The Bernadotte Street Yard ran from Canal Blvd. to Jefferson Davis Parkway
Sanborn fire map from the 1940s, showing detail in Mid-City New Orleans. Full PDF here.
Bernadotte Street Yard
Throughout the first half of the 20th Century, the portion of Mid-City that ran from Jefferson Davis Parkway to City Park Avenue was much narrower than the neighborhood is today. On the western side, Mid-City extended to the New Canal. From there, the neighborhood ran west, crossing Banks, Canal, and Bienville Streets. Mid-City hit a dead end one block past Bienville. So, the Bernadotte Street railroad yard began at Conti Street, essentially cutting off Mid-City from Bayou St. John.
New Orleans Terminal Company
The New Orleans Terminal Company (NOTC) built a railroad link from Canal and Basin Streets. It ran through Faubourg Treme, then down St. Louis Street, out to Florida Avenue. So, this connected the company’s passenger terminal downtown with the “Back Belt” owned by Southern Railway. Southern moved their passenger operations from their station on Press Street to Canal Street in 1916. Therefore, NOTC made a solid investment.
In addition to connecting Canal Street with the Southern Railway’s track, the NOTC link became the foundation for an industrial corridor. So, NOTC built a railroad yard at the Canal Blvd end of the link. Southern Railway leased the yard from NOTC. Southern referred to it as the “Bernadotte Street Yard.”
The image above is part of a Sanborn fire map from the 1940s. It shows the American Can Company factory on the right, on Orleans Avenue.The map details the various warehouses and other industrial sites. The borders are Jefferson Davis Parkway to N. Carrollton Avenue, Bienville Street to Orleans Avenue. Additionally, this area included a Southern Railway engine facility. That facility had a turntable and roundhouse.
To be contnued…
The Bernadotte Street Yard is relevant to a number of my research interests. So, I’ve got a fiction project in my head that may play out on passenger trains. That means Terminal Station. The station’s proximity to Krauss Department Store is also significant. I regularly watch rail activity on the Back Belt, on Canal Blvd. The mouth of the yard is not far away. In other words, come back periodically for more on this area.
If you didn’t have air-condition or a lot of fans, you might have lived in screen porch houses growing up.
(cross-posted to Eloquent Profanity)
House with a screen porch on Iberville Street in #NOLAMidCity
Screen porch houses
Before central air-conditioning became part of everyday home life, screen porch houses lined the blocks of New Orleans neighborhoods. Residents escaped the heat of summer by going outside. There were two problems with being directly outside, though. First, most folks avoided direct sunlight and sunburn. Second, the mosquitoes! So, homeowners screened in their front porches. Screens allowed the breeze in, but not the bugs. The offered protection from the sun. The wood floor gave the rocking chair a smooth surface.
Nothing to fans to a/c
It’s hard to remember a time before so many homes in New Orleans had air-conditioning. By 2011, 88% of homes in the United States were built with central a/c. Prior to the suburban expansions of the late 1960s/early 1970s, homes lacked a/c. While many were retro-fitted with wall units in bedrooms, living spaces often were not. Families believed you should go outside. Sit on the porch. Talk to the neighbors. Many a writer and literary critic supports the notion that central air conditioning dramatically changed the genre of “Southern Literature”, because people just didn’t socialize like they used to. They holed up inside and stayed cool.
There’s a lot of merit to this concept, In New Orleans, we sit outside for a few weeks in the Spring and the Fall. The rainy season (what the northern parts of the US call, “Winter”) just doesn’t accommodate outside activity. The humidity of the Summer and early Fall drain us.
New Orleans homes
Not everyone has a Spanish Colonial courtyard to retreat to on a hot day. Shotgun homes offer good airflow, but privacy concerns often outweigh the breeze running through the house. That leaves the backyard. Thing is, the backyard isolates the family from the neighborhood. Porch-sitting brings folks together.
Arch Roof Streetcars stack up at the Cemeteries Terminal, 1963
Five arch roof streetcars at the Cemeteries Terminal, Canal Street, 1963 (Connecticut Archives photo)
Arch Roof Streetcars in 1963
The 1923-vintage 800- and 900-series arch roof streetcars serviced the Canal line starting in the 1930s. Prior to 1935, the American Car Company’s “Palace” cars ran on Canal. New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) standardized streetcar operations when the company took over the system. They liked the Perley A. Thomas, arch roof design. Since NOPSI wanted to phase out streetcar operations in favor of buses, they used these cars everywhere. Preparations to convert Canal to buses began in 1959. By 1963, NOPSI reached the ready point. Still, the busiest line in the city had to keep going, so the arch roof streetcars kept moving.
The Canal line
The Canal Street line terminated at the Cemeteries since the 1930s. After “belt service” was discontinued, the streetcars made a left-turn onto City Park Avenue. They came to a stop on City Park Avenue. A switch in the street enabled the streetcars to change tracks to from outbound to inbound and vice versa. The West End line continued up City Park Avenue, turning at the New Basin Canal for the run up to Lake Pontchartrain.
When West End converted to buses in 1947, NOPSI re-designed the Cemeteries Terminal. They removed the left-turn onto City Park. NOPSI installed a double-slip switch in the Canal Street neutral ground. That switch/terminal remained until June of 1964. NOPSI removed all the track at that time. Bus operation replaced the arch roof streetcars. The Canal (Cemeteries) bus line made a right-turn from Canal Street. The buses went half a block to the start of Canal Boulevard, then pulled into a U-turn terminal in the 5600 block of Canal Blvd.
In this photo, five cars are in/near the terminal. The streetcar on the left is on the inbound track, behind the switch. The second car from the left enters the switch from the outbound track, starting its inbound run. This was common for the Cemeteries Terminal. This happens regularly at S. Carrollton and S. Claiborne, at the end of the St. Charles line.
The three streetcars to the right wait on the outbound track. When the first two cars depart for downtown, those cars will enter both sides of the terminal. They depart per the schedule.
The Cemeteries Terminal changed when streetcars returned to Canal in 2004. Instead of a a two-track terminal, the line came down to a single track. Outbound streetcars stopped just before a single crossover. The lead outbound car rode through the switch, to the end bumper. The operator changed the poles. Upon departure, the streetcar crossed to the inbound track. Streetcars waited, similar to the three on the right in the photo, for their turn to go through the switch.
The 2000-series streetcars used today ride through the Canal/City Park intersection, to Canal Blvd. The current incarnation of the terminal consists of two u-turn tracks. Canal uses point-to-loop operation.
City Park Line connected Mid-City and the French Quarter
Trackless Trolley on the City Park Line, 1964s (courtesy NOPL)
City Park Line
The Orleans Railroad Company opened the City Park line on July 1, 1898. It connected the French Quarter with Mid-City, mostly via Dumaine Street. Orleans RR merged into New Orleans Railway and Light in 1910, along with the other streetcar companies. NORwy&Lt combined the French Market line with City Park (both ex-Orleans RR). The rollboards said “French Market-City Park” in 1921. While the route didn’t change, the line’s name returned to just City Park at that time.
The original route, 1898:
- Start at Canal Street and Exchange Place
- Up Canal to Dauphine Street
- Turn on Dauphine to Dumaine
- Left on Dumaine, then up Dumaine to City Park Avenue
- Down Dumaine to N. Rendon
- N. Rendon to Ursulines
- Ursulines to Burgundy
- Turn onto Canal at Burgundy
- Terminate at Canal and Exchange
In 1910, the route expanded. Instead of turning on Burgundy, City Park continued down Ursulines to Decatur. So, it then continued to Canal, via Decatur and N. Peters. In 1932, NOPSI re-routed City Park, turning the line on Royal to terminate on Canal. This route remained until the line was discontinued in the 1970s.
Streetcars on City Park
Orleans Railroad ran Ford, Bacon, and Davis (FB&D) single-trucks on City Park. Their cars bore a red-and-cream livery. NORwy&Lt replaced the single-trucks with double-truck “Palace” cars in the mid-1910s. NOPSI later replaced the Palaces with 800/900s.
The red livery used by Orleans RR and New Orleans City Railroad are the heritage behind the “red ladies” of the modern Riverfront and Canal Street lines.
Buses and Trackless Trolleys
NOPSI discontinued streetcar operation on City Park in 1941. They switched to buses. City Park was one of the last lines switched before WWII. The War Department turned down other conversions. Buses required gasoline and rubber. Both of those were needed for the war effort.
In 1949, NOPSI replaced buses on City Park with trackless trolleys. They never removed the overhead wires on the route. Trackless Trolleys ran on City Park until 1964. So, buses returned to the line then. NOPSI discontinued the City Park line completely in the 1970s.
The City Park line serviced the “Downtown Backatown” neighborhoods. Like the Desire line, the name indicated the termination point. The streetcars ran on Dumaine Street, through Treme, into Mid-City. Since the line went to Canal Street, City Park carried commuters into work. The line serviced the Quarter as well, particularly Burgundy Street. Armstrong Park blocked the Dumaine portion of the route. I remember seeing the City Park buses at the route’s terminating point as I rode past Dumaine Street on the Esplanade line.
When Aaron Handy III shared this photo in a Facebook group, the City Park rollboard brought back memories of riding home from Brother Martin in the 1970s. While I never rode the line, I was fascinated that there were streetcars going all the way out to the park, in-between Canal Street and Esplanade. This photo looks to be part of the Dorothy Violet Gulledge collection at the New Orleans Public Libaray.
Mid-City Railroading in the late 1940s
L&N Train leaving Canal Street, 1940s (Ron Flanery photo)
Mid-City Railroading – late 1940s
I ran out to the UNO Library a couple of weeks ago, chasing down some old railroad maps. I remembered seeing a set of maps there a few years back, but resisted the temptation to go totally down the rabbit hole on railroad stuff. One of the things that did stick with me, though, was that there was a railroad engine terminal behind Greenwood Cemetery, more or less where First Baptist Church is now (below).
Engine terminal by Greenwood Cemetery, 1949 (City of New Orleans)
Grade crossing survey
I found the documents I remembered quickly. It was a grade crossing survey from 1949. The compiled the data for the new Union Passenger Terminal project. I didn’t need high-quality scans for now. So I took some phone pics and moved on. Just knowing I was right about the engine terminal was enough. I came back to those images this morning. I wanted to get an idea of the general area around City Park Avenue to the New Basin Canal. Therefore, I took quick shots of those plates.
Grade crossing survey, 1949 (City of New Orleans)
So, I had some time this morning, and I looked those other images over. I came across something that made me scratch my head. The plate showing tracks around Bienville Street and N. Carrollton Avenue (above) showed the layout of a full passenger rail station.
Passenger Stations in New Orleans
This confused me in a big way. I’d always known about the five passenger stations in the city. They were:
- Louisville and Nashville (Canal and the river)
- Terminal Station, Southern and Gulf, Mobile and Ohio (Canal and Basin Streets)
- Union Station, Illinois Central and Southern Pacific (Howard Avenue)
- Texas Pacific/Missouri Pacific (Annunciation Street)
- Louisiana & Arkansas-Kansas City Southern (S. Rampart and Girod Streets)
These five were demolished, and UPT was built right behind Union Station, so it fronted Loyola Avenue. So, I’d never heard of a station in Mid-City.
Bienville Street and N. Carrollton Avenue, 1937 (Sanborn)
While I’ve read a bunch on railroads in the city, I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge is quite incomplete. Drew Ward graciously pulled up the Sanborns for N. Carrollton and Bienville. The image above is from 1937, and doesn’t look anything like a proper passenger station.
I’ll keep you posted on what I learn.
Dixie Brewery Art
Jane Brewster’s Dixie Brewery
Dixie Brewery Art
I had the pleasure of giving a talk at a private event last night, Uptown. It’s becoming an ongoing thing, and they’re lots of fun. These talks give me a chance to introduce my books and speaking to others. I also get the opportunity to introduce other creatives to new people.
Last night’s topic was Tulane Avenue. This particular street in New Orleans has had its ups and downs over the decades. We started with the Robinson Atlas map of the 1st District in 1881. Tulane Avenue didn’t even exist at that time. It was Common Street, all the way up to Claiborne Avenue.
So, the talk went through various stages in Tulane Avenue’s history, from the 1920s, through the 1930s and WWII, While we talked about “Riding The Belt“, the main section of the conversation was about the 1950s. That’s when Tulane Avenue became the “Miracle Mile”.
Jane Brewster’s Dixie Brewery
One of the fixtures in so many photos of Tulane Avenue is Dixie Brewery, at 2401 Tulane (corner S. Rocheblave). The brewery was founded in 1907. The location was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina, and is no longer used by the company.
I was looking around online for a good, older photo of the brewery to include in the talk. When I did a basic images search, one of the hits back was of Jane Brewster’s painting of the building. Jane is a New Orleans artist who captures the heart and soul of the city. I wanted to share this painting with you, and encourage you to check out the rest of Jane’s work.
Jane Brewster’s Lakeview Theater
Mike Scott of NOLA dot com did an article last week on “lost movie theaters” that offered up photos from Da Paper’s archives on a number of places that are ATNM. When I shared it on the NOLA History Guy Facebook Page, folks mentioned a bunch of long-gone theaters that weren’t listed in the article. One of those was Lakeview Theater, which was on Harrison Avenue. I remember Lakeview Theater because it’s where my parents took us to see “Gone with the Wind” back in the 1960s. When I was looking on Jane’s website for the Dixie painting, I came across a her painting of the theater. I remember the building vividly, from all the drives we took from Metairie, out to my grandma’s house in Gentilly.