirteen Colonies were under the authority of the Grand Lodge of England, and inherited their traditions. Louisiana picks up the more-Scottish traditions from France (via Haiti). By 1812 and the formation of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, both styles of lodges existed. To this day, there are ten “Scottish Rite Blue Lodges” in New Orleans:

  • Etoile Polaire #1
  • Perserverance #4
  • Cervantes #5
  • Germania #46
  • Kosmos #171
  • Union #172
  • Dante #174
  • Galileo-Mazzini #368
  • Albert Pike #376
  • Paul M. Schneidau #391

These lodges are part of Grand Lodge of Louisiana. Their ritual is significantly different from those whose roots originate in England. There are more “English” Lodges in town, but these ten proudly proclaim their Scottish heritage.

 

The Esplanade Barn, New Orleans City Railroad Company

Detail from Plate 22 of the Robinson Atlas, New Orleans, 1881

Detail from Plate 22 of the Robinson Atlas, New Orleans, 1881

In 2004, when I wrote the book, New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line, I did a bit of research into the company that originally built the Canal line, the New Orleans City Railroad Company (NOCRR). In addition to the Canal line, they also started the Esplanade line, and operated a car barn on Esplanade/Moss, near Bayou St. John. Based on this section of the map, it looks like block 492 is Pitot House, which was built in the 1790s. Then comes a streetcar facility, which would include a barn for the streetcars, as well as a barn for the mules that pulled them.

Google Earth view of Esplanade Aveue, Moss St, and Bayou St. John.

Google Earth view of Esplanade Aveue, Moss St, and Bayou St. John.

Here’s the present-day view of the area. You can see Pitot House, then a playground, then Cabrini High School, then Holy Rosary church.

I’ve been through the “plan book” plates and transactions from the period for this part of the city at the Notarial Archives, and I’ve come up with nothing documenting the purchase of this property by NOCRR. I’ve also got nothing on the transfer of the property back to the city (for the playground).

I would love to find a photo of this car barn, so if anyone has any thoughts on further sources to research, I’d appreciate the input.