2-8-0 Steam Locomotives operated regularly in Gentilly
Southern Ry (NO&NE) 2-8-0 near Gentilly Blvd (between NE Tower and Seabrook) New Orleans, Frank C. Phillips Photo
2-8-0 Steam Locomotives
We mentioned the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad (NO&NE) last week, in our discussion of Homer Plessy’s ticket to Covington. Plessy was arrested at Press Street Station. That station was the terminal for the NONE in the 1890s. Southern Railway acquired NO&NE in 1916. Southern Railway moved NO&NE’s passenger service to Terminal Station on Canal Street. Freight service operated from NO&NE’s Gentilly Yard. The way out of town for the Southern system was their five-mile bridge across Lake Pontchartrain. So, passenger trains came out via the Lafitte Corridor, then merged onto the Back Belt. Freight trains came up Peoples Avenue from the yard, then to the back belt. The trains traveled north, alongside Peoples Avenue. The trains crossed the Industrial Canal at Seabrook. From there, they headed out of town.
Gentilly Blvd. and trains
The Back Belt more-or-less follows Gentilly Blvd. While train tracks run as much as possible in straight lines, streets tend to twist and turn. Because Gentilly Blvd intersects the train tracks several times, the railroad and the city built several underpasses. Trains stayed at the same level, going straight. Automobiles turned, curved, and dipped under the tracks.
Tony Howe, admin of the Louisiana Railroad History group on Faceback captioned this Frank C. Phillips photo:
Southern Ry (NO&NE) 2-8-0 near Gentilly Blvd (between NE Tower and Seabrook) New Orleans, Frank C. Phillips Photo
Others in the group (which is highly recommended for railfans and rail historians) added details. The houses to the left place the photo in Gentilly Terrace. The train heads south, towards either the Back Belt or the yard. The photographer stands just south of the underpass at Gentilly Blvd. The WPA/city/railroad built that underpass in 1940.
Baldwin Locomotive Works introduced the Consolidation 2-8-0 locos in 1883. So, this type of engine was a regular workhorse by the late 1940s. NO&NE owned a number of Consolidations. Unfortunately, the number on this engine isn’t visible.
Rapp’s Luggage still sells leather goods and luggage in Metairie
Rapp’s Trunk Store sign on the side of 604 Canal Street.
George Rapp came to New Orleans from Germany, just at the end of the Civil War. He got settled and entered the leather goods business. By 1865, he put together the means to purchase Mack’s Trunk Store, located on Common Street. Rapp changed the name of the business to his own, and moved it to Canal Street.
Rapp continued to refer to the business as a “Trunk Store” when he took over. That’s because “steam trunks” were a huge part of his sales. When folks from New Orleans went to Europe, they did so by taking a four to five week trip on a steamship. Since it took four weeks to get there, people didn’t just turn around and go home in a few days, or even a week. That meant they needed to bring enough clothing and accessories for a months-long adventure. So, Rapps sold those trunk. They also repaired steam trunks. Those things weren’t cheap! Customers wanted to extend their life as much as possible.
604 Canal Street, next to the JW Marriott Hotel, was the home of Rapp’s Luggage.
This building is 5 stories tall. The Merchants Mutual Insurance building at 624 Canal is four stories tall. So were the buildngs that were demolished to make room for the hotel in-between 604 and 624. So, with most of the block four stories tall, Rapp was able to paint a sign on the lake side of 604 Canal. While the building on the river side of his store was also five stories, the lake side was more important. People walked down Canal Street in the afternoon and evening, heading back to the ferry landing, or the L&N passenger termnal. The building is currently home to a store in The Athlete’s Foot chain.
Leaving Canal Street
Canal Street faced competition from suburban malls in the 1970s. Rapp’s recognized this shift. They left Canal Street, moving across Severn Avenue in Metairie. They also opened stores in The Plaza at Lake Forest, and the Uptown Square Mall. Later, the company expanded to Baton Rouge. They opened a store in the Bon Marche mall.
The faded sign remains on Canal Street!
Race Screens on NOPSI 930 were typical on the 800 and 900 streetcars.
Movable race screens on NOPSI 930 streetcar. (Franck Studios photo in the public domain)
Jim Crow segregation began in the 1890s. They started in the wake of the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision. It comes as no surprise that the city where Homer Plessy and the Citizens Committee did their work embraced Jim Crow. White families of the area asserted their supremacy over the former enslaved and their families. We often look at New Orleans society as something more than white versus black. Creoles of color had extensive influence in the city. The White League saw them as “colored,” however. Because they weren’t “white”, the Creoles of Color were no better than the former enslaved to white people.
The Jim Crow laws, and the overall attitude of racial segregation helped foster the Great Migration of the early 20th Century. The most visible impact of this movement of African-Americans to the north and west was with musicians. Jazz started out as a musical style in the various black communities of New Orleans. Musicians tired of having to enter/exit venues via the back door got on the train for New York or Chicago or Los Angeles. The music spread. It stayed home, too, as many African-Americans didn’t leave the South.
Back of the bus
Separate but equal was problematic on public transit. While the Canal and West End lines looped around Liberty Place, many of the lines operated “point to loop.” When the streetcar reached the outbound end of the line, the crew changed the direction of the electric poles on the roof. They also changed the direction of the seats. With the seats flipped, the race screens were at the front of the car. Black folks would get in and sit, but had to keep going to the back as white riders boarded. On crowded runs, it got to the point where black riders stood in the aisle. White riders kept moving the screens back.
Naturally, black riders got fed up. In Montgomery, Alabama, that came to a head when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in 1955. New Orleans was spared a Montgomery-style bus boycott. A federal judge ordered the race screens on NOPSI streetcars and buses be removed in 1958.
Cash Boys moved the money before cash registers
D.H. Holmes used Cash Boys up to the 1920s. Here’s a group of them in 1910.
Cash Boys were employees of large dry goods and department stores. Before cash registers, these stores puzzled over how to control money on the sales floor. Cash drawers meant money spread out everywhere. Managers trusted their employees, but they didn’t trust customers. Shoplifting required security. Cash required even more security.
Stores centralized cash, usually at a “cashier” station. In some stores, a clerk sat in a booth like that of a bank teller. Sales people worked hard to please customers. Sending the shopper to a cash cage cut into customer satisfaction.
Enter the Cash Boy. The sales clerk wrote up the transaction. The customer paid. The Cash Boy ran the money from the sales counter to the cash desk. The cash clerk made change, stamped the receipt as paid. The Cash Boy ran those back to the customer.
Stores, from Fellman’s to MB, to Holmes, trusted Cash Boys. They were usually children of store employees. They knew that stealing would cost the parent their job. Besides, being a Cash Boy had interesting perks. At Krauss, a couple of cash boys grabbed a quick nap. They slept longer than planned, though. When they woke up, the store closed for the evening. To survive the night, they made their way to the candy counter and sugared up! They didn’t suffer dire consequences, though, since everyone was glad they were all right.
Mechanization of the transaction
Multiple cash drawers required multiple locks and keys. It’s easy to pop open a simple cash drawer. As recently as the 1980s, Radio Shack stores used simple cash drawers. The drawers unlocked by pulling two or three levers under the drawer with your fingers. Simple enough, but a strong pull on the drawer forced it open. When the chain added computers to the sales counter (ironic, given they sold computers for years), a more-secure drawer became part of the system.
Canal Street stores stuck with Cash Boys until well into the 20th Century. Concerns over child labor motivated changes. Some stores converted to cash registers. Krauss Department Store favored a centralized system. They installed a pneumatic tube system in the store at 1201 Canal. They ran tubes from sales counters throughout the store to the office. A five-foot-by-five-foot box fan provided the airflow in the tubes. When a clerk sold something, they wrote up the transaction and put the cash and sales slip into a pod. That pod went in the tube and flew up to the office. The cash clerk processed the sale and returned the slip and change via the tube. Cash boys went back to school.
Sears, Feibleman’s and Canal Street retail.
Feibleman’s Department Store, 201 Baronne in the CBD
Sears, Feibleman’s and Canal Street
With Sears, Roebuck all but closing down nationwide, let’s look back at how Sears came to New Orleans. The Chicago company acquired stores owned by the Feibleman family, most notably, their big department store at 201 Baronne Street. Sears bought Feibleman’s in 1936. The name recognition of the local store was strong. Advertisements for Sears still mentioned Feibleman’s, years after the purchase.
Fellman and Feibleman’s
Feibleman’s ad in the Loyola Maroon, 1926
When Lippman Feibelman came to New Orleans in 1870, he changed his name to Leon Fellman. Fellman became one of the major retailers in the city, along with his brother, Bernard. By the 1880s, the Fellmans were in the top-tier of dry goods merchants. When the Merciers demolished the Christ Episcopal Church building on Canal and Dauphine in 1884, Leon expressed his desire to move into the new five story building. His brother Bernard wanted to stay in the 700 block of Canal Street. The brothers split the partnership. L. Fellman and Company opened at what is now 901 Canal Street.
Leon Fellman operated from 901 Canal until 1897. He shared the location with Simon J. Shwartz, son of Abraham Shwartz. Abraham operated a dry goods business in the 700 block as well. When fire severely damaged the Touro Buildings, Simon Shwartz moved to the 900 block. He acquired the entire Mercier Building in early 1897. Shwartz served notice to Fellman that his lease was terminated in February of that year.
Move to 800 Canal
Leon Fellman’s, 800 Canal Street, 1910
Fellman moved his store to the former Pickwick Hotel, at800 Canal (corner Carondelet Street). He operated “Leon Fellman’s” there until his death in 1920.
Sears ad, 1939
That’s when things got interesting. With the passing of the patriarch, the family changed the store’s name to Feibleman’s. The store continued at 800 Canal for ten years. The family moved Feibleman’s to 201 Baronne Street in 1930. They sold to Sears six years later.
Sears takes over
Sears ad in the Loyola Maroon, 1940
Eventually, the Feibleman name faded, leaving the national store and its huge mail-order catalog. Other Sears stores opened in the New Orleans Area. Only one remains, in Clearview Mall. That store is scheduled to be closed this year.
Basin Street was the location of Terminal Station
Southern Ry 6850 switching at Terminal Station in New Orleans ca late 1940’s Frank C. Phillips Photo
Terminal Station, Canal and Basin Streets, 1910 (Detroit Publishing photo)
Terminal Station serviced Southern Railway and the Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio Railroad, from 1908 to 1954. Travelers and shoppers on Canal Street saw the arched facade of the building. Those keeping the trains running had a different view.
Terminal Station opened in 1908. It replaced an earlier structure for the Spanish Fort route. In the 1880s, New Orleans City Railroad operated steam service to Spanish Fort, at the Bayou St. John and Lake Pontchartrain. Electric streetcars replaced steam service in the late 1890s. The streetcars followed the West End line. So, the Basin Street terminal stood unused. Southern Railway acquired the property in 1908. They built a much larger, 4-track terminal.
Track diagram of Terminal Station on Basin Street (City of New Orleans)
The terminal’s four tracks extended back a bit over three blocks from Canal Street. Southern Railway and New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad (NONE) operated trains from the station when it opened. NONE merged into the Southern system in 1916. The railroad continued operations in its own name until 1969. While it was all one system, Southern Railway’s Alabama Great Southern Railroad legally absorbed NONE that year. GM&O also offered service from Basin Street.
Diagram of tracks turning north from Basin Street (City of New Orleans)
Trains operating from Terminal Station arrived and departed New Orleans on tracks running in the “Lafitte Corridor,” between St. Louis and Lafitte Streets. So, trains left the station, crossed over Basin Street on an auto underpass. The tracks turned north, heading out to Mid-City, then Gentilly. The area marked “Cemetery” in the diagram is St. Louis Cemetery Number One. The “Church” below the tracks is Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The city ordered the railroads to combine passenger operations at Union Passenger Terminal on Loyola Avenue in 1954. Because of the location change, Southern Railway no longer used the Basin Street/St. Louis Street tracks. The path of those tracks became the Lafitte Greenway, a walking and bike trail.
Southern’s engine #6850 was an EMD NW2 switcher locomotive. The railroad owned 69 NW2s, two of which (6850 and 6851) belonged to NONE. So, this switcher moved cars in and out of Terminal Station, from Southern’s yards along the Lafitte Corridor.
The track diagrams in this article are from a 1949 grade crossing survey commissioned by the City of New Orleans. I found it in the Special Collections section of the Earl K. Long Library at the University of New Orleans. I shot just some quick phone-pics. So, I use these diagrams as prototype/background for my Pontchartrain Railroad (N-Scale) layout at home. I’ll return and shoot proper photos at some point.