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 Louisiana seceded and the US Army rescinded the appointment.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.

Marigny Mobile Connection 1854

Marigny Mobile Connection 1854

Marigny Mobile Connection 1854 – linking New Orleans to Mobile, AL

marigny mobile connection 1854

Marigny Mobile Connection 1854

It’s a technique that, for the most part, Google Maps rendered obsolete. You’ve got an idea. You pull out a map. You outline your idea on the map. This is essentially what the Marigny Mobile Connection 1854 presents. Someone suggested, “Hey, how about we connect the Pontchartrain Railroad with Lake Borgne? Then we can run a ferry from there to Mobile.” Huh? Pull out a map and start drawing. Print the map again, once you get it right.

Pontchartrain Railroad

Alexander Milne established Port Pontchartrain in the early 19th century. His port connected the south shore of the lake with the Gulf of Mexico, via Lake Borgne. As the Battle of New Orleans demonstrated, this route was an easy way into the city. While Milne’s port was situated well for ships, but it was five miles away from the city. Bayou St John and the New Canal offered easy connections into town. Port Pontchartrain needed a link. Investors created the Pontchartrain Railroad in 1830. It opened in 1831.

Transferring cargo from ship to rail wasn’t a problem. So, the business at the port grew. Cargo rolled the five miles down to the end of what is now Elysian Fields Avenue.

Linking Mobile

While the Pontchartrain Railroad focused on cargo/goods transfer, passenger operation grew over the years. By the 1850s, New Orleanians used the railroad to take day trips to the lake shore. Hotels, restaurants, and clubs popped up in what became “Milneburg,” the village around the pier and port facilities. The station in the Marigny expanded to accommodate these passengers. So, it was logical that entrepreneurs involved with the railroad took an interest in connecting the two large cities on the coast. The proposal included a rail extension out of town, to a ferry.


The rail expansion proposal connected the Marigny with Proctorsville. Ft. Proctor protected an approach to the city that was unguarded in 1814.Bayou Yscloskey’s mouth exposed the city to an attack similar to the British plan. So, the Americans built a fort to secure it. The village that grew up around the fort became Proctorsville. The proposal didn’t pan out, mainly because of the Southern Rebellion. Other railroad development appeared after 1865.

The map.

marigny mobile connection 1854

“Proposed extension of the Ponchartrain (sic) Railroad to Mobile” 1854, courtesy Tulane.

The Louisiana Research Collection at the Howard-Tilton Library, Tulane University, holds the original map. The top photo zooms in on the connection. Click the link here to get the full, tri-state map.



New Orleans Brewing – a brief history of a long NOLA tradition

New Orleans Brewing – a brief history of a long NOLA tradition

New Orleans brewing dates back to the earliest German families in the city.

ED note: This article originally appeared at in 2012. Updated with different images and some additional history.

new orleans brewing

JAX Brewery, Decatur Street, 2013, Ed Johnson photo.

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.

Early breweries

new orleans brewing

Maginnis Cotton Mills, originally the Fasnacht Brewery. Illustration in New Orleans, the Crescent City, as it Appears in the Year 1895.

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.

Reconstruction Brewing

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.

Regal Beer

new orleans brewing

American Brewing Co. truck, featuring Regal Beer ads, 29-Oct-1954. Franck Studios photo via HNOC.

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.


New Orleans brewing

Dixie Brewery. Unnamed illustration for the article, “New Brewery Opens: Magnificent Plant on Tulane Avenue Receives Guests.” The Daily Picayune 1 November 1907, p. 6

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.

Modern Dixie

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.


new orleans brewing

Falstaff Brewery, 2600 Gravier St, ca 1949-1950. Franck Studios photo via HNOC

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.


new orleans brewing

Maskers prepare to board a streetcar in the Phunny Phorty Phellows parade, 6-Jan-2012, dressed as mugs of Abita Beer. Infrogmation photo.

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.

Happy Oktoberfest!

(Thanks and a raise of my NOLA Brewery tulip glass to for great background info!)