New Orleans brewing dates back to the earliest German families in the city.
ED note: This article originally appeared at GoNOLA.com in 2012. Updated with different images and some additional history.
New Orleans Brewing
The German celebration of Oktoberfest is defined by beer. New Orleans has enjoyed a long love affair with beer, chiefly in part because New Orleans has had a strong German community since the 1700s. Those German families built up a strong local beer industry, laying the foundation for today’s excellent local New Orleans brewpubs and craft beers resulting in serious Oktoberfestivities.
Germans have lived in New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana since the 1720s, since the days of John Law’s Mississippi Company. The biggest influx of Germans into New Orleans took place in the 1850s, the result of the turmoil of the mid-late 1840s in Continental Europe. By the late 1850s, the Germans were a strong force in the community, with their own church in the Irish Channel that rivaled the one the Irish built across the street.
The first commercial brewery in New Orleans was opened in 1852 by Louis Fasnacht. Fasnacht and his brother, Samuel, came to New Orleans from Switzerland in 1846. They bought the Poeyfarre’ family home, located at Constance and Poeyfarre’ streets, and built their brewery next to it. The Fasnacht brewery did not survive the Southern Rebellion’s tight economic times. The brothers sold the brewery in 1869. The location became Erath and Company Brewery. The Fasnachts re-acquired the brewery in 1872. They closed for good in 1875. The site became the A. A. Maginnis Cotton Mill in 1882. The building is now the Cotton Mill Apartments.
The re-opening of the port after the rebels surrendered the city encouraged others to open breweries, most notably George Merz, in 1869. Merz brewed lager beer. Lagers require cooling. Purchasing ice from Maine boosted the price of Merz’s beer. He operated the Old Canal Brewery in the block bounded by Villere, Toulouse, Robertson & St. Louis. (“Old Canal” refers to the Carondelet Canal, built in 1795.)
Brewing lager made Merz an innovator as well as a brewmeister. He acquired an air compression system built by a Frenchman, Charles Tellier, to improve cooling in his plant. Merz hired a local engineer, F. V. De Coppet, to install it. The Merz brewery became the first with air-conditioning with this installation. Tellier’s system ultimately did not work out as A/C, but De Coppet modified it as an ice-making machine, acquiring several patents for his work.
Brewing continued to grow in the 1870s, and by 1880s, New Orleans became the largest beer-making city in the South. Merz’s Old Canal Brewery, Southern Brewing Company, Crescent City Brewing, Weckerling Brewery, Pelican Brewery, Lafayette Brewing, and Louisiana Brewery all distributed their beverages regionally. Steamboats heading up the Mississippi River and sailing ships connecting ports along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts spread the popularity of New Orleans beer. As part of the cycle of business growth, the industry eventually grew to the point where it was ripe for acquisition. To avoid acquisition by a syndicate of Englishmen, the German brewers merged their operations into the New Orleans Brewing Company, basing their operations at the Louisiana Brewery plant at Jackson Avenue and Tchoupitoulas Street, Uptown, and the Weckerling plant, located at what is now the Louisiana Pavillion of the National World War II Museum, in the Warehouse District.
The American Brewing Company opened in 1891. American acquired an old winery on Bourbon Street, between Bienville and Conti Streets. They brewed “Regal” beer. The name is “Lager” backwards! American brewed Regal until 1962.
In 1891, a group of investors opened a brewery across from Jackson Square in the French Quarter. They named their company after the famous general whose statue dominated the square. By the late 1890s, restaurateur Lawrence Fabacher acquired the Jackson Brewing Company. The company purchased the “JAX” beer name from a company in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1956. The facility closed in 1974, to be resurrected as a specialty shopping center in 1984.
In 1907, Merz’ son, Valentine, built the brewery at 2401 Tulane Avenue, and the family began to brand their product “Dixie Beer.” Dixie grew in popularity, becoming a top-seller prior to Prohibition. The beer regained its position as one of the city’s popular brands when the 18th Amendment was repealed. In 1982, Coy International acquired the brewery. They sold it to Joe and Kendra Elliot Bruno in 1985. The Brunos filed for Chapter 11 protection in 1989, coming out of reorganization in 1992. Dixie added other beers, including Blackened Voodoo and Crimson Voodoo. The plant was severely damaged during the Federal Flooding of 2005. The Tulane Avenue location never re-opened, and the Dixie brand was farmed out to a Wisconsin producer.
The iconic Tulane Avenue location merged into the new Veterans Administration hospital, in Mid-City’s medical complex. In 2017, Tom and Gayle Benson acquired the Dixie brand from the Brunos. Tom Benson died in 2017. Gayle Benson opened a new brewery for Dixie in 2018. On 26-June-2020, Benson announced re-branding of her beer. The brewery will drop the “Dixie” name.
The German community recognized the need to control the distribution and retail aspects of the beer business, so they opened up a number of restaurants and bars across the city, outlets that would in turn sell their beer. This synergy of manufacturing and retail continued to grow through the end of the 19th Century and into the 20th, but hit a brick wall with the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920. Most of the small breweries were unable to survive Prohibition, so the industry was quite changed until it could resume legal production in 1933. St. Louis-based Falstaff moved into the New Orleans market with its acquisition of National Brewing in 1936.
By the 1950s, the incredible diversity of the industry prior to Prohibition was reduced to four brands: Falstaff, Regal, Dixie, and JAX, controlling 80% of the New Orleans market. As the Interstate Highway system expanded, it became easier for national companies to distribute their products, making it more and more difficult for local companies to compete. JAX, Falstaff, and Regal all closed their plants, leaving Dixie as the only old-line brewery left in town. Hurricane Katrina did Dixie in, the owners moving production of the beer to Wisconsin, since the storm did such horrendous damage to the Tulane Avenue plant.
Micro/Craft brewing came to metro New Orleans in 1986, with the opening of Abita Brewing Company on the Northshore. The last 25 years have seen incredible growth of this industry, including new breweries and several brewpubs in town. Like many industries, extreme consolidation opens up opportunities for small operators, who continue the tradition of the Germans of New Orleans.
(Thanks and a raise of my NOLA Brewery tulip glass to www.thebeerbudda.com for great background info!)
Milneburg 1927, and the Orleans Levee Board
Photo of what is now the intersection of Elysian Fields Avenue and Robert E. Boulevard, 4-March-1927. Photo shot by an unidentified photographer for the Orleans Levee Board.
The Orleans Levee Board shot a lot of film in the late 1920s in Milneburg. They prepared for land reclamation projects in the area. This shot, shows how far the lake shoreline extended south. The levee at the time blocked the lake at what is now Robert E. Lee Boulevard. So, with the tracks running the length of what is now Elysian Fields Avenue, pinpointing this photo is not difficult.
Land reclamation in Milneburg began in the Fall of 1927. The process involved building barriers in the water, then pumping out the water behind the barrier. When the water was gone, move the barrier out further, drain that. Keep going until pumping the water wasn’t practical. By mid-1928, reclamation advanced to the lighthouse. So, in modern terms, reclamation started at Robert E. Lee, advanced to Leon C. Simon, and terminated at what is now Lakeshore Drive. So, the lighthouse ends up in the middle of the Pontchartrain Beach Amusement park. Now, it’s right next to the UNO Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism school.
The Pontchartrain Railroad diminished dramatically in the mid-1920s. Milneburg’s usefulness as a commercial port facility declined after the Southern Rebeilion. By the 1880s, the railroad, along with restaurants and hotels in the area, re-branded. They sold the ride out to the lake as a day trip or overnight entertainment excursion. While the re-branding was successful for about twenty years, the area lost its attractiveness. Fishing camps dominated the Milneburg landscape in the 1920s. The railroad connected those camps with the city. The railroad’s profitability dropped.
The reference to “L&N tracks” on the photo goes to ownership. The Louisville & Nashville Railroad acquired the Pontchartrain Railroad in the mid-1880s.
cross-posted to Pontchartrain Railroad History
Zoom Talk 2020-03-19
I’ve presented this talk to several groups in the last year or so. With everyone holed up because of Covid-19, I did the talk yesterday (19-March) via Zoom. It’s a bit long, because I was sorting out the use of Zoom, so you’ll need to fast-forward through the first 20 minutes of the talk to get to its actual beginning.
Also, TIL: it’s too long for YouTube. I’ll edit out that first portion and get it up there over the weekend. If you’d like to view it now, the link will let you download the MP4 version.
The Liberty Monument defined Canal Terminal 1941
Canal Terminal 1941
A NOPSI arch-roof streetcar makes the turn around Liberty Place. This charming photo from 1941 shows one of our classic “green” streetcars circling around the Liberty Monument. After completing the circle, the motorman parked the car in the four-track terminal. He and the conductor took their break, then proceeded on their outbound run.
The obelisk known as the “Liberty Monument” stood at Canal and Front Streets in a small, oval-shaped green space. The New Orleans Traction Company contracted the engineering firm Ford, Bacon, and Davis (FBD), to evaluate the street rail system in New Orleans in 1893. They made a number of recommendations, including a re-design of the streetcar tracks at the foot of Canal Street.
The city completed construction of FBD’s Canal Terminal design in 1900. By this time, all the mule-drawn tracks were removed from service. While the city cut back the massive base of the Clay Monument at Royal and Canal, they left Liberty Place alone. They cut down Clay to allow the tracks to run straight. FBD designed a loop around Liberty Place. Streetcars traveled down the Uptown side of Canal Street. When they reached Liberty Place, they looped around and parked on the French Quarter side. The 1900 version of the terminal included the loop and eight tracks. In 1930, the city implemented a “beautification” program that cut back the number of tracks to four. That 1930 street program also included installation of our fleur-de-lis street lamps, also visible in this photo.
Canal and the river
The buildings on the right display advertisements for liquor and wine. “Three Feathers” was a popular blend of Scotch. So, the name refers to one of the heraldic badges for the Prince of Wales. The badge includes a plume of three ostrich feathers and the royal coronet of the prince.
The second sign visible on the right is for Franzia Wines. Franzia still has a warm spot in the hearts of New Orleanians. Supermarkets sell Franzia as a “box wine.” Box wines are popular for Carnival parades, picnics under the interstate, or out at the lakefront.
The building background right is the Port of New Orleans office building, at Eads Plaza. Those buildings were demolished to make way for the International Trade Mart building and Spanish Plaza.
Rounding Liberty Place to Canal Terminal
From the time of the Liberty Place loop’s construction to its removal in 1964, many routes used it to change directions. For example, the Canal Street/Esplanade Avenue “belt” service arrived on Canal Street at N. Rampart Street. The streetcars turned toward the river. They looped around Liberty Place, parked at Canal Terminal then headed outbound. Other lines, such as Gentilly and Desire, used the loop to change direction.
When NOPSI discontinued the Canal line in 1964, they city demolished Liberty Place. So, they placed the monument in storage. Therefore that began its tumultuous history as a civil rights flashpoint. When Canal Street service returned, NORTA constructed the current three-track terminal that exists today. NORTA connected the tracks for the Riverfront line to that terminal. Streetcars now run from the Cemeteries and City Park all the way to the French Market terminal.
Streetcars Canals Baseball in Mid-City New Orleans
Streetcars, Canals, Baseball!
In one of our podcast conversations with Derby Gisclair, we discussed aerial photos of Heinemann Park/Pelican Stadium. Derby explains the neighborhood around the stadium used by the Pelicans baseball club. While Heinemann Park wasn’t the first ballpark used by the AA-club, it was their home for most of their tenure.
This 1915 photo is amazing. It shows a football field, chalked out over the outfield, and a racing oval behind the fence. Derby suspects the racing oval dates from the amusement park the stadium replaced.
City Park Avenue to Tulane Avenue
The Pelicans played ball at Crescent City Park, later known as Sportsman’s Park, until 1901. They moved to Tulane Avenue that year. Heinemann built the ballpark at Tulane and S. Carrollton in 1915. The team moved there that year.
Here’s the area behind the Halfway House, City Park Avenue and the New Canal. It’s a bit grainy, but you can see the patch of ground where Sportsman’s Park was located. NORD eventually built St. Patrick’s Park, a few blocks down, at S. St. Patrick and the New Canal.
Getting to the ballgame
Pelican Stadium sat very close to the New Canal. A set of railroad tracks separated the park from the waterway. So, bridge crossed the Canal there. The streetcars used that bridge, then turned onto Tulane Avenue to continue their inbound run. So, baseball fans from Uptown rode the St. Charles line to get to the ballpark. Folks coming from downtown rode the Tulane line, down Tulane Avenue, to the ballpark.
So, I know we’ve talked about the Tulane line, particularly when it operated in “belt” service with the St. Charles line. It seems line some things pop up regularly. But hey, this is baseball! The area around S. Carrollton and Tulane was a nexus. The Tulane/St. Charles belt crossed the New Canal here. Passenger trains coming to town from the West rolled by, on their way to the Illinois Central’s Union Station. Folks bowled across the street at Mid-City Lanes. Therefore, the corner is important to many folks.
Especially baseball fans.
After the streetcars
Belt service on the St. Charles and Tulane lines was discontinued in 1950. So, after that time, fans from Uptown rode the streetcar to its new terminus at S. Carrollton and S. Claiborne Avenues. They transferred to the Tulane bus line from there. The Tulane line provided trackless trolley service until 1964. After 1964, Tulane used regular diesel buses. While the railroads worked with the city on the new Union Passenger Terminal, they trains still stopped right here, a convenience for Uptown passengers. The other “belt service” in New Orleans was on Canal and Esplanade, which we discuss in my book on the Canal line.
This photo is likely from 1950, because the city resurfaced Tulane Avenue. So, they removed the streetcar tracks, leaving the overhead wires for trackless trolleys.
After Pelican Stadium
The stadium became the Fontainebleau Hotel after the stadium was demolished. So, the hotel became a mini-storage facility later. Now it’s condos and storage units.