Spanish Fort Streetcar

spanish fort streetcar

Tracks running out on the Spanish Fort fishing pier, 1911. (Franck Studios)

Spanish Fort Streetcar

The amusements at Spanish Fort entertained New Orleanians, from the 1880s, up to the first incarnation of Pontchartrain Beach, in 1929. Going to the fort was a day trip, and a train service brought folks out to the lake. The train service ended in the late 1890s. Streetcar service began in 1911 and ran until the 1930s.

History

spanish fort streetcar

Heading out to Spanish Fort, 1912.

Fort Saint John, known to New Orleanians as the Spanish Fort, guarded the mouth of Bayou St. John at Lake Pontchartrain during the Spanish Colonial Period. While it never saw action, the fort played an important role in the War of 1812. Because Jackson assigned Lafitte’s gunners to the fort, the British chose to come at the city from Lake Borgne and St. Bernard Parish. They made no attempt to come down the bayou and Carondelet Canal. The US Army pushed the city’s defenses further out, building forts at the Rigolets and Chef Menteur Pass. By the time of the Southern Rebellion, Spanish Fort was a tourist attraction.

Amusement Area

spanish fort streetcar

Spanish Fort in New Orleans, “The Coney Island of the South”

After the end of Southern Rebellion, civilian government returned to New Orleans. Streetcar lines expanded across the city. Mules pulled these streetcars. The streetcar companies experimented with steam locomotives, but residents along the lines complained of the noise and smoke. Electric streetcars came to New Orleans in the mid 1890s.

Mules weren’t practical for getting out to the lakefront. To make the trip to West End or Spanish Fort in the 1870s-1880s, folks took steam trains. The railroad companies made the locomotives look like streetcars.

The Spanish Fort amusement area was popular. The location offered cool evening breezes. In general, temperatures were lower near the water. The combination attracted folks to come out for a swim, and to hear jazz, opera, and other music in the evenings.

The train service meant a trip to Spanish Fort was a long day trip, or, if you were out for the evening, an overnight excursion.

Ownership Change

spanish fort streetcar

“Plan Book” for the sale of Spanish Fort, 1911 (courtesy New Orleans Notarial Archives)

Spanish Fort declined in popularity in the 1900s. West End dominated as the lakefront destination of choice. The Spanish Fort area was sold in 1911, and the new owners convinced the New Orleans Railway and Light Company to offer electric streetcar service.

The Streetcar Line

spanish fort streetcar

Streetcars at the old Spanish Fort railroad station, ca 1911.

NO Rwy & Lt company originated the Spanish Fort line. The route:

  • Start – S. Rampart, between Tulane and Canal
  • Left turn onto Canal Street, outbound to City Park Avenue
  • Left turn onto City Park Avenue to the Halfway House
  • Right turn at the New Basin Canal, heading outbound next to the railroad right of way
  • Right turn at Adams Avenue (now Robert E. Lee Blvd.)
  • East on Adams to Spanish Fort.
  • Left turn into the Spanish Fort Station (still there from railroad service)

The inbound/return route was a reversal of the outbound run.

The line operated seasonal service. More streetcars ran in the Spring through the Summer. In the Fall and Winter, Spanish Fort operated as “shuttle” service. Riders took West End to Adams Avenue and transferred to the shuttle cart that went to the fort. This shuttle service operated when the line started in March, 1911. The full service began in June, 1911.

When the new owners took over in 1911, they extended the streetcar tracks from the railroad station out along the fishing pier. A streetcar ran from the station stop that was usually the end of the line to the end of the pier.

The Streetcars

spanish fort streetcar

Barney and Smith streetcar, ca 1905 (NOPSI drawing)

NORwy&Lt operated double-truck streetcars on the Spanish Fort line. The Barney and Smith cars ran regularly, with some American Car Company cars also used. During the busy summer season, the powered streetcars pulled unpowered “trailer” cars.

End of Spanish Fort service

pontchartrain beach

Main Gate of the Pontchartrain Beach amusement park, 1929

The Spanish Fort line terminated in 1932. By the 1920s, the fort’s popularity as an amusement destination declined. When the Batt family opened their Pontchartrain Beach amusement park on the eastern side of Bayou St. John, in 1929, ridership on the Spanish Fort line spiked up again. Pontchartrain Beach heavily advertised the Spanish Fort line as a way to get to the amusement park. “Right Next to Krauss!” The park moved to Milneburg in the 1930s, though. Without either the fort or Pontchartrain Beach, there was no reason to keep the line in operation.