Metairie Cemetery main entrance in the early 1900s.
Metairie Cemetery main entrance
Postcard from the V. O. Hammon Collection, Newberry Library, University of Illinois. The Metairie Cemetery main entrance at Pontchartrain Boulevard and Metairie Road, in the early 1900s. The handwritten caption says, “Left, Moriarity (sic) Monument, right, Army of Tennessee Statue of Albert Sidney Johnston.” The water in the foreground is the west bank of the New Canal. The two monuments mentioned are behind the gatehouse and its green fence.
Pontchartrain Boulevard and Metairie Road
Prior to the closure of the New Canal (1949), the Metairie Cemetery main entrance stood here at the Southeast corner of the property. Visitors to the Cemetery crossed the canal at the Metairie Road bridge, entering under the archways visible in this postcard. Funeral processions went directly from here to the specific tomb, mausoleum, or coping. In cases where a tomb wasn’t ready for the deceased, the remains were placed in the Receiving Vault. This chapel/vault stands directly behind the gatehouse. The cemetery demolished this gatehouse after the entrance was moved. So, this corner now features the (Tom) Benson family vault. Additionally, a small fence and gate stands on the corner.
Moriarty at the Metairie Cemetery Main Entrance
Daniel A. Moriarty immigrated to New Orleans from Ireland. He arrived poor and amassed a good bit of wealth in the second half of the 19th Century. Moriarty married Mary Farrell, a New Orleans woman who came from money. She was a good bit older than her husband. The combination of his poor Irish roots and the age difference of the couple left them out of “polite society.” When Mary died, Daniel built an 80-foot monument on top of the tomb. The four sculptures at the base of the monument are, Faith, Hope, Charity, and Memory. So, the urban legend/joke is that it’s Faith, Hope, Charity, and Mrs. Moriarty. Given Daniel’s disdain for New Orleans Society, there may be more than a grain of truth in the legend.
After the city filled in the New Canal in 1949-1950, they built the Pontchartrain Expressway. The cemetery moved the main entrance to its current location up Pontchartrain Boulevard.
Entering Metairie Cemetery before the expressway, 1930s.
Entering Metairie Cemetery
Franck Studios photo of Metairie Cemetery, from the 1930s. The perspective is from the Metairie Road side. The original entrance to the cemetery stands just behind the photographer. The New Canal flowed past Metairie Cemetery at this time.
Charles T. Howard acquired the land for the cemetery in 1871. The cemetery opened in 1872. By the 1930s, the “racetrack” portion of the cemetery stood for sixty years. Tombs filled what was the infield of the old Metairie Race Course. The cemetery expanded to the lake side of the oval.
Metairie Road and the New Canal
Metairie Cemetery overlooked the New Canal for almost eighty years. While the Metairie Race Course predated the canal by a few years, the canal defined the neighborhood. So, visitors rode the Canal streetcar to the end of the line at City Park Avenue. They walked past Greenwood and Cypress Grove cemeteries to the canal. Entering Metairie Cemetery meant crossing the canal. They approached the corner entrance. The equestrian statue of Albert Sidney Johnston atop the Army of Tennessee (Louisiana Division) tumulus loomed over the entrance. If you paused just after walking past the tumulus, this was what you saw.
The Receiving Chapel
Magnificent tombs present themselves upon entering Metairie Cemetery. The structure to the right of that gorgeous palm tree is the Receiving Chapel. The Metairie Cemetery Association used it as a temporary mausoleum for decades. Say you purchased a plot in the cemetery and had your tomb designed. Before it was completed, a loved one passed away. The cemetery “received” their remains, interring them in the Receiving Chapel. When your tomb was complete, they transferred the casket. Another use for this mausoleum was the year-and-a-day rule. Tombs may be re-used, but only after a year and a day from the previous burial. So, say maw-maw passes, and paw-paw follows a couple of months later. The cemetery association made room in the Receiving Chapel, until paw-paw could join his beloved for eternity.
Use the old entrance
Rather than driving in from Pontchartrain Boulevard, try entering Metairie Cemetery via the original entrance. It’s a different experience from when the New Canal flowed, but worth it to experience a bit of the history.
NOPSI 934 and 935 were Canal Line Arch roofs in the 1960s.
NOPSI 934 and 935 at the Cemeteries Terminal, 17-Feb-1960. Photographer unknown. Thanks to Aaron for the find.
Canal Line Arch Roofs
900-series streetcars operating as Canal Line arch roofs, 17-February-1960. I can’t make out the ads on either streetcar; if you can, let me know! NOPSI 934 and 935 sit at the Cemeteries Terminal. Tennessee Williams mentions the “cemeteries” in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” While Williams employs a bit of artistic license, connecting Elysian Fields to the cemeteries, this is the real-life basis.
Perley A. Thomas streetcars
The arch roof design dates back to 1915. New Orleans Railway and Light Company (NORwy&Lt) acquired several from the Southern Car Company. Perley Thomas designed the streetcars. New Orleanians liked them. The streetcars offered decent seating and lots of windows for ventilation. Thomas opened his own streetcar company in High Point, NC. He took the arch roof design with him. NORwy&Lt’s successor company, New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) purchased two production runs of the arch roofs. They ordered the 800-series in 1923. NOPSI worked with Thomas, changing aspects of the design. That produced the 900 series. So, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, three generations of arch roofs operated in the city. The original 400s, then the 800s and 900s.
NOPSI kept 35 of the 900 series when they discontinued streetcar service on Canal in 1964.
The streetcar tracks at Canal Street and City Park Avenue underwent numerous changes over the years. After the West End line converted to bus service, the city cut the streetcar tracks back. Instead of turning left upon reaching City Park Avenue, the Canal line arch roofs terminated on Canal Street. They stopped in between Cypress Grove Cemetery and Odd Fellows Rest.
NOPSI designed this iteration of the terminal with two tracks and a double crossover. This is similar to the terminal built at S. Carrollton and S. Claiborne Avenues uptown. When NOPSI discontinued belt service on the St. Charles, Tulane switched to buses. St. Charles ended at S. Claiborne. That location remains the line’s endpoint today.
Back on Canal Street, the line used this terminal until 1964. When NORTA restored streetcar service on Canal in 2004, they built a single-track terminal. This was meant to be temporary. The line now ends in the 5500 block of Canal Boulevard, between Greenwood and St. Patrick No. 3 cemeteries.
City Park Trees, palm and oak, near the McFadden house.
City Park Trees
Palm and oak trees in front of the original house that later became the McFadden mansion. It’s now part of City Park New Orleans. The Library of Congress (LOC) dates this photo as circa 1910. That fits, as construction on the house finished in 1909. While the oak tree clearly predates the house, the palm tree is part of the landscaping project.
Francisco Hery first farmed the land that is now City Park in 1723. Louis Allard, born in 1777, acquired the land, growing sugar cane and corn. Allard failed to pay city taxes. The city seized the plantation. John McDonogh bought the land at auction. When McDonogh died in 1850, he willed the plantation back to the city. City Hall converted the farm into public green space. They formalized this in 1870, officially creating City Park.
City Park began as a much smaller area than it is now. So, local businessman Fred Bertrand purchased four acres of land just north of the park. He built the four-bedroom house seen here. William Harding McFadden, a Texas oilman, purchased the house in 1919. McFadden enlarged the original house, converting it into the mansion we know now.
Palm trees in New Orleans
The palm tree planted in front of Bertrand’s home makes me at once happy and sad. Happy because I love palms. Sad because so many of these palms don’t survive winters in New Orleans. Over the 20th century, the city undertook “beautification projects,” re-paving major streets and adding plants and trees. Unfortunately, the palm trees rarely had a chance. Within a few years of the projects, winter brought a cold snap with a hard freeze. Those low temperatures killed the palms.
We keep trying, though. Maybe it’s a desire to match the palms in Los Angeles. Maybe we just like them. Either way, we bring them down, plant them, and watch them freeze. sigh.
Metairie Cemetery at the turn of the 20th Century.
Detroit Publishing Company postcard of Metairie Cemetery, circa 1905. The state granted the Metairie Cemetery Association a charter in 1872. So, at the time of this photo, the cemetery was about thirty years old.
The cemetery sits on the Metairie Ridge, next to Bayou Metairie. The Metairie Race Course, occupied the location prior to the cemetery. The race track opened in 1838. Metairie Race Course operated until 1861. The horse track became an army encampment in 1862. That camp stood empty after the rebels ran from the city.
Racetrack to Cemetery
Charles T. Howard, desired to join the Metairie Jockey Club. The club owned Metairie Race Course. Howard was a local businessman. The membership declined his application. Outraged, Howard vowed to buy the race track. He told the membership it would become a cemetery. Both club and race course declared bankruptcy after the rebellion. Howard acquired the property. He formed the Metairie Cemetery Association. The corporation hired architect Benjamin Morgan Harrod to convert the property into a cemetery.
Harrod’s incorporated the racing oval into the cemetery’s design. Rows of tombs and copings, like the one in this photo, follow that pattern. The race track’s infield became “Millionaire’s Row.” Charles Howard’s tomb stands along the infield.
Detroit Publishing Company
This publisher sold postcards from across the United States. They built their catalog by encouraging local photographers. A photographer in, say, New Orleans, shot film in and around their home. They sent the exposed film to Detroit Publishing. The company developed the film. They sent new film back. If the company found postcard potential, they printed the photos. The company sent prints to artists in the photograph’s locale. The artists colorized the photos. They returned them to Detroit Publishing. The company produced the postcards. They sold postcards to newstands, hotels, etc.
Detroit Publishing Company postcards grew in popularity. Collectors kept them. Benefactors donated the collections to libraries. Additionally, heirs to Detroit Publishing Company donated the company’s prints to the Library of Congress.
The Canal line layover, on City Park Avenue by Greenwood Cemetery, 1947.
Canal Line layover
Here’s Michael Palmieri’s caption to this Elliott M. Kahn photo.
NOPSI 843 – NEW ORLEANS – 25 FEB 1947 – ELLIOTT M. KAHN image
New Orleans Public Service CEMETERIES LINE car 843 was on the layover track at the outer end of that car line, next to Greenwood Cemetery. This was also the half-way point on the WEST END LINE, which continued on to Lake Pontchartrain. The WEST END cars were replaced by buses on 15 January 1950 and the track here was abandoned on 20 August 1951, when the end of the CANAL or CEMETERIES line was moved to Canal Street at City Park Avenue. Check out that Plymouth sedan on the left!
NOPSI 843 was unfortunately not retained when the streetcar service on Canal was discontinued in 1964.
The Canal streetcar line runs from the river to City Park Avenue. The Cemeteries terminal has had four incarnations over time.
- Left-turn 1: Outbound cars on the New Orleans City Railroad’s original Canal line turned left on City Park Avenue. While there is no mark for a turntable on City Park Avenue by Greenwood Cemetery, there likely was. The “bobtail” streetcars used prior to electrification weren’t double-ended.
- Right-turn: When Canal and Esplanade lines operated in “belt” service, the outbound, Canal line streetcars turned right at City Park Avenue. They traveled down City Park Avenue to Esplanade Avenue. The streetcars crossed the bayou at Esplanade and continued down Esplanade to N. Rampart.
- Left-turn 2: After the Esplanade line transitioned to bus service in the 1930s, streetcars returned to the Canal Street layover in front of Greenwood Cemetery. While the first left-turn involved a turntable to switch directions, the second incarnation used a crossover. The electric streetcars featured double-end operation.
- Canal Street terminal 1: After the West End line converted to bus service in 1950, NOPSI cut back the Canal line so it made no turns. The 1951-1964 Canal Street terminal consisted of two tracks with a double crossover.
- Canal Street terminal 2: The Canal line used the #1 terminal until it was discontinued in 1964. When NORTA resumed streetcar service on Canal in 2004, they constructed a single-track terminal at the end of the street. The city expanded the auto lanes on the outbound side of Canal Street in the interim period. They replaced the space where the track was with a left-turn lane. Since there was no way that could be removed in 2004, the inbound and outbound tracks merged into a single track.
- Canal Boulevard terminal: NORTA had concerns about the single-track terminal, mainly revolving around rider safety. Canal line riders transferring from bus lines (Veterans, Lakeview, Esplanade) had to cross the incredibly busy intersection at City Park Avenue. NORTA chose the Canal Boulevard terminal layout from three proposals. The Lakeview neighborhood objected to this proposal. So, it took ten years before the proposal became reality.
Oh, and Mike’s right, that Plymouth is neat!