Before Elysian Fields took you to UNO, there was the Pontchartrain Railroad.

ford truck at elysian fields and gentilly 1938

Elysian Fields in 1938

Photo of Gentilly Road at Elysian Fields, 1938. A Ford Model T truck heads westbound on Gentilly, Behind the truck is a dirt road which later becomes Elysian Fields Avenue. Prior to this, this Gentilly Road was the half-way point for the Pontchartrain Railroad (PRR). The PRR ran from Chartres Street in the Marigny up to Milneburg. The Louisville & Nashville discontinued the PRR in 1931. So, by 1938, the street had yet to replace the train tracks.

Hebrew Rest Cemetery is visible on the left. A consortium of Jewish congregations bought land on the Gentilly Ridge. The high ground of the ridge facilitated in-ground burials.

Railroad versus canal

The first link between the city and the lake was the combination of the Carondelet Canal and Bayou St. John. The Creoles built the canal in 1795. They leveraged the bayou to complete a waterway. The Anglo-Irish community built the second connection, the New Basin Canal. So, by the 1840s, both sides of Canal Street had a link to the lake.

Businessmen in Gentilly went in a different direction. While developers did consider a canal to the east of the city, linking Faubourg Marigny with the lake, they scrapped the plan. Instead, investors built a railroad from the established neighborhood and the lake. The PRR opened in 1831. Ships docked at Port Pontchartrain and trains took goods down to the riverfront. As Milneburg developed, passengers used the six-mile route to go to the lake for day trips.

L&N takes over

The PRR sold out to the New Orleans, Mobile and Texas Railroad in 1871. The Louisville & Nashville Railroad leased the PRR route in 1880. They bought it outright in 1881. The L&N bought the PRR to extend their system to the port of New Orleans. So, they didn’t really care much about Port Pontchartrain. So, the full run to Lake Pontchartrain became more passenger than cargo. Milneburg offered hotels, restaurants, and fishing camps to New Orleanians. By 1930, L&N lost interest in keeping up the full PRR route. The final trains to Milneburg ran in 1932.

Works Progress Administration

By the late 1930s, the tracks vanished. A dirt/shell road replaced the right-of-way. The neighborhood expanded at this time, laying the foundation for the Gentilly subdivisions that popped up after World War II. When the Works Progress Administration (WPA) came to New Orleans in 1939, paving roads in Gentilly ranked high on the project list. WPA created the grid of Gentilly streets as we know them in 1939-1940. Elysian Fields Avenue linked Gentilly Road to the new bath house facility built at Milneburg. They accepted Harry Batt, Jr.’s bid to move his amusement park from Bayou St. John and the lake to the end of Elysian Fields. NOPSI set up bus service from downtown to the new “Pontchartrain Beach” amusement area.

Sixteen years after this photo, post-war growth in Gentilly included the opening of Cor Jesu High School. The Brothers of the Sacred Heart built the school on Elysian Fields, in what was the land to the right of this photo.

The truck

I like to think the truck in this photo was one of the ones used by the Zuppardo family at this time. The Zuppardo’s started with a mule-drawn wagon, bringing over-ripe bananas from the port up into Gentilly. The business became profitable, and the family built a roadside stand on Gentilly Road. They replaced the wagons with trucks. Eventually the business became Zuppardo’s Supermarket. The family operated the store on the corner of Elysian Fields and Gentilly until Hurricane Katrina.

Liked it? Take a second to support NOLA History Guy on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!