Elysian Fields 1938

Elysian Fields 1938

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.

Hebrew Rest Cemetery Gentilly 1961

Hebrew Rest Cemetery Gentilly 1961

Hebrew Rest Cemetery, just off of Elysian Fields Avenue and Gentilly Boulevard.

hebrew rest cemetery

Hebrew Rest Cemetery

This aerial shot of Gentilly captures both sections of Hebrew Rest Cemetery. Latter and Blum commissioned this aerial set. The set documents the development of shopping centers running from Frenchmen Street to Elysian Fields Avenue in 1961. Hebrew Rest Cemetery predates those shopping centers by 100 years.

Jewish Cemeteries

Jewish congregations formed in New Orleans in the 1820s. By the 1840s, those congregations built cemeteries. They started at the end of Canal Street. As the city grew, more cemeteries were needed. Additionally, diseases like Yellow Fever struck New Orleans. In 1860, the city’s oldest congregation, Shangari Chasset, acquired land n Gentilly for a cemetery.

Cemetery Management

Reform Jews in New Orleans formed Congregation Temple Sinai in 1870. Shangari Chasset turned over all of their cemetery properties to Temple Sinai two years later.

The congregation re-organized the Gentilly cemetery in 1872. They formed a separate corporation, the Hebrew Rest Cemetery Association. This separated the cemetery from a single congregation. In 1892, the Association purchased the land in Gentilly. So, they built Hebrew Rest #2. They constructed a third expansion in 1935.

Above ground

Jewish tradition calls for in-ground burials. While we think of New Orleans cemeteries and their above-ground tombs, the city’s Jews weren’t the only ones who dug graves. So, a walk through St. Patrick Cemetery No 1, on Canal Street, reveals a number of in-ground graves. These graves are actually “copings.” Rather than simply a hole in the ground, a concrete frame surrounds a coping. Dirt fills the frame. So, the coping is an in-ground burial, but raised by a foot or two. This addresses concerns that the city’s high water table might push a coffin out of the ground.

Hebrew Rest sits on the Gentilly Ridge, one of the highest points in New Orleans.