The CBD – Canal Street, 1890s – Before electric streetcars
A Mugnier photo depicts an interesting transitional period. Electricity arrived for buildings, but not yet for streetcars. That puts the photo pre-1894, but not much earlier. Mugnier stood on the corner of Canal and Baronne Streets. The left side of the photo is of the 800 block of Canal Street. Building numbers are still on the old system. So, the first address at the river was #1, then 2, etc. That’s how Kreeger’s is #149.
Notice that “S. Kuhn”, the store next to D.H. Holmes (left) has a sign that says “Kid Glove Depot. Kreegers’ sign next door says the same thing. In 1897, the Krausz Brothers specialized in gloves in their shop at 835 Canal as well.
700 Block of Canal
The Touro Buildings, in the 700 block, can’t be seen for the trees. Trees in the neutral ground of Canal Street helped beautify Canal. While they helped at the time, they cover up some of the street rail operations! So, there’s a carpet store at the corner of Bourbon and Canal. Fellman Brothers, in the 700 block, dissolved in 1892. It’s hard to tell if the Fellman store is Fellman Brothers (pre-1892), or B. Fellman. Leon Fellman split with brother Bernard in 1892. He moved his store down to the Mercier Buildings, as did S.J. Shwartz. He split with his family after the 1892 fire at A. Shwartz and Son. Abram passed away, and Simon also opened a new store in the Mercier Buildings.
“Bob-tail” streetcars from the Johnson Car Company sit on either side of the Clay Monument. Clay’s full base is visible. Mules provide the streetcar power. So, when the Canal Street line was electrified, the base was cut back drastically. On the right, one streetcar travels inbound, possibly turning at St. Charles Avenue. Two horse-drawn Hanson cabs sit on opposite sides of the neutral ground
For almost one hundred years, generations of New Orleans shoppers flocked to Krauss. The Canal Street store was hailed for its vast merchandise selection and quality customer service. In its early days, it sold lace and fabric to the ladies of the notorious red-light district of Storyville. The store’s renowned lunch counter, Eddie’s at Krauss, served Eddie Baquet’s authentic New Orleans cuisine to customers and celebrities such as Julia Child. Although the beloved store finally closed its doors in 1997, Krauss is still fondly remembered as a retail haven. With vintage photographs, interviews with store insiders and a wealth of research, historian Edward J. Branley brings the story of New Orleans’ Creole department store back to life.
The Southern Pacific Railroad began passenger service from New Orleans to Los Angeles in 1894. The Sunset Limited originally ran from New Orleans to San Francisco, via Los Angeles. The train was a major transportation improvement for the time. The Panama Canal was still twenty years away, so getting from New York to California meant a sea voyage around South America, or a complex railroad journey over the Rocky Mountains. The Sunset Limited traveled south of the Rockies, across Texas and through the desert. The train then went north to San Francisco. In 1930, the route was cut back to Los Angeles.
This ad, from a trade publication in 1897, advertises through service from Galveston to Washington, DC. The Eastbound Sunset Limited added Pullman sleeper and drawing cars in Galveston, for the overnight trip to New Orleans. Those cars were then hooked to the Crescent. Passengers going to NYC would have to change cars in DC. The ad says “through sleeper service,” because that change was in the daytime. By the mid-20th century, it was possible to book Pullman car service from NYC to New Orleans on the Crescent, and your sleeping car would be hooked to the Sunset Limited, for a direct transcontinental journey. While Amtrak does not offer through service to New York, the Sunset Limited ran for a brief period all the way to Jacksonville, FL.
Sunset Limited 1897 consist
The Sunset Limited, 1897, operated with this basic consist:
A 4-4-0 American steam locomotive
Composite Baggage car with barber shop, bath and buffet smoker lounge El Indio
7 Drawing Room Sleeper with ladies´ parlor lounge El Piloto
The Sunset Limited transitioned to diesel operation in 1949. It became a “streamliner” train in 1950. Amtrak took the service over in 1971.
Today’s Sunset Limited
The Sunset Limited runs westbound (Amtrak #1) three days a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. I like to go out to Central Avenue in Jefferson to photograph the Sunset Limited as it approaches the Huey P. Long Bridge. Hurricane Harvey forced Amtrak to cut back service, however. The Sunset Limited temporarily runs from San Antonio to Los Angeles. The storm did not affect City of New Orleans or Crescent service.
This cutback in Sunset Limited service isn’t short-term. Houston took an incredible beating from Hurricane Harvey. If you can, please send some money down that way to help with relief efforts. I suggest the Houston Food Bank.
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.
Milneburg, Alexander Milne’s port on Lake Pontchartrain.
‘Winter in the South’ – Article from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, December 1858. Woodcut engraving ‘The Light-House-Lake Pontchartrain’. (h/t Pontchartrain.net)
Milneburg – Port village on Lake Pontchartrain
A short drive or bus ride from downtown out to the campus of the University of New Orleans brings you back to one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, Milneburg. The area is all commercial-use now, but it began as port area, then resort, then an important part of the city’s contribution to the war effort in the 1940s.
The area at Elysian Fields and the Lakefront was swampland when the French established New Orleans near the Mississippi River. The Spanish colonial government, seeing little value in the land, sold it to a Scottish businessman, Alexander Milne. Milne came to New Orleans in 1776, where he started a brick making business. That business became quite profitable after the great fires of 1788 and 1794, when the Spanish ordered the city be rebuilt with brick structures, rather than the wooden ones built by the French. Milne worked to develop his lakefront property, particularly on the eastern side of the city. By 1830, he had encouraged a group of businessmen to form the Pontchartrain Rail-Road Company, which built a five-mile right-of-way, connecting Faubourg Marigny with Milneburg.
Bypassing the Mississippi River
Fishing camps along the lake in Milneburg, 1923 (photo: public domain)
Milne constructed a small port on the lakefront, building a pier which extended out into the lake far enough that ocean-going ships could dock there, and their cargo could be taken by rail to the city. The path from the Gulf of Mexico, through Lake Borgne, to the Rigolets Pass, into Lake Pontchartrain and finally to Milneburg, was attractive to ship captains, since it was faster than coming up to New Orleans from the mouth of the river. To improve safety at the port, the Port Pontchartrain Lighthouse was constructed in 1834.
Theresa Gallagher and her husband, Conrad Freese, at Milneburg, New Orleans c. 1880 – 1890 (Photo: public domain)
Milneburg was the terminus of the Pontchartrain Railroad. The trains ran down what is now Elysian Fields Avenue, to the company’s station at Elysian Fields and Chartres, in the Marigny. The Pontchartrain Railroad operated for over a century.
Quarella’s Restaurant, Mlineburg, 1914 (photo: public domain)
Commercial use of Milneburg boomed during the antebellum years, and continued through the Civil War. The U.S. Navy so totally dominated the Confederate forces in 1862 that New Orleans surrendered without a land battle. Milneburg’s use as a commercial port waned in the late 1800s, but the area continued to be a popular day trip from the city. Saloons, clubs, and restaurants popped up in Milneburg as early as the 1840s. By the 1900s, the area was a network of fishing camps, resorts, and restaurants.
Milneburg also became known for its music. In his biography of Edward “Kid” Ory, Creole Trombone, John McCusker writes of Ory’s memories of busking for tips in Milneburg. Ory and his band would come into the city from LaPlace, and would head out to Milneburg during the day, going from fishing camp to fishing camp, playing for tips. Perhaps it was Ory and his band that influenced a number of Italian-American boys like Sharkey Bonano, who lived in Milneburg to play Jazz. Either way, Jazz stayed in Milneburg even after Ory’s band became well-known and played paying gigs uptown and in Storyville. Younger musicians would ride the “Smokey Mary” (as the Pontchartrain Rail-Road was known locally) out to the resort area, hang out, and play.
Milneburg in 1921 (photo: public domain)
Food and music kept Milneburg popular long after its usefulness as a port had diminished. The railroad continued passenger operations until 1932. When land reclamation projects around Bayou St. John and Spanish Fort pushed Pontchartrain Beach further back from the the lake shore, Harry Batt persuaded the city and the WPA to build bath houses and a beach area at Milneburg. He re-opened Pontchartrain Beach at the end of Elysian Fields in 1939.
NAS New Orleans, Pontchartrain Beach, and Camp Leroy Johnson, 1947. (Photo: courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
Milneburg at war
World War II changed the character of Milneburg and the overall lakefront dramatically. The War Department appropriate the land on either side of the amusement park. Naval Air Station New Orleans opened on the western side of Pontchartrain Beach. On the other side, the Army built Camp Leroy Johnson, a supply depot. The aircraft manufacturer, Consolidated Vultee, built an aircraft factory at the end of Franklin Avenue. Consolidated built PBY seaplanes there. The assembly line ended at the lake. The planes rolled right out into the lake for testing.
After the war, the Navy moved the air station down to Belle Chasse. They returned the Lakefront base to the Orleans Levee Board. The OLB leased it to LSU. The school opened Louisiana State University in New Orleans, now UNO. The Army gave back the western section of Camp Leroy Johnson to the OLB. The board developed that parcel into what is now the Lake Oaks subdivision. The Consolidated Vultee aircraft plant on Franklin Avenue became an American Standard factory. The Army also gave the eastern portion of Camp Leroy Johnson back to the state. That area became the University of New Orleans “East Campus.” That parcel is now home to the UNO Lakefront Arena and the Privateer Park baseball stadium. The Department of Defense retained the eastern section of the Army base. It’s now home to the Army and Navy Reserve centers, and the local FBI headquarters.
Milneburg the port was long gone by the end of the 19th Century. Milneburg the resort vanished by World War II. Pontchartrain Beach closed in 1983, so now all that’s left of the original town is the lighthouse. Well, that and “Milneburg Joys.”
The Irish-Italian connection/tradition originates with the two cultures merging in New Orleans after WWII.
In terms of numbers and influence, the Irish were first in New Orleans. O’Reilly is an outlier on this; the Irish influence begins in the 1820s. That first wave of Irish immigrants provided the manpower to build the New Basin Canal.
Crescent City Living’s video on the Irish Channel, produced by Crista Rock, with commentary from NOLA History Guy.
These are articles about the Irish I’ve written over the years. This podcast doesn’t go into a ton of detail, since its focus is how all these folks ended up in the same parade. 🙂 Don’t let that deter you from looking further into the Irish. Their story is an important part of the bigger story of New Orleans.
In many ways, the Italians get more exposure in the touristy writing than the Irish. That’s mainly because the Italians all but took over the French Quarter. This was in the 1880s and 1890s. The Italians left a lasting mark on the French Quarter. It’s the one neighborhood just about every visitor sees. Naturally, this is going to leave an impression. The Italian groceries, St. Mary’s Italian church (next to the convent), so many other Italian-owned businesses. Even the building the Louisiana State Museum currently uses as a warehouse for their massive collection was at one time a pasta factory!
Anyway, I wasn’t kidding about going to the Beauregard-Keyes House, either. The mafia connection is fascinating!
It’s not all about the Quarter, though, for the Italians.
So, the Italians migrated from the Downtown side of Canal Street. They went to Gentilly, Metairie, and St. Bernard Parish. The folks who went out to Metairie teamed up with the Irish for the big parade.
Dr. Campanella wrote a piece for da paper today on “moonlight towers”, the big structures erected in urban centers in the late 1800s, as a first step in providing electric street lighting. When Susan Granger shared it to our New Orleans group on Facebook, Froggy added a link to some photos in the Commons, showing moonlight towers.
Moonlight Towers lit up Canal
Henry Clay Monument, New Orleans, 1892
This photo of the Clay Monument is from 1892. The moonlight tower is visible in the rear. If the size of statues is any indication, Henry Clay was incredibly popular in antebellum New Orleans. The massive monument to him, located on Canal Street, at the intersection of Royal Street and St. Charles Avenue, remained in place until it was moved to Lafayette Square, in 1901.
Cotton wagon crossing Canal Street, 1890
A big cotton wagon crosses Canal Street at Carondelet Avenue, in 1890. Better view of the moonlight tower. The cupola of the Mercier Building, later Maison Blanche Department Store, is visible in the background, through an electric pole’s cross beams.
Cut down to size
Henry Clay Monument, 1895-1897
Here’s Clay again, sometime after the Canal streetcar line was electrified, and the statue was relocated. You can see the base of the monument has been removed, so tracks would run straight through the intersection. Even then, the cars passed too close to the statue.
Location of the tower on Canal
The tower on Canal Street was positioned at Canal and Dauphine, It cast its light in a 360-degree radius, extending for blocks around. This meant it illuminated the street as far back as Basin Street and the Southern Railway terminal. Even though electric lighting evolved from this format into storefront lighting and individual street lamps, most stores closed around 5pm-6pm in the evening at this time. Night hours were still decades away.