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.
Southern Railway, now Norfolk Southern, maintains the #BackBelt railroad connection.
Plate girder bridges crossing the now-filled-in New Basin Canal, 1960.
The New Orleans and North Eastern (NONE) Railroad connected New Orleans with Meridian, Mississippi, in 1883. NONE operated from Terminal Station, located at Canal and Basin Streets, when that station opened in 1908. The Southern Railway system acquired NONE in 1916. Southern Railway, now Norfolk Southern, expanded their holdings and operations in New Orleans over the past hundred years.
The Back Belt
Pontchartrain Expressway meets the Back Belt, 1960
Norfolk Southern enters the metro New Orleans area from the East, on the Lake Pontchartrain Railroad Bridge. From there, NS trains travel on tracks following Florida Avenue, through Gentilly and Mid-City. NS also spins off the Back Belt connecting to the company’s Oliver Yard, between Press/St. Ferdinand Streets and Montegut Street. The Back Belt connects with CN tracks in Metairie. That route leads out of the city to the West.
The most-visible part of the NS connection is at the boundary between Mid-City and Lakeview, in New Orleans. The train tracks cross I-10 at this point.
Boats meet Trains
The New Basin Canal ran from Lake Pontchartrain to S. Rampart Street. Irish immigrants made up the bulk of the labor force that built the canal in the 1830s. The Southern Railway system needed to cross the New Basin Canal to get across the city. The railroad built a bridge across the canal just north of Metairie Cemetery (on the canal’s west bank) and Greenwood Cemetry (on the east bank). That bridge served the railroads until the city’s decision to close the canal in 1937. The city filled in the canal’s turning basin some of the canal, up to the intersection of Tulane and S. Carrollton Avenues. World War II delayed further work. After the war, the city filled in the rest of the waterway, from Tulane Avenue/Airline Highway, to the lake.
Waterway to Highway
Run-around track at the Pontchartrain Expressway, 1960
The city planned to build an expressway over what used to be the New Basin Canal. The idea was to provide commuters from Lakeview and Metairie with an easier route into downtown. That expressway would eventually link with a bridge over the Mississippi River.
Building an expressway required a re-design of the over-water bridge Southern Railway used over the New Basin Canal. In 1960, work began on demolishing the original bridge. They replaced that bridge with a wider underpass. The first step in constructing the underpass was to re-route the train tracks. They built a “run-around” track to bypass the bridge. Once the run-around became operational, they could demolish the bridge. The new underpass structure went up. The construction crews demolished the run-around, leaving what we see now, over I-10.
Lakeview in the 1950s
Metairie Road/City Park Avenue at the New Basin Canal, 1960
The construction photos show Lakeview before I-10 swallowed up the area. The filled-in canal area is empty. The Pontchartrain Expressway begins south of Metairie Road at this point. The entrance to the expressway stretched north after the completion of the railroad underpass.
All the while, Southern Railway ran across the city. After 1954, Southern passenger trains followed the Pontchartrain Expressway, turning north, then east, onto the Back Belt, to head out of town.
Southern Ry 6850 switching at Terminal Station in New Orleans ca late 1940’s Frank C. Phillips Photo
Terminal Station, Canal and Basin Streets, 1910 (Detroit Publishing photo)
Terminal Station serviced Southern Railway and the Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio Railroad, from 1908 to 1954. Travelers and shoppers on Canal Street saw the arched facade of the building. Those keeping the trains running had a different view.
Terminal Station opened in 1908. It replaced an earlier structure for the Spanish Fort route. In the 1880s, New Orleans City Railroad operated steam service to Spanish Fort, at the Bayou St. John and Lake Pontchartrain. Electric streetcars replaced steam service in the late 1890s. The streetcars followed the West End line. So, the Basin Street terminal stood unused. Southern Railway acquired the property in 1908. They built a much larger, 4-track terminal.
Track diagram of Terminal Station on Basin Street (City of New Orleans)
The terminal’s four tracks extended back a bit over three blocks from Canal Street. Southern Railway and New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad (NONE) operated trains from the station when it opened. NONE merged into the Southern system in 1916. The railroad continued operations in its own name until 1969. While it was all one system, Southern Railway’s Alabama Great Southern Railroad legally absorbed NONE that year. GM&O also offered service from Basin Street.
Diagram of tracks turning north from Basin Street (City of New Orleans)
Trains operating from Terminal Station arrived and departed New Orleans on tracks running in the “Lafitte Corridor,” between St. Louis and Lafitte Streets. So, trains left the station, crossed over Basin Street on an auto underpass. The tracks turned north, heading out to Mid-City, then Gentilly. The area marked “Cemetery” in the diagram is St. Louis Cemetery Number One. The “Church” below the tracks is Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The city ordered the railroads to combine passenger operations at Union Passenger Terminal on Loyola Avenue in 1954. Because of the location change, Southern Railway no longer used the Basin Street/St. Louis Street tracks. The path of those tracks became the Lafitte Greenway, a walking and bike trail.
Southern’s engine #6850 was an EMD NW2 switcher locomotive. The railroad owned 69 NW2s, two of which (6850 and 6851) belonged to NONE. So, this switcher moved cars in and out of Terminal Station, from Southern’s yards along the Lafitte Corridor.
The track diagrams in this article are from a 1949 grade crossing survey commissioned by the City of New Orleans. I found it in the Special Collections section of the Earl K. Long Library at the University of New Orleans. I shot just some quick phone-pics. So, I use these diagrams as prototype/background for my Pontchartrain Railroad (N-Scale) layout at home. I’ll return and shoot proper photos at some point.
Algiers 1865, The railroads were a lifeline for the Union.
Trains at the Algiers Terminal of the New Orleans, Opelousas and Great Western Railroad, in 1865. The NOO&GW served the Union forces after the capture of New Orleans in 1862.
portion of J. H. Colton’s map of Louisiana, 1863.
The railroad was chartered in 1852. Track construction began in Algiers. Track reached Morgan City in 1857. Morgan City was the western terminus for the company. NOO&GW used “Texas gauge” of 5’6″ until 1872, when Morgan converted the tracks to standard gauge.
Because it originated on the west bank of the Mississippi River, the railroad didn’t need ferries or bridges going west. Businesses using NOO&GW ferried their goods across the river to Algiers, then loaded them on trains. This made for an easy route west.
When Louisiana seceded from the Union, rebel leaders knew a blockade of the Gulf Coast was eminent. The state considered NOO&GW important as a land connection to Texas. The Union Navy captured New Orleans in late April, 1862. The Union Army moved immediately, taking control of NOO&GW in May, 1862. While rebel troops managed to re-capture some of the tracks near Morgan City in May, the Union troops regained complete control by November, 1862. From there to the end of the war, the railroad serviced the Union.
Benjamin Franklin Flanders founded NOO&GW. He sold the railroad to shipping magnate Charles Morgan in 1869. Morgan re-named the railroad, Morgan’s Louisiana and Texas Railroad and Steamship Company. He later sold the company to the Southern Pacific Railroad. The NOO&GW merged into the SP system, becoming part of its main line.
Southern Pacific expanded the original NOO&GW terminal in the 1890s. SP operated a large yard in Algiers, until the Huey P. Long Bridge opened in the 1930s. The railroad moved their yard to Avondale then, taking advantage of the new bridge. Even now, many Algiers residents refer to the area between Atlantic and Thayer streets as the “SP Yard.”
Southern Pacific’s Sunbeam train operated from Houston to Dallas.
Yatmedia and NOLA History Guy
In 2010, we formed partnership and hung out a shingle, doing social media consulting. Things evolved over time. Now, Yatmedia is wholly-owned by me. So, it makes sense to leverage the success of NOLA History Guy with the social media consulting.
Yatmedia’s mission is to build real-world community through solid social media strategies. The firm offers a wide range of services to clients, from training to fully-managed social media.
Adding History to the mix
Communities don’t just pop up out of thin air. Neighborhoods draw on their history. They grow because they remember their roots. NOLA History Guy reminds folks of those roots. Folks buy the history books because they want to look back. They read about the past. Looking at photos ties past to present.
NOLA History Guy writes and speaks about neighborhoods in New Orleans. Yatmedia taps that knowledge to build community. A client with a great business idea comes to Yatmedia to develop a presence on Facebook. We know what works. The history stuff is part of the Yatmedia portfolio. We’ve identified the groups and pages that are best for New Orleans history content. Sharing the right photo in the right place builds the following. The following buy books.
Add NOLA History Guy to your social media strategy
So, Yatmedia applies what works for selling history books to your business. We research more than what directly sells a product. Because we’re good at it, clients get the things that build community. So, Yatmedia knows how to go beyond Google and Facebook ads. We develop content to grow your community.
We love teaching. Watching business owners discover the roots of their business, their community boosts our spirits. Because The best promotions come from within, our philosophy is to teach. Our company gives you the tools you need to craft that content.
No #TrainThursday today
Yatmedia – Social Media for Social Justice
Because we wanted to talk about social media, #TrainThursday took a backseat this week. We’ve got a couple of things in the pipeline for January, though, so stay tuned.
In the meantime, this is a photo of the Sunbeam, which ran between Houston and Dallas. The Texas and New Orleans Railroad operated the Sunbeam. The train offered “heavyweight” service in the 1920s and early 1930s. So, in 1937, the Sumbeam operated “streamliner” equipment. The trains bore the Southern Pacific “Daylight” color livery.
Smokey Mary linked Faubourg Marigny to Milneburg for almost a century
The Smokey Mary at Milneburg, 1860s.
The Pontchartrain Railroad operated from 1831 to 1930. The trains ran out to the fishing village of Milneburg. A port facility developed along the lakefront at Milneburg. The railroad connected that port to the city. The Pontchartrain Railroad carried freight and passengers. After the Civil War, it ran mostly as a day-trip line. By the end of the 19th Century, it carried almost exclusively passengers.
The railroad purchased two steam engines in 1832. Those engines lasted for about twenty years. The railroad cannibalized one for parts to keep the other going. By the late 1850s, the railroad purchased the larger engine shown in the photo above. This engine operated to the end of the 1800s. The big smokestack inspired most of the stories and memories of the train.
The Smokey Mary ran simply from the Milneburg Pier to a station at Elysian Fields and the river. Eventually, the railroad added a stop at Gentilly Road, but it was only by request. The railroad terminated operations in 1930. The WPA paved Elysian Fields from river to lake in the late 1930s. Pontchartrain Beach opened in Milneburg in 1939.
The village of Milneburg was located at the end of what is now Elysian Fields Avenue. Shipping traffic came in from the Gulf of Mexico, through Lake Borgne, into Lake Pontchartrain. Ships docked at the Milneburg pier. Merchants offloaded their goods and put them on the Pontchartrain Railroad, to bring them down to the city.
Jazz on the Lakefront
By the 1910s, Milneburg’s residents lived mostly in fishing camps. Musicians rode the Smokey Mary out to Milneburg to play some of the small restaurants. They also walked the piers, playing for locals. They busked for tips. This kept them busy during the day. The musicians rode the train back to the city in the late afternoon. They then played gigs at dance halls and saloons in town.