Podcast #4 – Pontchartrain Beach

Podcast #4 – Pontchartrain Beach

Pontchartrain beach

Pontchartrain Beach, 1940

Labor Day is considered the traditional end of summer. In New Orleans, that meant it was the last weekend of the year for Pontchartrain Beach, the beloved local amusement park.

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Main Gate of the Pontchartrain Beach amusement park, 1929

Pontchartrain Beach opened on the east side of Bayou St. John in 1929. Harry J. Batt, Sr, had observed the highs and lows of the Spanish Fort venues on the other side of the bayou. His family’s ice manufacturing business supplied ice to many lakefront businesses, and Batt decided to start his own amusement park.

At Pontchartrain Beach

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Bath House built by the WPA at Pontchartrain Beach

The Great Depression actually gave Pontchartrain Beach a customer base, as locals didn’t have a lot of money to take out of town vacations. Works Progress Administration construction projects helped improve the infrastructure of the city, including a new bath house on Lake Pontchartrain at the end of Elysian Fields. That bath house prompted Harry Batt to move his amusement park from the bayou to Milneburg.

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Works Progress Administration badge in the sidewalk at Marigny St. and Gentilly Blvd.

Not only did the WPA build the bath house at the end of Elysian Fields Avenue, but they also improved many streets in Gentilly. The WPA turned Elysian Fields Avenue from a shell road into a 4-lane boulevard with a wide neutral ground, leading right to Pontchartrain Beach.

pontchartrain beach - lincoln beach

Lincoln Beach

Because Pontchartrain Beach was a segregated facility that used Federal funds, the city was required to build a “separate but equal” facility for African-Americans, Lincoln Beach, in what is now New Orleans East.

War Effort

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NAS New Orleans, on Lake Pontchartrain

World War II saw a huge amount of development along Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans. One of the big facilities on the lake was Naval Air Station New Orleans. It was right next to Pontchartrain Beach. While the base was important to the war effort, it was not very useful for the Cold War. The base is now the main campus of the University of New Orleans.

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Margie Johnson Thienemann, 3-June-1949 (Courtesy K. G. Thienemann)

While the Batts traveled the world to find quality rides for The Beach, the mile-long beach area was one of the main attractions. Hanging out on the beach was a great way to relax on a summer weekend. Margie Johnson Thienemann was one of many folks who soaked up the summer sun at the Beach.

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The Bali Hai at Pontchartrain Beach

Since food at The Beach was basically carnival-midway fare, the Batts also operated the Bali Hai, a “Tiki” restaurant next to the amusement park.

Train Thursday – Trains from Milneburg to Faubourg Marigny

Train Thursday – Trains from Milneburg to Faubourg Marigny

Marigny Sully1836 Train Thursday

Sully illustration from 1836 of Faubourg Marigny

Marigny to Milneburg

From 1836, an illustration by G. W. Sully of the riverfront in Faubourg Marigny. You can see the station for the Pontchartrain Railroad on the left side of the illustration. The railroad was chartered in 1830, and began operations in 1831, so this was just five years into its existence. The purpose of the Pontchartrain Railroad was to connect the city, specifically, Faubourg Marigny, Faubourg Treme, and the French Quarter. Alexander Milne developed the area at what is now Elysian Fields Avenue and the lake into a port district, which became known as Milneburg. In addition to coming up the Mississippi River, much of the city’s ocean-going ship traffic came to New Orleans from the Gulf of Mexico, through the Chef Menteur Pass or the Rigolets Pass, into Lake Pontchartrain. Once in the lake, the larger ships were unable to go down Bayou St. John and the Carondelet Canal. Milneburg made it easier for the ships, since all they had to do was dock on the lakefront.

New Orleans’ First Railroad

The only catch was that the city was five miles away! The solution was simple, though, build a railroad. The planning/discussions for the railroad began in 1828. The first train, pulled by horses, left the station on April 14, 1831. Steam locomotives took over for animal power in June of 1832. This connection was a major path for commerce and goods up to the Civil War. After the war, as rail service to New Orleans began to expand, the Pontchartrain Railroad was acquired by larger rail concerns.

Sail to Steam

Notice that, in this illustration, the vessels are all powered by sail. That would change dramatically, as larger ships were constructed with steam engines and side paddlewheels, to speed up the journey from New Orleans to Havana, and various ports in along the American coast and Europe. These heavier ships were unable to use the passes into Lake Pontchartrain. This cut back on the shipping traffic docking at Milneburg, and the railroad no longer transported the goods it once did. Like many port areas, Milneburg became more of a recreational area than commercial, and the railroad then began to carry more passengers than goods. In the 1830s, though, it was all about commerce.

Antebellum New Orleans – Restaurant L. Boudro

Antebellum New Orleans – Restaurant L. Boudro

Restaurant L. Boudro in Milneburg (Public Domain image courtesy HNOC)

Restaurant L. Boudro in Milneburg (Public Domain image courtesy HNOC)

Lucien Boudro opened a seafood restaurant in Milneburg, in 1842. He passed away in 1867, and the restaurant closed a few years later. The restaurant was in a charming house with a gated garden. The train tracks in front of the restaurant were for the Orleans and Pontchartrain RR, known as the “Smokey Mary”. Milneburg was an active port area in Antebellum New Orleans. Ships could bypass the river passes by coming from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Borgne, through the Chef Menteur Pass or the Rigolets, then into Lake Pontchartrain, docking at Milneburg. They’d get back to Faubourg Marigny by taking the train down Elysian Fields Avenue.

I haven’t found any restaurant reviews for Boudro’s, but surely they had access to a lot of good lake seafood.

Image is a watercolor on linen. Artist is unknown.