Hurricane Betsy demonstrated the resilience of New Orleans and MS Gulf Coast

Hurricane Betsy demonstrated the resilience of New Orleans and MS Gulf Coast

Hurricane Betsy showed how resilient and strong the Third Coast is.

hurricane betsy

Damage to the old NAS New Orleans buildings at then-LSUNO, 1965 (Courtesy Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans)

Hurricane Betsy

On 10-September-1965, Hurricane Betsy hit Grand Isle, Louisiana. The storm formed as a tropical depression on 27-August-1965, in the Caribbean, near French Guinea. After Grand Isle, Betsy crawled up the Mississippi River. The wind pushed “storm surge” water from Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans. The monetary damage from Betsy surpassed $1B. Betsy was the first storm hitting that mark.

Damage to New Orleans

hurricane betsy

Classroom damage at then-LSUNO, 1965 (Courtesy Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans)

Betsy damaged New Orleans on three fronts. Water pushed by the storm’s winds topped the levees along the lakefront. That flooded the “levee board neighborhoods”, subdivisions between Robert E. Lee Boulevard and the lake. Surge in New Orleans East pushed into the Lower Ninth Ward. That surge, as well as flood walls from the south slammed St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes hard. Second, wind blew down trees, utility poles, large signs, etc. Those falling objects damaged houses and businesses. Roofs fell victim to wind as well. As if this wasn’t enough, Hurricane Betsy spawned tornadoes in Metairie and Jefferson. While tornadoes are more localized, they still inflicted tremendous damage in small areas.

Aftermath

Hurricane Betsy ran up a big tab. New Orleanians paid the bills. They city was wet but not defeated. The people were windblown, but fully intended to stay.

The US Army Corp of Engineers, along with the city, learned much from Betsy. They learned the levees along the lake needed to be much higher. The Corps raised the levees. We built new floodwalls. City Hall developed new evacuation strategies. All that work protected the city for almost forty years.

Katrina

Hurricane Betsy

Flood waters from Katrina swallow the Lakeview branch of NOPL, 2005 (courtesy Loyola University New Orleans)

Katrina hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans on 29-August-2005. The preparations of the late 1960s and 1970s, for the most part, held. Some failed, most notably the levees and floodwalls on the city’s outfall canals. Evacuation strategies worked, particularly the “contraflow” lane configurations on interstate highways around the metro area.

The city got wet. The people got windblown. New Orleans and the federal government paid the bill. The people recovered from the damage. Others moved here, strengthening the city. Even the Superdome area came back strong, after serving as the “shelter of last resort”. The Katrina Diaspora continues to affect the city’s culture. While city wrestles with gentrification and “new” influences, groups and neighborhoods preserve what was here before Katrina.

Florida

Folks on the Florida Gulf Coast tell similar stories of wind and rain. National writers would be best advised to take a deep breath and consult history before writing off any town on the Third Coast as “gone”.

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The Spanish Fort Streetcar Line

The Spanish Fort Streetcar Line

Spanish Fort Streetcar

spanish fort streetcar

Tracks running out on the Spanish Fort fishing pier, 1911. (Franck Studios)

Spanish Fort Streetcar

The amusements at Spanish Fort entertained New Orleanians, from the 1880s, up to the first incarnation of Pontchartrain Beach, in 1929. Going to the fort was a day trip, and a train service brought folks out to the lake. The train service ended in the late 1890s. Streetcar service began in 1911 and ran until the 1930s.

History

spanish fort streetcar

Heading out to Spanish Fort, 1912.

Fort Saint John, known to New Orleanians as the Spanish Fort, guarded the mouth of Bayou St. John at Lake Pontchartrain during the Spanish Colonial Period. While it never saw action, the fort played an important role in the War of 1812. Because Jackson assigned Lafitte’s gunners to the fort, the British chose to come at the city from Lake Borgne and St. Bernard Parish. They made no attempt to come down the bayou and Carondelet Canal. The US Army pushed the city’s defenses further out, building forts at the Rigolets and Chef Menteur Pass. By the time of the Southern Rebellion, Spanish Fort was a tourist attraction.

Amusement Area

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Spanish Fort in New Orleans, “The Coney Island of the South”

After the end of Southern Rebellion, civilian government returned to New Orleans. Streetcar lines expanded across the city. Mules pulled these streetcars. The streetcar companies experimented with steam locomotives, but residents along the lines complained of the noise and smoke. Electric streetcars came to New Orleans in the mid 1890s.

Mules weren’t practical for getting out to the lakefront. To make the trip to West End or Spanish Fort in the 1870s-1880s, folks took steam trains. The railroad companies made the locomotives look like streetcars.

The Spanish Fort amusement area was popular. The location offered cool evening breezes. In general, temperatures were lower near the water. The combination attracted folks to come out for a swim, and to hear jazz, opera, and other music in the evenings.

The train service meant a trip to Spanish Fort was a long day trip, or, if you were out for the evening, an overnight excursion.

Ownership Change

spanish fort streetcar

“Plan Book” for the sale of Spanish Fort, 1911 (courtesy New Orleans Notarial Archives)

Spanish Fort declined in popularity in the 1900s. West End dominated as the lakefront destination of choice. The Spanish Fort area was sold in 1911, and the new owners convinced the New Orleans Railway and Light Company to offer electric streetcar service.

The Streetcar Line

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Streetcars at the old Spanish Fort railroad station, ca 1911.

NO Rwy & Lt company originated the Spanish Fort line. The route:

  • Start – S. Rampart, between Tulane and Canal
  • Left turn onto Canal Street, outbound to City Park Avenue
  • Left turn onto City Park Avenue to the Halfway House
  • Right turn at the New Basin Canal, heading outbound next to the railroad right of way
  • Right turn at Adams Avenue (now Robert E. Lee Blvd.)
  • East on Adams to Spanish Fort.
  • Left turn into the Spanish Fort Station (still there from railroad service)

The inbound/return route was a reversal of the outbound run.

The line operated seasonal service. More streetcars ran in the Spring through the Summer. In the Fall and Winter, Spanish Fort operated as “shuttle” service. Riders took West End to Adams Avenue and transferred to the shuttle cart that went to the fort. This shuttle service operated when the line started in March, 1911. The full service began in June, 1911.

When the new owners took over in 1911, they extended the streetcar tracks from the railroad station out along the fishing pier. A streetcar ran from the station stop that was usually the end of the line to the end of the pier.

The Streetcars

spanish fort streetcar

Barney and Smith streetcar, ca 1905 (NOPSI drawing)

NORwy&Lt operated double-truck streetcars on the Spanish Fort line. The Barney and Smith cars ran regularly, with some American Car Company cars also used. During the busy summer season, the powered streetcars pulled unpowered “trailer” cars.

End of Spanish Fort service

pontchartrain beach

Main Gate of the Pontchartrain Beach amusement park, 1929

The Spanish Fort line terminated in 1932. By the 1920s, the fort’s popularity as an amusement destination declined. When the Batt family opened their Pontchartrain Beach amusement park on the eastern side of Bayou St. John, in 1929, ridership on the Spanish Fort line spiked up again. Pontchartrain Beach heavily advertised the Spanish Fort line as a way to get to the amusement park. “Right Next to Krauss!” The park moved to Milneburg in the 1930s, though. Without either the fort or Pontchartrain Beach, there was no reason to keep the line in operation.

 

 

 

 

New Orleans History Books for Christmas – Part 2

New Orleans History Books for Christmas – Part 2

New Orleans History Books for Christmas – Part 2

Part 2 of a series. Part 1 here.

New Orleans History Books for Christmas – Part 2

Three more books tonight! Links go back to Octavia Books’ website, but you can get these books at all the usual suspects.

Lake Pontchartrain by Catherine Campanella

new orleans history books

Lake Pontchartrain by Catherine Campanella

This book brings back so many fond memories for me, as well as a lot of interesting history. I always like to say, I “slept” in Metairie, and “grew up” in Gentilly, because my dad worked at LSUNO/UNO, and I went to Brother Martin High School. My dad was not a fan of driving on I-10. He enjoyed his morning sunshine on Lakeshore Drive. So, he would cruise with no red lights to Elysian Fields, and drive me down to school. While this took him a bit longer, it gave him peace. He got peace, therefore I got quiet time to listen to the radio with him, occasionally talk about what was going on.

From the book’s description:

Native Americans used Okwata, meaning wide water, as a shortcut for inland trade between the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River. When the Europeans arrived, the original inhabitants showed them the route the settlement near the river became the city of New Orleans, other lakeshore communities grew, and Lake Pontchartrain continued to be a vital waterway well into the 20th century. Aside from its economic value, Lake Pontchartrain was a cultural mecca: Mark Twain wrote about it and jazz sprang from its shores; locals and visitors traveled out to the amusement parks and opera pavilions, simple fishing villages and swanky yacht clubs, forts and lighthouses; and majestic hotels and camps perched precariously over the water. In Images of America: Lake Pontchartrain, photographs document memories of a time that not even Hurricane Katrina could erase.

Of Ms. Campanella’s books, this is still my favorite.

Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store by Edward J. Branley

new orleans history books

Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store by Edward J. Branley

My latest book! Released in September, Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store tells the story of Krauss, the department store that occupied 1201 Canal Street from 1903 to 1997. I got an email from The History Press around this time last year, asking if I’d be interested in this project, since Krauss closed twenty years ago this past October. I jumped at it! While I worked at Maison Blanche back in the day, I felt a kindred spirit with Krauss. From the description:

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.

By the way, if anyone wants someone to talk about Krauss, Jewish retailing, Maison Blanche, Canal Street, or streetcars, email me. 🙂

New Orleans Radio by Dominic Massa

New Orleans History Books

New Orleans Radio by Dominic Massa

Massa’s second “Images of America” book. Just as entertaining and informative as his television book. From the description:

From humble beginnings in a physics lab on the campus of Loyola University came the sounds of the first radio station in the lower Mississippi River Valley when WWL Radio signed on in 1922. The little station would grow into a national powerhouse, with its morning Dawnbusters show and nightly broadcasts from the Blue Room of the Roosevelt Hotel. The city’s second oldest station, WSMB, with studios in the Maison Blanche Building, developed its own cast of favorites, including Nut and Jeff. Later, in the city known as the birthplace of jazz, radio played a key role in popularizing early rock and roll. Disc jockeys at leading stations WTIX and WNOE helped develop the Crescent City sound, along with local personalities with colorful names like Poppa Stoppa, Jack the Cat, and Dr. Daddy-O.

This book was fantastic for me, when I was working on the Jazz book.

Go get ’em!

Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store

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.

A Plan Book for the Spanish Fort Amusement Area, 1911

Spanish Fort

Plan Book of Spanish Fort, New Orleans, drawn in 1911.

This is a “plan book” from 1911 of the area around Spanish Fort, at Bayou St. John and Lake Pontchartrain. I got the illustration from the New Orleans Notarial Archives website, where it’s one of a number of sample plan books they’ve got up. A trip down to the Archives office and a look at the original would give us the full story. Therefore, naturally, I’ll have to do just that!

A Plan Book for Spanish Fort

Plan Books were part of the official record for real estate transfers prior to color photography. They’re the equivalent of the form an appraiser would do now to describe a property. When the property in question was a residence or commercial building, the plan book would include detailed architectural drawings of the building, along with a layout of the block surrounding it. In this case, the plan book is for the sale of Fort St. John and the surrounding land. A view of the overall area, rather than a detailed drawing of the ruined fort was more in order.

The amusement area at Spanish Fort is part of the latest episode of the NOLA History Guy Podcast. The area was initially accessible by steam train, and you can see the station, just above the top left corner of “Spanish Fort Park”. That building was still in place at the time of this drawing, but electric streetcars replaced the train line by 1911. The streetcars ran from West End, down what is now Robert E. Lee Boulevard, and ended on a pier extending out into the lake. The dashed line running into the lake marks the streetcar tracks.

Waning Days

While Spanish Fort was called the “Coney Island of the South”, it was past its heyday in 1911. It held on going into the 1920s. Pontchartrain Beach started there, in the 1920s, but moved to Milneburg, at the end of Elysian Fields Avenue. After that, Spanish Fort was never a big amusement destination.

Screenshot from 2016-07-31 20-26-32

The Office of the Clerk of Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans maintains the Notarial Archives office for the Parish. On a day-to-day basis, the Notarial Archives is where title insurance companies send researchers to verify that someone who claims title to a piece of property in the Parish actually has the right to make that claim. Since these companies sell a home buyer insurance guaranteeing that someone won’t come along and claim they really own the property after the buyer(s) have paid for it, they want to be sure they get it right. In addition to all the records of real estate transfers and other civil legal documents, the Notarial Archives has all the old Plan Books. These Plan Books range from simple drawings to masterpieces of architectural drawing.

Contact info

The Research Center is located on Poydras Street, not far from the Superdome:

1340 Poydras Street
Suite 360
New Orleans, Louisiana 70112
(504) 407-0106
Fax (504) 680-9607
E-mail: civilclerkresearchctr@orleanscdc.com

Hours:
Monday – Friday 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM

Podcast #3 – Beating the Summer Heat in Old New Orleans

Podcast #3 – Beating the Summer Heat in Old New Orleans

Podcast #3 – Day trips out to West End and Spanish Fort, by train or streetcar. Beating the summer heat is an ongoing challenge in New Orleans!

summer heat spanish fort

“The Coney Island of the South” – Spanish Fort

Introduction

Welcome to NOLA History Guy Podcast! We’re back, talking about our hot New Orleans summers with an edition we call Beating the Summer Heat in Old New Orleans

Hot summers in New Orleans are certainly not a new phenomenon. Staying cool in the Summer months has been a challenge since the French and Spanish explorers came Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. These days, we run from our air-conditioned homes to our air-conditioned cars to our air-conditioned offices, then back again in the evening.
Now, think about doing that at a time when there was no air-conditioning! Every work day, riding the streetcar or a bus to the office, and home again. Older homes were designed to maximize air flow, and electrification provided power for fans in any rooms in the house. Still, it got hot. You know how that goes, when the a/c is broken and you have to rely on ceiling fans!
The men who went off to work had to deal with the same heat and humidity as the women, but they were on the move more. Mom was stuck at home with the kids. Day in, day out, doing the housework, cooking the meals, supervising the kids, Mom needed an escape!
The easiest escape route for mom and the kids, sometimes even dad, if he could take a day off, was on the streetcar, heading out to the Lakefront. There were two popular escape destinations, West End and Spanish Fort. We’ll talk about the attractions at both, and how folks got out to Lake Pontchartrain.

1860 – 1880 – Summer Heat at West End

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Lake House Hotel, 1860s

1880 – 1900

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West End Resorts, 1892 (Charles Franck photo)

1900 – 1920

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West End Lighthouse, 1910 (courtesy NOPL)

summer heat west end

Entrance to the West End Garden, 1911 (Charles Durkee photo)

west end summer heat

1912 Postcard of West End

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Mugnier Photo (stereo), bridge connecting New Basin Canal with West End Amusement pavillions, 1900s

Spanish Fort

summer heat spanish fort

Confederate Submarine at Over the Rhine at Spanish Fort, 1895 (Mugnier photo)

summer heat spanish fort

Casino at Spanish Fort New Orleans, 1890s

summer heat spanish fort

Barney & Smith motorized streetcar pulling dummy cars, 1911

summer heat spanish fort

Spanish Fort Casino, 1890s (Mugnier Photo)

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Spanish Fort midway, 1900s (Franck photo)

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End of the Spanish Fort Streetcar line, at the bathhouse, 1912 (Franck photo)

summer heat spanish fort

Swimmers at Spanish Fort, 1900s (Franck photo)

 

NOPSI on the Lakefront

NOPSI on the Lakefront

nopsi manhole cover

NOPSI manhole cover on the lakefront (Edward Branley photo)

Interesting design on a manhole cover installed by New Orleans Public Service, Inc. (NOPSI). It’s in the parking lot at West End and Lakeshore Drive, right in the turn where the two streets come together. The design is one I’ve never seen before. You can see the N – O – P – S and then INC, around the outside ring.

Fascinating! Has anyone seen this in other parts of the city?