Lighting Lee

Lighting Lee

The White League engaged in terrorism by lighting Lee.

lighting lee - lee monument in 1916

Lighting Lee Circle

Photos of Lee Circle at night. The first, set back from the monument, is a John Tibule Mendes shot taken in 1916. The second is from New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated, from 1928. Caption for the 1916 photo (via THNOC):

Poorly-exposed night view of the Lee Monument at Lee Circle in the Central Business District looking along Saint Charles Avenue towards Uptown. Streetcar tracks are visible in the foreground. The Lee Monument honors Confederate General Robert E. Lee and was dedicated on February 22, 1884. John Roy of New Orleans designed the mound and column while Alexander Doyle designed the bronze likeness of Lee that stands atop the column.

Accordingly, New Orleans Railway & Light Company provided the electric power for lighting Lee in 1916.

lighting lee - lee monument in 1928

The second photo shows the monument from a closer perspective.

Why Lee?

The purpose erecting a statue to the traitor Lee was simple: assertion of white supremacy in New Orleans. So, Confederate sympathizers terrorized the population of New Orleans from the start of the Union occupation in 1862. Unionists, mostly Irish and Germans, went to the river levees to greet the Union squadron under the command of Flag-Officer Farragut. Despite their defeat, white men shot and killed them, forcing others to retreat from the levee. Confederates held the Irish and Germans responsible for the loss of the city. During the attack, the Irish and German troops at Fort Jackson mutinied, sealing the city’s fate. Local lost-causers formed the White League, formalizing their opposition to a Union-controlled state government. Therefore, the White League was, for all intents and purposes, a terrorist organization.

So, fast forward to twenty years after the conflict. The White League pressed their control of the city. hey used Carnival organizations and social clubs to bolster the terrorist violence of their militia. The city’s demographics changed radically in the 1880s, with the influx of Sicilians into New Orleans. The Sicilians brought their own criminal element with them. The Mafia challenged the White League’s control. This required a response from the established criminals.

The monument

To emphasize the economic control the White League held, they commissioned a column of “white Georgia marble” to be placed at the center of Tivoli Circle. They topped that column with a statue of the traitor Lee. Sculptor Alexander Doyle crafted that statue. it was dedicated on Washington’s Birthday in 1884. While the outward forms of support for the monument stated it was built to recognize the sacrifices of the Confederacy, its underlying purpose was asserting power.

The lights

The White League experimented with illuminating the monument almost immediately. The first attempts involved burning magnesium in the urns around the column. This lit up Lee Circle for miles. Of course, the magnesium burned out and had to be replaced. By the 1910s, urban electrification extended into residential areas of the city. First came the streetcars, in the 1890s, Power lines extended from the streetcar routes. With Lee, it was a matter of someone willing to pay the light bill.

Why bother with lighting? The monument stood at the Western end of the Central Business District. Tourists rarely ventured past Poydras Street. In the early part of the 20th century, most buildings in New Orleans were three or four stories. The monument towered over the neighborhood. Light it up at night, and Lee was visible for miles. That pleased the White League. It communicated to everyone their ownership and control of the city. That made the light bill worth it.

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.

A Hazy Morning in December by Alexander John Drysdale

A Hazy Morning in December by Alexander John Drysdale

A prolific painter, Alexander John Drysdale came to New Orleans in 1903

Alexander John Drysdale

Alexander John Drysdale’s A Hazy Morning in December

Painted in 1913, this work presents a scene along the Mississippi River at New Orleans. Given the perspective and the curve in the river, it’s likely Drysdale stood on the dock of a wharf uptown. A ship awaits the day’s loading/unloading. A tugboat travels upriver, managing the currents. The view looks toward the French Quarter and the Third District. He captures the blurry, hazy, smoky, not-romantic vibe of the working riverfront.

The Artist

Born in 1870, Alexander John Drysdale was educated in New York City. He began painting professionally when he came to New Orleans in 1903. From Wikipedia:

The start of his professional life as an artist coincided with his move to New Orleans in 1903. At that time, he became heavily involved in the Artists’ Association of New Orleans. He established his studio at 320 Exchange Place in the New Orleans French Quarter. Significant commissions included D.H. Holmes Department Store and Sushan Airport, as well as showings at Tulane University and the National Association of Newspaper Artists. In later life, Drysdale was partially supported by the Civil Works Administration. Today his art can be viewed at the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and The Historic New Orleans Collection.

1913 Riverfront

New Orleans rose to prominence as the second-largest port city in the United States prior to the Southern Rebellion. This was in part because its location near the mouth of the Mississippi River enabled easy export of cotton and indigo and import of finished goods of all kinds from Europe. Cotton was still king by the time of the Industrial Revolution. High-volume cotton presses improved export volumes. Planters and smaller farmers sold their crop to factors in New Orleans. Those companies transported cotton via riverboat (go read Derby Gisclair’s book on steamboats) to the city. The raw cotton was compressed and loaded on freighters like the one in this painting.

Additionally, New Orleans became an import nexus for coffee and bananas. Riverboats and railroads moved the goods north.

Christmas Tide – Rex 1914 #watercolorwednesday

Christmas Tide – Rex 1914 #watercolorwednesday

“Christmas Tide” was a float in the 1914 Rex Parade.

christmas tide

Rex presents Christmas Tide

The theme for the 1914 edition of the Rex parade was, “The Drama of the Year.” It’s no surprise that the krewe featured Christmas as part of that drama. This is a design sketch for the “Christmas Tide” float. The float features a Celtic Cross formed by light emanating from the Star of Bethlehem. A choir of angels surrounds the cross as a shepherd and his flock look up in wonder.

From the Tulane library record: Watercolor on paper, 16.5 x 20 inches, Rex float designs, Carnival Collection, Manuscripts Collection 900, Louisiana Research Collection, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Elaborate themes, exciting floats

The School of Design regularly presents beautiful parades. After all, the King of Carnival requires an appropriate escort when he takes to the streets of Uptown. While a modern parade offering a calendar/holiday theme might use “pool floats” on the cheap, Rex doesn’t play that. Their “drama” included floats like this one, “Lament of the Winter Winds,” and “Court of King Winter.” Artists hired by the krewe begin with pencil sketches of the floats. The Captain and his officers finalize the parade’s order. The sketches become watercolor paintings. The float builders turn those paintings into three-dimensional reality.

Actual photos

While this is #watercolorwednesday, I neverhteless wanted to find an actual photo of this float. I’ve yet to find one. There’s an auction site that offered a copy of the newspaper “broadsheet” published that year. I’m not a customer of that site, so all I can see is a thumbnail.

Happy Holidays!

I hope you had a wonderful Festival of Lights! May your Yule this week be everything you wish, and Christmas next week be happy and peaceful. May Mr. Bingle smile on you and bring you joy.

NOLA History Guy December (9) – Legendary Local A. Baldwin Wood

NOLA History Guy December (9) – Legendary Local A. Baldwin Wood

NOLA History Guy December continues with Legendary Local A. Baldwin Wood

nola history guy december

A. Baldwin Wood (left)

 

Baldwin Wood’s story is our next for NOLA History Guy December

In 1899, A. Baldwin Wood graduated from Tulane University with a degree in Engineering. He took a job with the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board that year. Wood was more than just an engineer. He was an inventor. His signature creation was the “wood-screw pump.” That pump revolutionized drainage in New Orleans. Wood and the S&WB installed his pumps in stations across the city. While his wood-screw pumps have been replaced by modern turbines, his contributions to the city’s infrastructure and drainage strategy can’t be understated.

The caption

nola history guy december

The Melpomene Street pumping station is named for Wood

The book offers two images for Wood:

Pumps. A. Baldwin Wood (1879-1956) worked for the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board, where he invented the Wood Screw Pump that revolutionized flood prevention in the city. Pumps based on Wood’s designs have been in operation for over 80 years. (Images courtesy NOPL and Carlos “Froggy” May)

 

Legendary Locals of New Orleans

nola history guy december

As mentioned earlier, Legendary Locals of New Orleans differs from the IoA books. A few years ago, a local group of school librarians invited me to speak at one of their meetings. I told them, of the books I’ve written, the one that really should be on their shelves was Legendary Locals. Think about it–a teacher assigns a project for social studies, write a report about someone notable in the city’s history. What’s the kid likely to do? Go to the school library and lay the assignment out for the librarian. Rather than simply suggest a name or two, hand the student my books. Tell them to flip through the short (100-150 word) entries on each Legendary Local. Some may pick an athlete, others a musician. There’s a wide range of personalities.

(NOTE: this book is a great gift for the library at your kid’s school. If you do that, order the hardcover edition of the book. It costs a bit more, but the librarian will appreciate it.

From the back cover:

Since its founding in 1718 by the LeMoyne brothers, New Orleans has cemented its status as one of the busiest ports on the continent. Producing many unique and fascinating individuals, Colonial New Orleans was a true gumbo of personalities. The city lays claim to many nationalities, including Spaniards Baron Carondelet, Don Andres Almonester, and French sailors and privateers Jean Lafitte and Dominique Youx. Businessmen like Daniel Henry Holmes and Isidore Newman contributed to local flavor, as did musicians Buddy Bolden, Joe “King” Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and Louis Prima. War heroes include P.G.T. Beauregard and Andrew Jackson Higgins. Avery Alexander, A.P. Tureaud, and Ernest Morial paved the way for African Americans to lead the city. Kate Chopin, Lafcadio Hearn, Ellen DeGeneres, Mel Ott, Archie Manning, and Drew Brees have kept the world entertained, while chefs and restaurateurs like Leah Chase and the Brennans sharpened the city’s culinary chops. Legendary Locals of New Orleans pays homage to the notables that put spice in that gumbo.

Available at local bookstores, Walgreens stores, other local shops, Bookshop, and other online outlets. Give history! Support NOLA History Guy December.

 

NOLA History Guy December (7) – Canal Street, 1906

NOLA History Guy December (7) – Canal Street, 1906

NOLA History Guy December continues with a Canal Streetcar image.

nola history guy december

Ford, Bacon, and Davis

Alexander Allison captured four New Orleans Railway and Light (NORwy&Lt) streetcars in this image of the 801 and 901 blocks of Canal Street. The stores display red,white, and blue bunting and banners, marking Independence Day, 1906. There are several Allison images in New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line.

Three single-truck cars designed by Ford, Bacon, and Davis (FBD) roll up and down Canal Street. The streetcar on the left rolls on the outside inbound (towards the river) track. The two outside tracks on Canal enabled the lines converging on the main street to turn around. For example, a car coming up Royal Street would turn onto Canal for a block, then turn onto Bourbon Street. While the modern St. Charles line does something similar with Carondelet Street and St. Charles Avenue, St. Charles operated in “belt” service with Tulane at the time of this photograph.

The car on the left-center track also travels to the river. It will circle around Liberty Place, then proceed on its outbound run.

The third single-truck rolls outbound (towards the lake) on the outside track. It will turn either on Dauphine (by the Mercier Building), or go up to N. Rampart Street.

The fourth streetcar in the photo is a double-truck “Palace” car. It’s running on the Canal/Esplanade belt. If it’s running on Esplanade (the roll board displaying the route isn’t visible), the motorman will steer the car to N. Rampart. If the car operates on Canal or West End, it’s heading towards the cemeteries.

The buildings

Most of the 801 block buildings remain the  same today. The Mercier Building looms in the background, at 901 Canal Street. It’s the home of Maison Blanche Department Store. The company will replace this building with the 13-story one we all know well in a year.

The photographer

Alexander Allison was an engineer for the New Orleans Sewage and Water Board. He was also a prolific photographer, taking photos all around the city. His job took him to every corner of Orleans Parish. His photo collection is maintained by the New Orleans Public Library.

New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line

The clanging of a streetcar’s bell conjures images of a time when street railways were a normal part of life in the city. Historic Canal Street represents the common ground between old and new with buses driving alongside steel rails and electric wires that once guided streetcars.

New Orleans was one of the first cities to embrace street railways, and the city’s love affair with streetcars has never ceased. New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line showcases photographs, diagrams, and maps that detail the rail line from its origin and golden years, its decline and disappearance for almost 40 years, and its return to operation. From the French Quarter to the cemeteries, the Canal Line ran through the heart of the city and linked the Creole Faubourgs with the new neighborhoods that stretched to Lake Pontchartrain.

Available at local bookstores, Walgreens stores, other local shops, Bookshop, and other online outlets.