Birds-eye view 1851

Birds-eye view 1851

Birds-eye view of New Orleans, 1851, by John Bachmann.

birds-eye view 1851

Click the image for hi-res copy

Birds-eye view 1851

“Birds’ eye view of New-Orleans / drawn from nature on stone by J. Bachman [i.e., Bachmann].” The Mississippi River stands in the foreground. The view looks north to Lake Pontchartrain. Below the title: “Published by the agents A. Guerber & Co., c1851 (Printed by J. Bachman [i.e., Bachmann]).”

The map features an incredible amount of detail. While the majority of the map focuses on the east bank of the river, scenes on the west bank are visible. Reply/comment with the details that stand out to you!

Bachmann’s maps

John Bachmann, Sr., was a lithographer from Switzerland. While most of his work features views of New York City, he made a number of lithographs in other cities. Students of the Southern Rebellion refer to his drawings regularly. Anticipating conflict, Bachmann traveled to a number of possible flashpoints. He sketched those scenes, then converted them to “aerial” views.

Creating a birds-eye view

The perspective of drawings like birds-eye view 1851 dates back centuries. The idea is, the artist surveys and sketches the scene from a ground-level perspective. They then “stretch” the scene in their imagination. The artist uses that mental image to “look down” on the scene. They review the original details, adjusting the perspective.

So, to draw those riverboats, Bachmann sketched them, most likely sitting on the west bank levee. He added them to the river on the birds-eye, adjusting the angle in his mind. The paralell riverboat now appears from above.

New Orleans detail

Several things stand out to me from this litho:

  • Riverboats. Bachmann captures a number of ocean-going ships as well as the classic riverboats that traveled up and down the Mississippi. The Port of New Orleans bustled in the late 1840s/early 1850s.
  • Old Canal. The Carondelet Canal runs on the Eastern side of the lithograph, merging with Bayou St. John. The bayou then extends to the lake. The left-right body of water visible where canal joins bayou is Bayou Metairie. The city closed the Carondelet Canal in the 1920s. Norman C. Francis Parkway comes to and end in what was the swampy ground joining the bayous.

We’ll return to this drawing again for more detail!

Westbound Railroads from New Orleans

Westbound Railroads from New Orleans

Westbound railroads from New Orleans originated with the NOOGW.

westbound railroads

Westbound railroads

The New Orleans, Opelousas, and Great Western Railroad offered service to the West of New Orleans. We’ve talked about NOOGW in previous posts, but this particular map contains some interesting points.

The NOOGW was organized in 1852. Its first fifty miles of track opened to service in 1854. This map dates to 1853. So, it’s another “proposal” map.

Sugar Cane

The Library of Congress summary for this map says, “Mississippi delta area shows drainage, sugar crop, parishes, major cities and towns, canals, and railroads with lines named and distances on the main line.” All those details make perfect sense for pitching a Westbound railroads. Sugar farmers require transportation, once they turn raw sugar into a granulated form, or molasses. Railroads connect towns. These points hit what investors want to hear.

Map Creators

LOC attributes the map to G. W. R. Bayley, published by company, Childs & Hammond. While there are no notes beyond attribution, it looks like someone took Bayley’s map and drew train tracks on it. Not that there’s a problem with that, as the saying goes.

Algiers to the west

The NOOGW serviced the city from a terminal in Algiers. This station played an important role in the Southern Rebellion. NOOGW’s fifty miles of track enabled the Union Army to supply their troops to the west. The rebels defended the Mississippi River fiercely. So, coming up from the South created two fronts of attack. The Union Army pushed up from New Orleans. Grant pushed down from St. Louis. Denying the rebels access to the river played an important role in shortening the rebellion.

After the rebellion, the NOOGW route extended past Morgan City, eventually into Texas. The Algiers facilities became part of the Southern Pacific system. SP expanded operations in Algiers. They built a full freight yard there. That yard later moved to Avondale.

Custom House preliminary design 1851

Custom House preliminary design 1851

This Custom House preliminary design evolved over the 1850s.

custom house

Custom House New Orleans

The Custom House occupies the 401 block of Canal Street. The final design became the building still standing. The Custom House functions as a federal office building. Additionally, it was the former location of the Audubon Insectarium.

Original Design

Controversy surrounded the original Custom House design. From the HABS survey:

The structure was designed by Alexander Thompson Wood; however,
Mr. Arthur quotes James Gallier, Senior’s claim in his (Gallier’s)
autobiography that Wood had plagiarized the design from models and
plans submitted by Dakin and Gallier. [Arthur, A History . . __,
New Orleans, page 8,]

So, this appears to be the design that Gallier accused Wood of plagiarizing. The government suspended Wood. James E. Dakin continued the project. Arthur says, “…Dakin began a series of changes in the original design ‘to see that the building should be arranged and constructed in the best and most convenient manner to meet the wants and purposes designed'”

Dakin transformed this concept drawing into the current building. The cornerstone of the Custom House was laid on 22-February-1849. The cornerstone is no longer visible, because the foundation sunk 30″ at the time. So, the project required engineering intervention.

Enter Beauregard

So, P.G.T. Beauregard assumed management of the Custom House construction in 1853. Gus was the Supervising Engineer for Southeast Louisiana. He held the rank of brevet Major (permanent rank of Captain) at the time. By 1858, Beauregard set up his office in the building. The Army promoted Gus to Colonel and appointed him to Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point. So, he left the Custom House for West Point. While Gus was eminently qualified, the appointment fell through. Louisiana seceded and the US Army rescinded the appointment. They lost trust in Beauregard. Gus resigned from the Army and returned to his office on Canal Street.


The National Park Service documented the facility as part of its Historic American Building Survey. The building is HABS No. LA-1109. This preliminary design dates to 1851. It was published in a collection of images in 1857.

St. John the Baptist Church 1933

St. John the Baptist Church 1933

St. John the Baptist Church photo from 1933.

st. john the baptist church

St. John the Baptist Church

Photo of St. John the Baptist Church from 1933. It is part of a Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). While the record lists the location of the church as Dryades Street, the current name of the street is Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. So, historically, it stood on the corner of Dryades and Calliope Streets.

Here’s the description in the HABS:

Significance: The corner stone was laid in 1857, and the church was completed in 1861, Father Jeremiah Moynihan, the pastor, having supervision of the planning and building. Fifteen stained glass windows were installed in 1902. … The building was erected in a time of opulence and no expense was spared to make it one of the handsomest churches in the city, but by the time it was completed, at the outbreak of four years of war, there ensued much general financial distress. The parish was unable to meet its obligations, and was declared bankrupt in 1878. The church and the adjacent parish school building were bought by the pastor, Father Kenny, and reverted to the Congregation.
– Survey number: HABS LA-1105
– Building/structure dates: 1861 Initial Construction
– Building/structure dates: 1902 Subsequent Work

The construction of St. John the Baptist Church demonstrates the expansion of the Irish community in New Orleans. St. Patrick’s parish formed in 1833, in the CBD. The Irish in the “Redemptorist Parish” of the Lower Garden District and the Irish Channel built St. Alphonsus in the mid-1850s. (The community completed St. Alphonsus in 1857.) So, by the time the Irish finished their second church, the community needed another! The Irish moved towards the lake from the riverfront.

Pre-rebellion New Orleans

“A time of opulence…” New Orleans reached a significant growth point in the 1850s. The port handled shipping second only to New York. While the international slave trade no longer legally existed, New Orleans became a focal point in the domestic trade of enslaved Africans. Wealthy planters maintained houses in the city, as well as on their upriver properties. Cotton dominated the economy (thanks to the labor of the enslaved). Additionally, the Irish kept coming from the Old Country. They worked along the riverfront.


This 1933 photo of St. John the Baptist Church offers a wonderful perspective from a couple of blocks away. The Pontchartrain Expressway now divides the neighborhood. This barrier didn’t exist in 1933. The church stands blocks away from the train station. Streetcars on the Dryades line traveled in front of the church. So, they connected church and school with uptown and further into downtown. Additionally, Dominican nuns from Ireland staffed the school. St. John the Baptist Church formed a nexus.

New Orleans Opelousas Great Western Railroad 1850s

New Orleans Opelousas Great Western Railroad 1850s

New Orleans Opelousas Great Western Railroad in the 1850s.

New Orleans Opelousas Great Western Railroad

New Orleans Opelousas Great Western Railroad

From a collection of pamphlets and other documents, this image is titled,

showing the
of the
New Orleans, Opelousas, and Great Western Railroad
H. Erskine Barnes
Assistant Engineer

This “sketch” is interesting, in that it’s part of a collection of documents from the 1850s, but appears to be later.

The route

The NOO&GW organized in 1852. By 1857, they ran track from the West Bank of New Orleans (Algiers) to what is now Morgan City. Expansion work stopped then, and didn’t resume for twenty years. That’s not unexpected, given the Southern Rebellion. By 1878, ownership of the railroad passed to Charles Morgan. From Morgan, the route merges into the Southern Pacific system.

According to the history, NOO&GW doesn’t grow beyond Morgan City, yet here’s this sketch of a much more expanded route. Not only does this map show the railroad going all the way to Opelousas, but further up to Northwest Louisiana and into Texas.

More research necessary

This isn’t the only map from 1852-1853 showing this route. This requires more research. If the railroad didn’t grow further than Morgan City in the 1850s, why draw these maps? Are they part of investment proposals?

Additionally, the Southern Pacific system gets to New Orleans via Houston, TX. That reality indicates these are proposals. While the original owners desired to get up to Dallas/Ft. Worth, going West, not North, became reality.

There’s so much train content related to New Orleans. While it all falls under NOLA History, we don’t want to overwhelm this site with trains. So, we’ve created NewOrleansRailroads dot com for that. We have a general blog to get started. Additionally we’re building out detailed sites for Southern/NS, Southern Pacific, Pontchartrain, and other railroads. Check it out.

Mexican Gulf Coast Railroad at Proctorville #TrainThursday

Mexican Gulf Coast Railroad at Proctorville #TrainThursday

Mexican Gulf Coast Railroad terminated at Proctorville, Louisiana.

mexican gulf coast railroad

Proctorville, Louisiana

Plan for the village of Proctorville (also spelled Proctorsville). The area began as a collection of logging and fishing camps at the mouth of Bayou Yscloskey. A railroad link from Faubourg Marigny to Proctorville was built in 1837. In 1856, the federal government constructed a fort there, as part of the Third Coastal Defense Fortification. Proctorville is now the town of Shell Beach.

Mexican Gulf Coast Railroad

Businessmen from New Orleans recognized the potential of the mouth of Bayou Yscloskey as a deep-water port. The location on Lake Borgne offered a bypass of the Mississippi River. In 1814, the Royal Navy used Lake Borgne to stage troops for their invasion of New Orleans. By the 1830s, the problem encountered by the Royal Navy still existed. There was no easy way to get from Lake Borgne to New Orleans. Fishermen and loggers transported goods from Proctorville to Biloxi or Mobile, rather than New Orleans.

In 1837, investors founded the Mexican Gulf Coast Railroad. They proposed a seaport on Lake Borgne and a rail connection back to the city. While the corporation was chartered in 1837, construction did not begin until 1850. The company built 27 miles of track. They established the link to the Pontchartrain Railroad station in the Marigny. The Mexican Gulf Coast Railroad ran out of money. The railroad stopped at Proctorville.

Fort Proctor

As part of the Third Coastal Defense Fortification, the federal government authorized the construction of a fort at Proctorville. The War Department knew an invasion similar to 1814 continued to be a threat. P.G.T. Beauregard held the position of US Army Supervising Engineer for Southeast Louisiana. Beauregard managed the project from his office in the Custom House, on Canal Street in New Orleans.

A category-three hurricane all but destroyed Proctorville in 1859. Beauregard suspended construction of Fort Proctor in the aftermath of the hurricane. In 1861, Beauregard left his engineering position. He eventually resigned his commission. The rebels in New Orleans blew up levees along Lake Borgne. This flooded Fort Proctor. No further construction took place.

After the rebellion, Proctorville was reincarnated as Shell Beach.

The Plan

This document is not a map, but rather a surveyor’s plan for the village. Fishborne’s Lithography of New Orleans printed it, approximately 1850.