Continuing the New Orleans & Carrollton Railroad Story
I spoke to the Friends of the Cabildo Tour Guides at their monthly meeting this past Monday. They had me in to discuss the origins of the NO&CRR (New Orleans & Carrollton Railroad), which evolved into the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line. I’ll be presenting the talk via blog posts here. We discussed the origins of the line, now we move to the transition to mules from steam power.
While steam power made sense to the management of the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad, residents along the Carrollton Line (which later became the St. Charles Avenue Line) grew unhappy. Steam trains are noisy and smokey. As New Orleans annexed what is now the Garden District, more people built fine houses close to the line.City officials pressured the railroad to abandon steam engines. Mules NO&CRR began in the 1840s.
Mules on the line
Naiads and Napoleon, 1860. Lilienthal photo, halfway point for Mules NO&CRR
Theodore Lilienthal photo of Naiads and Napoleon Avenues, 1860. The railroad built their facilities for the Carrollton line here. The intersection was more-or-less half-way between the CBD and the city of Carrollton.
St. Charles and Napoleon Avenues in 1948. Compare the difference with 1860.
Section from the Robinson Atlas, 1883, showing streetcar tracks around St. Charles and Napoleon Avenues. The half-way facilities for the railroad expanded over the twenty years since the Lilienthal photo. The black dot on St. Charles is a turntable. If you’ve been to San Francisco, you’ve seen this type of turntable. Here, the driver leads the mule out of the barn, placing the car on the turntable. He then walked the mule around, lining up with the track on the street, and off they went.
The building on the right housed the streetcars and the mules. Superior Seafood and Fat Harry’s stand there now. The buildings on the left (lake) side of St. Charles are now the Lower School for the Academy of the Sacred Heart.
Downtown on the line
The corner of St. Charles and Canal Streets in 1850. Notice there are NO streetcar tracks! That’s because the Carrollton line continued to use Baronne Street. While the steam trains terminated at Poydras and Baronne, the streetcars went all the way to Canal Street. The drivers turned around on a turntable on Baronne.
So, there were no streetcars yet on either St. Charles or Canal. The Canal line opened in 1861. The lighter-colored building in the background of this illustration is the first incarnation of the St. Charles Hotel. This building burned down in 1851. The second incarnation opened in 1853.
This 1856 map shows downtown New Orleans (CBD) in 1856. The streetcars came down Naiads to Tivoli Circle. Like the modern line, they curved around to Delord Street, now Howard Avenue. Unlike the modern line, the Carrollton line went up to Baronne, then turned right. Baronne Street had two tracks with a turntable to change direction.
The railroad purchased and operated “Bob-Tail” streetcars from the Stephenson Car Company, from the 1850s until the line electrified in 1893. The driver attached the mule to the right side of the car in this photograph. The single-truck design made for a less-than-smooth ride. Still, the cars were as good as it got for the time.
While the bob-tails did most of the work on the line, the railroad experimented with alternatives. After the Southern Rebellion, PGT Beauregard returned to New Orleans. The railroad employed him as president in the 1870s. Being an engineer, Beauregard entertained a number of different ideas for streetcars. This car used canisters of ammonia gas to propel the car. This drawing is by Alfred Waud. It includes a small drawing of a white woman, and another of a black woman, along with Gus.
The Lamm Thermo-Specific locomotive operated on the line in 1874. The engine’s “fireless” design enabled quiet operation. So, the engine carried a large bottle/canister containing compressed air, steam. The engineer released the steam and the engine moved forward. The Lamm engines pulled 1-2 bobtail cars. The railroad discontinued operations of the Lamms, because of having tor re-charge the canisters.
I spoke to the Friends of the Cabildo Tour Guides at their monthly meeting this past Monday. They had me in to discuss the origins of the NO&CRR (New Orleans & Carrollton Railroad), which evolved into the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line. I’ll be presenting the talk via blog posts here. We’re starting at the beginning.
If you didn’t know how to get ahold of me online, here you go. @nolahistoryguy on all social media, and there’s my email. Please keep in mind, I may not see your question as the high priority you do!
The image you see is of Canal and Rampart, 1915ish. I use it on my business cards.
Tour Guide Talking Points
These are important to the guide-on-the-street. While the FOC guides are very smart people, it’s important for me to give them a quick gist of the subject they can use for answering questions.
NO&CRR was founded in 1833 and the railroad began operations in 1835
The railroad route (and later streetcar line) was named “Carrollton,” not St. Charles.
It’s the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the United States. While NYC and Philly had streetcar operations before New Orleans, St. Charles still runs.
Connected Downtown to the City of Carrollton
First streetcar line to electrify
The company operated the single-truck Ford, Bacon & Davis electric cars
Upgraded to double-truck arch roof cars in 1915
Belt service from 1900-1950
Current route dates to 1951
Only streetcar line in New Orleans from 1964 to 2004
Current line is approximately 13.2 miles in length
We’ll get into the details of these points in this series.
Building railroads was a new thing in the 1830s. Businessmen in New Orleans recognized this. A group planning a navigation canal from Faubourg Marigny to Milneburg at the lake opted for a railroad line (the Pontchartrain RR) instead. Others looked at the City of Carrollton as an opportunity.
Brief news article about a streetcar vs train accident in The Daily Picayune, 11-May-1912.
Passenger train No. 339, of the Illinois Central, crashed into the Royal Blue car at Washington Avenue, at 9 o’clock last night and knocked it into splinters. The car was dragged about 125 feet and part of it was on the front of the engine. The latter was derailed.
Howard Heldenfelder, of 136 S. Olympia, employed at the Krauss Store, was the only passenger in the streetcar. He sustained injuries about the chest and was badly shaken up. Jules Mainbaum, the motorman, was thrown from the platform, into a canal. He was fished out by the conductor, Thomas Burke. The motorman was injured about the head. He and Heldenfelder were taken to the hospital, where their injuries were found not very serious.
Interesting unpack here! A quick online search didn’t immediately turn up the route of IC train 339. It was either coming or going to Union Station, on Rampart Street. This was the “old” station, built in 1892. The city demolished it to make way for Union Passenger Terminal, in 1954.
A “Royal Blue car” ran on the Napoleon Avenue line. New Orleans Railway and Light Company (NORwy&Lt) operated streetcars in the city in 1912. The Napoleon line got the nickname “Royal Blue” because the roll board (the rolling sign indicating the streetcar’s route) was enclosed in blue glass. Since the streetcar was smashed into splinters, it likely was an all-wood Brill double-truck.
The motorman ended up in the New Basin Canal. This part of the canal is now part of the Palmetto canal system, that feeds into the 17th Street Canal and its pumping station near Metairie Road. Good thing the conductor could fish him out!
And then there’s the passenger, Mr. Heldenfelder. he lived at 136 S. Olympia. That’s across the street from St. Dominic School (now Christian Brothers School). To get to work at Krauss, he likely took the Canal line from Mid-City down to Basin Street.
Early morning outbound and inbound on the Canal Street Line, 2-April-2022. The first streetcar, outbound, is actually the second car out of the barn. The Canal line cars leave the barn at Canal and S. White Streets, turn lakebound, and travel to the Cemeteries terminal. The first streetcar of the morning already did this when I pulled up at Blue Dot Donuts. That car is the second one in the video. The operator pulled out, headed to Cemeteries, and now is doing a full inbound run. You can see the “01” on the right-side rollboard on this second car, 2023. That indicates it was the first one on the line this morning.
Canal line operations
NORTA 2023, inbound on Canal Street, 2-April-2022
There’s a couple of reasons NORTA operates Canal in this mode. First, it’s easier to come out of the barn and make a simple right turn. The car barn is behind the A. Phillip Randolph bus facility, the big building you see on Canal Street. This used to be the location of the original New Orleans City Railroad barn. That building, parts of which were from the 1860s, was demolished in the 90s. When streetcars returned in 2004, NORTA built a new streetcar barn. It’s big enough to hold all the red and green streetcars. So, Carrollton Station, up on Willow Street, is just a maintenance facility. The 2000-series Von Dullen streetcars always operated from this barn. The Rail Department performs minor repairs on the cars on Canal. The streetcars return Uptown for major repairs, maintenance, painting, etc.
The second reason the streetcars go up to Cemeteries first is that it gives the operator a chance to shake the car down before they go to work. If there’s a problem, they can turn around and go back to the barn.
NORTA operates a limited schedule this weekend, because of the NCAA Final Four.
Canal Street 1960 featured Hitchcock at the movies.
Canal Street 1960.
Unpacking a photo from “N.O.L.A. – New Orleans Long Ago” on Facebook. This color shot features the 1101 to 901 blocks of Canal Street. The photographer (unidentified) stands across the 140′ street. the angle indicates they’re at Elk Place. A green arch roof streetcar travels inbound, on the Canal line. A second streetcar travels outbound, a block down the street. The marquee of the Saenger features Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” Woolworth’s at N. Rampart Street, the Audubon Building, and Maison Blanche Department Store are visible, along with numerous billboards and other advertising.
While this photo is undated, the marquee of the Saenger Theater tells us it’s from the Summer of 1960. Paramount and Hitchcock released “Psycho” nationwide at the end of June. An interesting tidbit about the film: it was the first movie released in the United States with a “no late admission” policy. While Paramount opposed the notion, it turned out that moviegoers lined up well in advance to see the film.
Like other movie houses in New Orleans in 1960, the Saenger observed Jim Crow laws and restrictions. The theater operated the balcony separately from the rest of the building. They walled off the balcony as a “colored” theater, the Saenger Orleans. The theater merged back to one after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Rubenstein’s store, on the Sanger’s corner at Canal and N. Rampart, was not connected to Rubenstein Brothers, the venerable men’s store still at Canal and St. Charles Avenue. This Rubenstein’s was part of a chain of women’s stores. They later moved to the 1000 block. That corner storefront of the theater became a Popeyes in the 1980s.
F. W. Woolworth Co.
Woolworth’s operated one of its two Canal Street stores on the other side of N. Rampart. This location became a nexus for Civil Rights protests just two years after this photo. As in other cities, protesters focused on the Woolworth’s lunch counter. While there were no major incidents, Civil Rights leaders, most notably the Rev. Avery Alexander, led pickets and protests on Canal Street.
Woolworth’s closed the store in the 1990s. The building remained vacant until 2011. Developer Mohan Kailas acquired the store. He demolished the building (which stood on the corner since the 1930s). Kailas partnered with Hard Rock Cafe to build a hotel on the site. In 2019, construction failures caused the development to collapse, killing three.
The 901 block of Canal Street stands as it has since 1910. The Audubon Building was an office building at the corner of Canal and Burgundy streets. It was later converted into a hotel, The Saint. Next is the S. H. Kress store, then Maison Blanche Department Store. MB the store occupied the first five floors. The upper floors were leased as office space. WSMB radio stood atop the building, on the thirteenth floor.
A 1923-vintage arch roof streetcar heads inbound on Canal Street. It approaches the corner of Canal and Rampart streets. I can’t make out its number – if you can, let me know! New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) operated the transit system in New Orleans at the time.
The “beautification project” of 1958 cut back the number of streetcar tracks on Canal from four to two. Streetcar lines heading inbound to Canal Street used the outside tracks to turn around and return to their origin points. By the late 1950s, the only remaining streetcar lines were Canal and St. Charles. So, since those turn-arounds were no longer necessary, the city cut down the size of the neutral ground. Additionally, they increased the number of auto lanes in the downtown section of Canal. planters and palm trees appeared as part of the project. By the summer of 1960, the palm trees survived a couple of winters.
North Carrollton Streetcars have operated only since 2005.
North Carrollton Streetcars
NORTA 2012, operating on the “Carrollton Spur” of the Canal Street line, 23-December-2021. One in three (or four, depending on how busy the line is) cars running on Canal spin off at Carrollton Avenue, traveling the length of North Carrollton Avenue, out to City Park. NORTA built the 2000-series “Von Dullen” streetcars in 2003/2004, for the return of streetcar operation on Canal. Like the green, 1923-vintage arch roof cars running on St. Charles Avenue, the Von Dullens get holiday decorations for Yuletide.
The Carrollton Spur
The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority planned for streetcars back on Canal Street starting in the late 1990s. They pitched electric street rail operation to the Federal Transportation Authority at a time when local governments only had to put up 20% of the cost. So, once the city assembled a financial package, the Feds got on board. Additionally, they pitched an extension of the traditional Canal route, a “spur” going down Carrollton Avenue. This spur connects Canal Street with City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art.
The original plan was to get the almost-five miles of Canal Street track done and settled, then NORTA would turn its attention to the spur in a year or two. When George W. Bush became POTUS in 2001, the FTA dramatically cut back their contribution to street rail projects. Despite securing funding for the Canal project, NORTA became concerned. They moved up the plan to run North Carrollton Streetcars. So, construction began on the spur as the main line approached completion.
As much as construction-related street closures interrupted business along N. Carrollton, most owners saw the streetcars as a good thing in the long-term. While Hurricane Katrina slammed down economic growth immediately, the streetcars eventually boosted the neighborhood.
First time streetcars
Back in the days when New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) operated transit in the city, they never ran North Carrollton Streetcars. This is because of the Southern Railway’s “Bernadotte Yard.” The railroad built an extensive rail yard in Mid-City New Orleans. It ran from Canal Boulevard and Bernadotte Street, down St. Louis Street, crossing N. Carrollton, up to Dr. Norman C. Francis Parkway. So, when the rail yard reached N. Carrollton, six railroad tracks crossed the street.
Now, that many railroad tracks was bad enough for automobile and truck traffic. Those tracks made it impossible for street rail to run down the street, crossing the tracks. So, NOPSI never ran streetcars on that side of Canal Street. They operated the “Carrollton” bus line, from Elysian Fields and Gentilly Road, to DeSaix Street, to Wisner, N. Carrollton, all the way to S. Carrollton and Claiborne Avenues, Uptown.
As you can see from the video, the Carrollton Spur operates in the street, not the neutral ground. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the entire Canal line used the old arch-roof cars, as the Von Dullens underwent repairs.