NOLA History Guy Podcast 20-April-2019 – Unpacking Bayou St. John.
NOLA History Guy Podcast 20-April-2019
Happy Easter! Happy Elmer’s Gold Brick Eggs. The Elmer’s truck is from Pop Evans’ fun group, New Orleans “Black” in the Day on Facebook. Elmer’s Gold Brick was more of a year-round candy. Now, the egg-shaped version is an Easter treat.
So, there’s a group on the Book of Face, “The New Orleans Culture.” I enjoy the people and the posts, and share a good bit there. This is in addition to sharing at Ain’t There No More. While I don’t like posting unattributed photos, I want to talk about this one. If you know the photographer, please let me know, so I can get proper permission! Before the photo unpack, we’ll do the best of “Today in New Orleans History” for this week.
The Greater New Orleans Bridge Opens
The Greater New Orleans Bridge opened to vehicular traffic on 15-April-1958. The Mississippi River Bridge Authority took bids for a new bridge across the river in 1957. They accepted one in November of that year. By the next spring, the Huey P. Long Bridge in Jefferson was no longer the only bridge crossing in the metro New Orleans Area. While the Huey had lanes for cars, its main role was as a railroad bridge. The GNO Bridge connected Algiers and Gretna residents with downtown New Orleans. The single-span bridge required “traffic controls” by the 1970s. MRBA police blocked traffic in the mornings at various choke points. They opened one route to the bridge at a time, in 10-15 minute intervals. This created a more-orderly flow in the mornings.
These traffic controls annoyed commuters. The state funded construction of a second span in 1984. The current incarnation of Da Bridge is named the Crescent City Connection.
Unpacking the Bayou
We continue photo segments on NOLA History Guy Podcast 20-April-2019. Street-level photos of Bayou St. John inspire artists and writers alike. Bayou Bridge crosses at Esplanade Avenue. Magnolia Bridge (visible in this photo) crosses in front of Cabrini High School. While Magnolia appears to be a bridge to nowhere, the streetcar used to pass by on Moss Street. Therefore, folks could take the Esplanade line, get off at the bridge, and then walk across to homes in the City Park neighborhood.
Trees envelope Pitot House, on the left side of the bayou. Our Lady of the Rosary, on Esplanade Avenue, stands just outside the frame on the left. This photo shows the church’s backyard.
Down the Bayou
The second turn, on the other side of Magnolia bridge, offers a last bit of waterway. BSJ ends just out of frame on the right. The bayou leads the way to Parkway Bakery, on Hagan Street. The Faubourg St. John neighborhood flows from Esplanade, to Orleans Avenue (more or less) on the left side.
Camp Nicholls – for Civil War Veterans
Camp Nicholls along the bayou
New Orleans has always been good to its native sons returning home from wars. After the Civil War, an “Old Soldiers Home” was founded as a refuge for veterans, located on Bayou St. John. That tract of land has had interesting and historical uses ever since as an escape for soldiers from both the Civil War and World War II and then as the property of the National Guard.
Since New Orleans was spared most of the ravages of war experienced by other cities, locals were able to look to the future of the post-war world. Caring and housing returning veterans was already on the minds of folks in 1866. The State of Louisiana appropriated funds to establish a home for these men. As Reconstruction politicians acquired control of state government, however, the continuing appropriation for the home was cut off. The home continued as a privately-funded institution, but struggled.
Francis T. Nicholls
The cause of a Confederate Veterans Home grew by the 1880s. Veterans’ associations petitioned the state for financial assistance. The state re-enacted the original 1866 legislation. The project was funded. In 1883. The leader of the project’s board was Francis T. Nicholls. Nicholls served a term as governor, and was a lawyer in New Orleans. During the war, Nicholls was a CSA Brigadier. He lost his left foot at the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863.
This board purchased a large lot, located on Bayou St. John. Joseph R. DeMahy sold the property DeMahy was, a former Lieutenant in the Confederate Navy. The board worked with several veterans associations, parish police juries and private citizens for money, They held fund raising events such as battle re-enactments on the property. They raised enough money to hire architect William A. Freret. Freret designed a complex of several buildings.
The home accepted its first inmate, James Adams, on February 5, 1884. Adams was a veteran of the 1st Louisiana Infantry. Dedication of the site as “Camp Nicholls” took place on March 14, 1884. Over 600 people attended that ceremony, including the daughters of CSA Generals Robert E. Lee, “Stonewall” Jackson, and D. H. Hill. Nicholls’ success in fund raising for the home became a model for other veterans’ associations in various states, and helped propel him back into the Governor’s office in 1888.
The Old Soldiers Home then became a fixture in Faubourg St. John. So, it received listing in tourist guides as a place to visit along the bayou. In 1909, construction workers discovered a prototype “submarine” in Lake Pontchartrain, by the mouth of Bayou St. John. They raised the wreck and cleaned it up. The salvage company donated the vessel to the Camp Nicholls. The home displayed the submarine for years. When Camp Nicholls was in decline, the home donated the boat to the Louisiana State Museum. LSM displayed it at the Presbytere in the French Quarter. It’s now on display at the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge.
With so many of the Confederate veterans passing away, Camp Nicholls lost its original purpose. While the US Army ramped up for war in 1917, Camp Nicholls changed control. The complex housed the First Louisiana Infantry, the Washington Artillery, and the First Separate Troop Cavalry. After these units deployed to Europe, the home calmed down once again, housing just old veterans.
The tradition of the “Lost Cause of the South” remained strong in New Orleans, and the former Confederacy as a whole, even going into the 1930s. In 1932, as part of an effort to preserve the oral histories of surviving Confederate veterans, the Times-Picayune newspaper arranged to gather a number of veterans together at Camp Nicholls and film them doing the infamous “Rebel Yell.” The group gathered along the bayou on February 11, 1932, and a number of veterans, clad in their Confederate uniforms, stepped up to a microphone and did the battle cry.
There were no living Confederate veterans at Camp Nicholls by 1940. The Old Soldiers Home formally closed. The Louisiana National Guard took over the complex. The Guard used Camp Nicholls as an armory and vehicle depot throughout World War II. The Guard turned the facility over to the City of New Orleans in the 1960s, who used it to house the NOPD’s Police Academy and 3rd District Headquarters until the 1990s.
Camp Nicholls site today
The complex sustained heavy damage in Hurricane Katrina. In 2009, after determining that the remaining buildings all dated from the 1950s, the city was granted permission to raze the site, and it’s been an empty lot since. Last year, Deutsches Haus, a non-profit organization whose mission is the preservation of German culture in New Orleans, leased the property. They plan to build the “new Deutsches Haus” along the bayou.
The Camp Nicholls property is fenced off and not accessible to visitors, but if you take the Canal Streetcar Line to City Park, you can cross over Bayou St. John and look through the fence. Maybe you’ll even feel the spirit of one of the “old soldiers,” as many have reported in the past.
by Edward J. Branley
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.