Basin Street 1900 – Before Terminal Station on Canal Street
View of the Storyville District, ca 1900.
Basin Street 1900
This postcard, published by C.B. Mason, shows the Storyville District, three to five years after it’s creation (legally). Here’s the note on the postcard:
“Bird’s-Eye View Of New Orleans LA. ”
View from high building on Canal Street looking towards “Storyville” district. Of particular interest is the row of buildings seen fronting Basin Street, including Tom Anderson’s Josie Arlington’s and Lulu White’s, and “the District” behind it. This is one of the few published cards showing what history recalls as “Storyville”.
There are a lot of shots of Storyville, the section of Faubourg Treme from Canal Street to the Carondelet Canal, but this one of Basin Street 1900 caught my eye for several reasons. The photographer stands on a building on Canal Street. It looks like he’s on the old Mercier Building, at 901 Canal. This was Maison Blanche, before S.J. Shwartz demolished it and built his larger store and office building. This photo shows the neighborhood just before Leon Fellman builds the 2-story retail building at 1201 Canal Street. That building becomes Krauss Department Store.
Trains before 1908
1896 Sanborn Map, Canal and Basin Streets
Trains didn’t travel much on Basin Street 1900. The big passenger terminal opens in 1908. The first two blocks off Canal, Basin to Customhouse (now Iberville), then to Bienville, supported the excursion train to Spanish Fort. So, this 1896 Sanborn map shows the tracks and small station for that Spanish Fort train. Passengers boarded at Canal, then the tracks turned lakebound on Bienville. Note the buildings in the 1201 block of Canal. The Krauss building isn’t there yet. Furthermore, it was a lot quieter at this time, without the trains.
“Down the Line”
Zoom of the CB Mason Postcard of Storyville, 1900ish
This zoom of the postcard shows the same area of the well-known, “Basin Street Down the Line” photo. Two horse-drawn carriages or wagons head riverbound on Custom House. First of all, that’s Tom Anderson’s Saloon behind them, on the corner. Then, in the middle of the street, there’s a passenger stand and shed, for the railroad. So, the tracks are visible.
A few doors down from Tom Anderson’s, Josie Arlington’s “sporting palace” with its distinctive cupola welcomes customers.
1911 view of Canal and Basin Streets
This 1911 postcard shows the changes within a decade. Krauss Department Store stands at 1201. So, Terminal Station swallows up Basin street for blocks. The New Orleans and North Eastern (NO&NE) Railroad moved over from Press Street in the Bywater to Canal Street. NO&NE became part of the Southern Railway system in 1916. As a result of the merger, the station’s main sign changed to reflect the merger.
Missiles traveling through Avondale
Southern Pacific Alco RS units passing through Avondale, LA, 1960. (Franck-Bertacci Studios photo courtesy THNOC)
Missiles in Avondale
a Southern Pacific Railroad train pulls missile parts through the railroad’s yard in Avondale, Louisiana, 7-Sep-1960. Several Alco road switcher engines pull flatcars containing the parts.
Google Earth view of the Avondale shipyard and rail yard facilities.
In 1938, Avondale Marine Ways opened on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish. By 1941, the barge repair facility expanded, building ships for the war. So, the company survived the transition to peacetime, landing contracts to build vessels for the offshore energy industry. The owners sold the company to the Ogden Corporation in 1951. Ogden renamed the facility, Avondale Shipyards. The shipyard landed a number of Navy contracts throughout the Cold War. Therefore, the shipyard became a big part of the metro New Orleans economy in the 1950s/1960s.
Southern Pacific at Avondale
Containers carrying missile parts on “piggyback” flatcars. (Franck-Bertacci photo courtesy THNOC)
The railroad was an important part of the shipyard complex. So, Southern Pacific delivered raw materials to the riverfront construction facilities. The rail yard didn’t exist solely because of the shipyard, though. The Texas and New Orleans Railroad was a SP subsidiary. So, they initially operated a large yard in Algiers. After the Huey P. Long Bridge opened in 1931, the railroad moved upriver. Trains heading west through New Orleans crossed the Huey. Then they continued over T&NO tracks. This included the SP “name trains” such as the Sunset Limited.
SP inaugurated “piggyback” service in 1953. This cargo starts on truck trailers which were then loaded onto flatcars.
Southern Pacific fully absorbed T&NO in 1961.
SP “Piggyback” flatcars. (Frank-Bertacci Studios photo via THNOC)
It’s hard to discern the full story of these missile parts from the photos alone. Avondale Shipyards built a number of destroyers and destroyer escorts for the Navy. These ships suited the facility. Like many shipyards along the Mississippi River, this facility built ships in the river. They launched the completed ships sideways. The ships then steamed off, to the shipyard’s finishing docks, or to other locations.
Rocket and missile technology developed rapidly, post-WWII. The Space Race leveraged military missile technoloy. NASA’s first manned space program, Mercury is an example. They started with the Army’s Redstone missile.
So, it’s possible that this train delivered missile parts to the shipyard. Destroyers carry missiles. It’s also possible that these parts originated at, say the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. The trains heading west certainly crossed the river via the Huey, heading to Texas and points west.
Riverfront Arch Roofs – 1923-vintage streetcars operating off St. Charles Avenue
NORTA 459 on Riverfront, 2010 (Youtupedia photo)
Riverfront Arch Roofs
The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority opened the Riverfront line in 1988. they used two of the 1923 arch roof streetcars and two Melbourne W-2 streetcars. The arch roofs left New Orleans in 1964, when NOPSI discontinued the Canal line.
NORTA 452, ex-Melbourne 626, on Riverfront in 1988 (Infrogmation photo)
The original line operated on a single track. NORTA upgraded the line in 1997 to double-track, wide-gauge operation. Because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the “new” Riverfront line needed accessible streetcars. NORTA retired the 1923 streetcars and the Melbournes. They built the 400-series arch roofs. The 400s are similar to the 900-series, but with wheelchair lifts and modern propulsion.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the 1923 arch roofs ran on Riverfront and Canal. The red streetcars received devastating flood damage, but the track and overhead wiring came through the storm. Uptown, the green streetcars survived the storm, buttoned up at Carrollton Station. The wiring on St. Charles received extensive damage. So, NORTA operated the 900s on Riverfront and Canal.
The “Green” Streetcars
The arch roof style streetcar came to New Orleans in 1915. Perley A. Thomas created the design while working for the Southern Car Company. New Orleans Railway and Light ordered several, putting them into service on the St. Charles/Tulane belts. When NORwy&Lt re-organized as NOPSI, the new company ordered more arch roofs. By this time, Thomas operated his own streetcar company in High Point, North Carolina. He accepted the order, building the 800- and 900-series arch roofs for New Orleans.
NORTA 461 (ex-NOPSI 922) along the Riverfront line. Infrogmation Photo.
City leaders and NORTA knew the importance of showing the world that New Orleans didn’t die. The green streetcars running along Canal Street and in the French Quarter helped demonstrate that. The 400-series and 2000-series “red ladies” returned from their repairs. The St. Charles line’s power was repaired and upgraded. The green streetcars returned to their regular routes.
Amtrak New Orleans offers solid train travel options
Amtrak New Orleans
Winter Getaways! The more things change, the more they remain the same. College students wanting to get away during their break is one of those. This 1996 ad in the Loyola Maroon tempts students to get warm, or perhaps get cold and go skiing.
Students at colleges and universities in New Orleans have a lot of options when it comes to spring break. It’s easy to hop in a car and go to Florida, or maybe do some hiking and camping in the Smokey Mountains. However, going beyond that gets tough. While there are a lot of other destinations. auto travel bites into actual time at the destination.
Take the Train!
Amtrak offers travel rates lower than flying. Taking the train for spring break is also a challenge. Flying gets you where you want to go within hours. It takes a day and a half, for example, to get to Chicago from New Orleans. Not that students choose that route in February/March. Worse yet, travel on the Sunset Limited to Los Angeles takes two and a half days!
The strategy: make the train trip part of the vacation. When you’ve never been west of the Mississippi, travel through Louisiana, Texas, and points west is interesting. Even the single-day run to Atlanta provides wonderful Southern scenery. While 1996 airports weren’t the security circus of present-day air travel, getting to the airport was still a struggle.
Life on the train
Pack a bag in your Loyola/Tulane/Dillard/Xavier dorm. Get on the train. Bring some books. No internet in 1996? Go with a friend you can talk to. So, you’re off to Atlanta at 7am, arriving in the evening. Lots to do in the largest city in the South.
Heading west? Lunch on the way to Houston. Get off there, enjoy the most cosmopolitan city in Texas. Keep going? Dinner as Texas rolls by. So, spend a little more money, get a sleeper. Relax in privacy!
2-8-0 Steam Locomotives operated regularly in Gentilly
Southern Ry (NO&NE) 2-8-0 near Gentilly Blvd (between NE Tower and Seabrook) New Orleans, Frank C. Phillips Photo
2-8-0 Steam Locomotives
We mentioned the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad (NO&NE) last week, in our discussion of Homer Plessy’s ticket to Covington. Plessy was arrested at Press Street Station. That station was the terminal for the NONE in the 1890s. Southern Railway acquired NO&NE in 1916. Southern Railway moved NO&NE’s passenger service to Terminal Station on Canal Street. Freight service operated from NO&NE’s Gentilly Yard. The way out of town for the Southern system was their five-mile bridge across Lake Pontchartrain. So, passenger trains came out via the Lafitte Corridor, then merged onto the Back Belt. Freight trains came up Peoples Avenue from the yard, then to the back belt. The trains traveled north, alongside Peoples Avenue. The trains crossed the Industrial Canal at Seabrook. From there, they headed out of town.
Gentilly Blvd. and trains
The Back Belt more-or-less follows Gentilly Blvd. While train tracks run as much as possible in straight lines, streets tend to twist and turn. Because Gentilly Blvd intersects the train tracks several times, the railroad and the city built several underpasses. Trains stayed at the same level, going straight. Automobiles turned, curved, and dipped under the tracks.
Tony Howe, admin of the Louisiana Railroad History group on Faceback captioned this Frank C. Phillips photo:
Southern Ry (NO&NE) 2-8-0 near Gentilly Blvd (between NE Tower and Seabrook) New Orleans, Frank C. Phillips Photo
Others in the group (which is highly recommended for railfans and rail historians) added details. The houses to the left place the photo in Gentilly Terrace. The train heads south, towards either the Back Belt or the yard. The photographer stands just south of the underpass at Gentilly Blvd. The WPA/city/railroad built that underpass in 1940.
Baldwin Locomotive Works introduced the Consolidation 2-8-0 locos in 1883. So, this type of engine was a regular workhorse by the late 1940s. NO&NE owned a number of Consolidations. Unfortunately, the number on this engine isn’t visible.
Homer Plessy bought a ticket to travel to Covington, LA, but never left New Orleans.
In 1892, the Comite des Citoyens (Citizens Committee), an organization of civil rights activists, wanted to challange the Separate Car Act, a bill passed by the Louisiana Legislature in 1890. Their initial attempt failed. Activist and Committee member Rodolphe Desdunes purchased a ticket to Montgomery, Alabama. The interstate aspect of the case invoked Federal law. So, that biig-footed the state law, and the case was dismissed.
New Orleans and Northeastern Station (used also by East Louisiana Railroad) in 1883 (Robinson Atlas)
The second attempt took place on June 7, 1892. Homer Plessy purchased a ticket to travel from New Orleans to Covington, Louisiana. Plessy was a Creole of Color who could easily “pass” for white. The East Louisiana Railroad sold him a first class ticket. Plessy announced, ticket in hand that he was not white. The railroad held him for the police. The cops arrested Plessy. That led to the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision.
The Train Trip
New Orleans to Covington by train in the 1890s.
Plessy did not travel to Covington. Plessy never intended to travel to Covington. He went down to the train station at Press and Royal Streets in the Bywater. Plessy announced he was going to ride in the whites-only car. The Citizens Committee hired a private investigator to make sure the railroad arrested Plessy.
I came across a 1907 postcard of a train passing through Covington, Louisiana. It pulled into the station shortly after the photographer took the shot. So, the image had me wondering, where was Plessy’s train actually going?
East Louisiana Railroad
Poster for the East Louisiana Railroad.
This railroad company began as the Mandeville and Sulpher Springs Railroad. The East Louisiana Railroad ran from Pearl River to Mandeville. By 1982, East Louisiana offered passenger service from New Orleans to Covington. They used the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad’s (NONE) tracks to get to St. Tammany Parish. From there, their trains operated on their own tracks. While East Louisiana’s tracks were in St. Tammany, they paid for use rights in New Orleans. Their trains originated at the NONE station at Press and Royal Streets. They went up Press Street, then out to what is now New Orleans East. The tracks went around Lake Pontchartrain. They traveled over the Rigolets Pass, then curved around the lake. The Southern Railway took over the bridge across the lake in 1905.
Because the East Louisiana Railroad operated exclusively in Louisiana, there was no interstate commerce. The Citizens Committee planned out the scenari. So, Plessy’s arrest and the subsequent court decision formed the basis for the “Jim Crow” laws. Those laws dominated the Southern states for almost fifty years.