Norfolk Southern Back Belt map 1918

Norfolk Southern Back Belt map 1918

The current Norfolk Southern Back Belt dates back to the beginning of the 20th century.

norfolk southern back belt

Norfolk Southern Back Belt in 1918

Map of New Orleans Terminal Company (NOTC) trackage as of 30-June-1918. This path across Orleans Parish became known as the “Back Belt,” in comparison to the “Public Belt” route that hugs the river and services the wharves. The NOTC acquired the land for the Back Belt in the early 1900s. While I don’t have documentation, it’s likely no coincidence that merchant and developer Leon Fellman bought the 1201 block of Canal Street. Did he know about the plans of the railroad men? NOTC later merged with the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad, which in turn merged into the Southern Railway system in 1916. That’s how the route became part of the current Norfolk Southern System.

City bypass

The idea behind the Back Belt was to bypass most of the populated areas of Orleans Parish. The Back Belt originates in Jefferson Parish. It splits off of the former Illinois Central (now Canadian National) main line at Causeway Blvd. That’s the “Shrewsbury” reference on the map. It crossed the New Canal via a bascule bridge just north of Metairie Road. From there, the route crosses the city, then turns towards the river in St. Bernard Parish.

The city naturally developed in succeeding years. Lakeview and Gentilly caught up with the Back Belt by the 1920s. The Levee Board’s land reclamation projects in the 1920s opened up the area. As part of the Works Progress Administration projects of the Great Depression Era, the Back Belt expanded. WPA constructed underpasses at grade crossings throughout the city. So, once the route clears Carrollton Avenue in Metairie, there are no grade crossings for trains until they cross Lake Pontchartrain and reach Slidell.

The Terminal

The last Southern Railway train,

Terminal Station, late 1910s

NOTC connected the Back Belt to downtown in 1908. They built Terminal Station at Canal and Basin Streets. The route ran adjacent to St. Louis Street through Mid-City. It linked up with the Back Belt at Greenwood Cemetery. Southern Railway used this connection for their “Bernadotte Yard,” so named because the yard started just below the connection point, at Bernadotte and St. Louis Streets.

Terminal Station operated from 1908 to 1954. The city constructed Union Passenger Terminal, shifting all passenger rail operations to the new station. The city demolished Terminal Station in 1956. The link to the Back Belt re-routed to follow the Pontchartrain Expressway. Today, Amtrak’s Crescent route uses that connection. The Back Belt continues to be incredibly busy, used by Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, CSX, Canadian National/KCS and Amtrak.

Greenwood Cemetery 1930s

Greenwood Cemetery 1930s

Greenwood Cemetery 1930s via a Franck Studios photo.

greenwood cemetery 1930s

Greenwood Cemetery 1930s

The Fireman’s Charitable and Benevolent Association (FCBA) incorporated in 1834. Its purpose was initially as a burial society. Firefighting was a volunteer job in the 19th Century. If a firefighter lost his life on the job, there were no survivor benefits. The family was left having to bury their loved one.

The fire companies recognized this problem. They formed the FCBA to take care of their fallen colleagues. Ten years after its founding, FCBA operated two cemeteries. Cypress Grove Cemetery stands on Canal Street and City Park Avenue, on the “river-uptown” side. FCBA built Greenwood Cemetery across from the end of Canal Street. Greenwood Cemetery stands witness to all the changes and developments in the Canal streetcar line in its 160-year history.

The cemetery

We’ve detailed the history of Greenwood and described its main monuments. This photo features two of those monuments, the Firemen’s and the BPOE Lodge 30 tumulus. FCBA built the Fireman’s Monument in 1884. By then, FCBA sold a number of plots in Cypress Grove and Greenwood. While Cypress Grove contained a number of “society” mausoleums, Greenwood sold more plots to families. Additionally, the demand for affordable cemetery plots increased in the wake of the Southern Rebellion. Greenwood’s design focused on offering plots large enough for one- or two-place tombs. The distance between tombs is minimal.

Even though the firefighter tombs were in Cypress Grove, the front of Greenwood offered the grand view. The Fireman’s Monument is a cenotaph, rather than a grave. Sculptor Alexander Doyle created the fireman statue. The statue represents firefighters of the time, rather than a specific fire company.

Lodge 30 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks desired a “society” tomb. They constructed a classic “mound” tumulus, similar to the Army of Tennessee (Louisiana Division) structure in Metairie Cemetery. The Lodge #30 tumulus features a massive statue of an elk on the top. Greenwood Cemeteries 1930s presents other large tombs in its front area.


Streetcars operated in all directions at Canal Street and City Park in the 1930s. The Canal/Esplanade Belts used tracks going right in this photo, heading on City Park Avenue. The West End line turned left at the end of Canal Street. Its streetcars traveled along the front of Greenwood Cemetery 1930s, then turned right to head out to the lakefront.

The photo

Greenwood Cemetery 1930s is a Franck Studios photo via HNOC.

Greenwood Cemetery, Mid-City New Orleans’ largest

Greenwood Cemetery

Single-vault tomb in Greenwood Cemetery. Note the very-tight plot size. (Photo from Infrogmation on Flickr)

The above-ground cemeteries of New Orleans are one of our most interesting historic attractions. Visitors often tour St. Louis Cemetery Number 1 while touring the French Quarter. Many folks also walk through Lafayette Number 1, on Garden District tours. For folks into genealogy add a trip to “the cemeteries” at the end of Canal Street. There you see the stories of families told out over generations on tombstones.

Greenwood Cemetery and the “Canal Cemeteries”

From the Canal Streetcar heading outbound, get off at Canal and St. Anthony, instead of turning the corner to the terminal. Stand and look towards the lake. To the left is Cypress Grove, to the right, Odd Fellows’ Rest, and across City Park Avenue is Greenwood Cemetery.

Greenwood and Cypress Grove are two of the oldest cemeteries in the city. The Firemen’s Charitable and Benevolent Association (FCBA) built both. Many benevolent societies in New Orleans pooled the financial resources of their members. They built “society vaults” in the city’s established cemeteries. So, the FCBA built two full cemeteries. The FCBA was founded in 1834.

At the time, firefighting was a job for volunteers. It was just as dangerous a gig then as it is now. So, firefighters tragically lost their lives all too early. Immortal young people don’t often pause to consider buying into a benevolent society. So, these firefighters’ families often didn’t have the means to bury their loved ones. FCBA helped. While they could sell plots for graves and tombs to those with means, they generated the revenue needed to bury the heroes.

The Firemens’ Monument

Greenwood Cemetery

Firemen’s Monument (Photo from Infrogmation on Flickr)

When you see Greenwood Cemetery from the streetcar, the most-visible fixture is the Firemen’s Monument. The FCBA commissioned the monument in 1884. It marked their 50th anniversary. Alexander Doyle sculpted the six-foot statue of a volunteer fireman. It’s the centerpiece of the monument.

Doyle’s work in New Orleans includes the Army of Tennessee (Louisiana Division). He also designed Washington Artillery Cenotaph Both are in Metairie Cemetery. Doyle also sculpted the statue of Margaret Haughery on Camp Street.

Monuments along City Park Avenue

Greenwood Cemetery

Confederate Monument, Greenwood Cemetery (Photo from Infrogmation on Flickr)

To the right of the Firemen’s Monument is a large, green mound topped by a bronze statue of an elk. This is the tumulus of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Lodge 30. The Lodge built it in 1912. A “tumulus” is a mausoleum where the burial vaults are covered by an earthen mound.

The other large memorial at the front of Greenwood Cemetery is the Confederate Monument. It was the first Confederate memorial to be dedicated in the city. The U.S. Government had already constructed the Chalmette Cemetery, behind the 1815 battlefield. So, it was the first Civil War memorial in the area. In 1874, the Ladies Benevolent Association of Louisiana took up the cause of creating a burial place for Confederate troops. Many were originally buried in Chalmette Cemetery. They wanted their loved ones removed from the Union cemetery.

The ladies re-interred the remains of those soldiers and others, about 600 altogether. The tumulus is a low mound, topped with a statue of a Confederate infantryman. He stands, resting on his rifle, atop an ornate marble pedestal. That pedestal includes four busts of Confederate generals: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Albert Sidney Johnston and Leonidas Polk. (An equestrian statue of Johnston stands atop a tumulus in Metairie Cemetery, and is visible from I-10 as one drives into the city from the West.)

Burial Societies

Greenwood Cemetery

NOPD benevolent society vaults (Photo from Infrogmation on Flickr)

After the first row of monuments, Greenwood still has a number of interesting tombs, graves, and vaults. One of those is Police Mutual Benevolent Association. This was a burial society formed by  members of the New Orleans Police Department. Close by that tomb is one for employees of the D. H. Holmes department store.

Family tombs

Greenwood Cemetery

Pelton Family tomb, Greenwood Cemetery (Photo from Infrogmation on Flickr)

Another of the more interesting tombs is that of the Pelton family. Most tombs in New Orleans are constructed of brick-and-mortar. So, they get covered with plaster, and then whitewashed. It seems like they’re fancy, when it’s all just red brick. Families with more financial means often covered their tombs with stone. Granite or marble are common choices. The Pelton family constructed a metal tomb. They painted it silver, to prevent rust.

So, this tomb uses two plots. Greenwood’s plot size is small compared to many cemeteries. This made it more affordable for families to buy into the cemetery. It lacks the grand monuments in other cemeteries. The typical New Orleans burial vault is called a “double,”. It contains two vaults. Usually these are one on top the other. The law requires a year and a day waiting period before re-using a vault. So, a “double” gives a family the option of burying a second loved one in that time period.

Greenwood Cemetery is one of the largest in New Orleans

Greenwood Cemetery

Aerial view of Greenwood Cemetery, looking towards City Park Avenue in 1967 (Photo via New Orleans Public Library)

The sheer size of Greenwood Cemetery is hard to appreciate by just walking in the front. Therefore, this aerial view from 1967 shows the overall size. It extends far back from the City Park Avenue entrance. So, in addition to all these tombs, Greenwood has a large mausoleum in the back corner. As a result, Greenwood has space for generations to come.