Napoleon Avenue links the river to Broadmoor
Napoleon Avenue at St. Charles Avenue, 1860 (photographer unknown)
Napoleon Avenue in 1860
The first streetcar service in New Orleans was along St. Charles Avenue. The New Orleans & Carrollton Railroad Company started at Canal Street. They expanded service in stages, as demand and their capital allowed. So, by 1860, the line extended past Napoleon Avenue,
Map of Uptown New Orleans, 1850
The street we known know as St. Charles Avenue was called “Nayades Street” for most of the 19th Century. So, architect and surveyor Barthelmy Lafon named this long street after the mythic Green Nymphs who watched over fresh water wetlands. The street ran from the Business District, out to the City of Lafayette. Finally, the line ran to the City of Carrollton. The “Route of the Nayades” connected the neighborhoods. Similarly, it connected the plantations. In 1852, descendants of Spanish planters like Francisco Bouligny continued development. So, they changed the name of the street to honor Charles III. Charles was a Saint and king of Spain. As a result, of naming an uptown-to-downtown street after a Spaniard they needed balance. Bouligny’s descendants named their north-south road after Napoleon Bonaparte. They subdivided the plantation after 1862. Streets on either side of Napoleon Avenue were named to commemorate Bonaparte’s major victories.
The NO&CRR opened its crosstown line in 1835. By the time of this 1860 photo, the company operated “bobtail” streetcars. The Johnson Car Company sold these cars to the New Orleans company. These streetcars, pulled by mules, were a good fit for New Orleans. Therefore, when the New Orleans City Railroad opened their line on Canal Street, they ordered bobtails. The uptown company acquired the property on either side of the tracks at St. Charles an Napoleon. Because the area grew in population, they extended service on Napoleon. So, the Napoleon line ran from St. Charles, going further up the street. NO&CRR opened a mule barn and a streetcar storage barn/maintenance shop at the intersection.
Eventually, the the mule-drawn streetcars were replaced with electrics. The NO&CRR facilities closed. Streetcar operations consolidated closer to the business district.
Smokey Mary linked Faubourg Marigny to Milneburg for almost a century
The Smokey Mary at Milneburg, 1860s.
The Pontchartrain Railroad operated from 1831 to 1930. The trains ran out to the fishing village of Milneburg. A port facility developed along the lakefront at Milneburg. The railroad connected that port to the city. The Pontchartrain Railroad carried freight and passengers. After the Civil War, it ran mostly as a day-trip line. By the end of the 19th Century, it carried almost exclusively passengers.
The railroad purchased two steam engines in 1832. Those engines lasted for about twenty years. The railroad cannibalized one for parts to keep the other going. By the late 1850s, the railroad purchased the larger engine shown in the photo above. This engine operated to the end of the 1800s. The big smokestack inspired most of the stories and memories of the train.
The Smokey Mary ran simply from the Milneburg Pier to a station at Elysian Fields and the river. Eventually, the railroad added a stop at Gentilly Road, but it was only by request. The railroad terminated operations in 1930. The WPA paved Elysian Fields from river to lake in the late 1930s. Pontchartrain Beach opened in Milneburg in 1939.
The village of Milneburg was located at the end of what is now Elysian Fields Avenue. Shipping traffic came in from the Gulf of Mexico, through Lake Borgne, into Lake Pontchartrain. Ships docked at the Milneburg pier. Merchants offloaded their goods and put them on the Pontchartrain Railroad, to bring them down to the city.
Jazz on the Lakefront
By the 1910s, Milneburg’s residents lived mostly in fishing camps. Musicians rode the Smokey Mary out to Milneburg to play some of the small restaurants. They also walked the piers, playing for locals. They busked for tips. This kept them busy during the day. The musicians rode the train back to the city in the late afternoon. They then played gigs at dance halls and saloons in town.
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St. Augustine Catholic Church
St. Augustine Church, from Snippets of New Orleans, by Emma Fick (Edward Branley photo)
St. Augustine Catholic Church – Podcast!
NOLA History Guy Podcast this week is a “snippet” – a short presentation on an illustration from Emma Fick’s book, Snippets of New Orleans. So, we chose Emma’s illustration of St. Augustine Catholic Church for this week While there are three “St. Augustines” in New Orleans, this is the oldest.
Bishop Blanc dedicated St. Augustine Catholic Church October 9, 1842. Therefore, it is to this day, the spiritual nexus for Creoles of Color who are Catholic.
Faubourg Treme, including “Divo Augustino R.C” Church, Robinson Atlas (courtesy New Orleans Notarial Archives)
The Treme neighborhood dates back to the Morand Plantation. Claude Treme bought the land in 1792. So, shortly after this transaction, the city built the Carondelet Canal, which connected the French Quarter with Lake Pontchartrain by water, via Bayou St. John. The canal’s business opportunities attracted commercial and light industrial ventures along its banks. Residential neighborhoods grew out on either side of the canal. This area attracted a number of free people of color, who spoke French and identified more closely with the French-Spanish Creoles of the Vieux Carre’ than the Anglo-Irish in the “American Sector.”
These Creoles of Color bought lots in Treme and built homes. By the 1830s, their numbers were large enough that they went to then-Bishop (later Archbishop) Antoine Blanc, and petitioned him to create a Catholic parish for their neighborhood. Bishop Blanc agreed. Therefore, the community began work to raise money and build their own church, so they didn’t have to walk down to St. Louis Cathedral to go to Mass.
St. Augustine Catholic Church (Infrogmation photo)
The neighborhood built their church on land donated by the Ursuline Sisters. So, the nuns asked that the church be named in honor of St. Augustine of Hippo, one of their order’s patrons.
The Tomb of the Unknown Slave
Tomb of the Unknown Slave (Infrogmation photo)
Snippets of New Orleans
Snippets of New Oleans by Emma Fick (Edward Branley photo)
You can buy Emma’s wonderful book at all of the usual suspects, including Octavia Books.
NOLA History Guy Podcast is sponsored this week by Elysian Fields Press, publishers of Edward J. Branley’s latest novel, Trusted Talents.
Elysian Fields House 1842
House at the corner of Elysian Fields Avenue and Levee Street, from an 1842 Plan Book. (Courtesy New Orleans Notarial Archives)
Elysian Fields House 1842
This is a house on Elysian Fields Avenue, between Levee and Victory Streets. “Levee Street” was the earlier name of Decatur Street. “Victory Street” is now Chartres Street. The house is in the French Colonial style. The property is fenced-in, with out-buildings surrounding a formal garden. The block is now a light industrial facility.
The train tracks in front of the house were part of the Pontchartrain Railroad. The railroad ran from a station at Elysian Fields and Chartres, out to Milneburg, at Lake Pontchartrain. So, the Pontchartrain Railroad depot is just behind where the artist stood for this illustration.
This image is a great example of the rabbit holes I fall into when researching something for a fiction project. I’m writing two stories that are set in 19th Century New Orleans. While one takes place in 1820, the other at the outbreak of the Civil War, I’m always browsing various sources for inspiration. There’s a version of this image in the Commons. It’s a photo reproduction from the book, New Orleans Architecture, Volume IV, the Creole Faubourgs (Pelican Publishing Company, 2006). I own a copy of the ebook, so I used the image from that source, enhancing it a bit with GIMP.
The illustration is part of a “Plan Book,” a set of drawings done as a legal record of a piece of property at the time of a sale. So, Plan Books were a part of real estate transactions going into the 1890s. After that, photographs were used. Nowadays, an appraiser photographs the property with a smartphone. In addition to documenting legal transactions, the Plan Books give us great insight into life in 19th Century New Orleans.
The surveyor for this plan book was Benjamin Buisson. The illustrator was Charles A. de Armas, The New Orleans Notorial Archives, maintain the plan books. The Archives are part of the Clerk of Civil Clerk’s office. This item is Plan Book 21, Folio 23.