Bus and streetcar routes in New Orleans were laid out in NOPSI Maps.
1928 NOPSI transit map
Maps of the local transit system are essential for riders. While those maps are most often found online these days, proper paper maps existed for generations before handheld devices with Everything.
Lots of interesting things here, on this 1928 map. This is a year before the 1929 Transit Strike (the origin of the po-boy, etc.). In terms of total miles of track, this is the zenith of streetcar operations. The 1929 strike changed how New Orleans commuted. NOPSI worked to get riders back, but it was not an overnight process.
Some things here that caught my eye:
- The Napoleon line went all the way out to Shrewsbury Road in Metairie. Streetcar service in Metairie ended in 1934.
- The Canal and Esplanade lines ran in “belt service” at this time. NOPSI provided “Cemeteries” service that ran to the end of Canal Street.
- The “Canal Bus” ran on Canal Blvd, out to Fillmore Ave.
- NOPSI offered no service on North Carrollton Avenue. Mid-City, between Canal Street and Bayou St. John contained the Bernadotte Street railroad yard and extensive industry. NOPSI services the neighborhood with the City Park line.
- West End ran out to the lake, along the New Canal. While the regular Spanish Fort line no longer operated, NOPSI maps indicate the seasonal shuttle line.
The Canal/Esplanade belts defined service in Mid-City at the time. While there were shorter, “support” lines, the neighborhood relied primarily on the Canal line.
NOPSI provided extensive streetcar and bus service Uptown. So, NOPSI maps show the St. Charles and Tulane lines running in “belt” service. While the original operators consolidated years before this map, the older lines continued on. Prytania, Laurel, and Tchoupitoulas operated at this time. So, Claiborne, Freret, St. Charles, and Magazine lines operated as the main cross-Uptown lines. Those lines operate today.
The Gentilly line ran from downtown out to Dreux Avenue on Franklin Avenue. Bus service on Elysian Fields only operated to Florida. The Pontchartrain Railroad still ran out to Milneburg at this time.
Vintage New Orleans Transit is a fun group on Facebook, if you’re active on that platform.
Finally, check out NOLA History Guy Podcast!
Magazine Street Trackless Trolley Conversion – electric with no rails
NOPSI Trackless Trolley on the Magazine line. Undated Franck-Bertacci photo, ~1948-1952
Magazine Street Trackless Trolley Conversion
Riders Digest flyer, 11-February-1948 (courtesy Aaron Handy, III)
New Orleans Public Service, Inc (NOPSI) discontinued streetcars on a number of lines after World War II. Magazine Street was one of these lines. While most lines transitioned to diesel buses, Magazine Street used “trackless trolleys” from 1948 to 1964.
Mules to Electrics to Buses
The Magazine Street line began operation in June, 1861. It used mule-drawn streetcars until 1895. The line electrified in 1895. The first electrics on Magazine were open-vestibule cars that were quickly replaced by single-truck Brills. When the arch roof cars began service on Canal, the 1905-vintage “Palace” cars shifted to Magazine and other upriver-downriver lines. Eventually, the 800-900 series arch roofs operated everywhere in the city.
NOPSI planned to convert streetcars to buses in 1940, but WWII delayed that. The War Department refused the conversions, saying the increased consumption of rubber and diesel fuel were unacceptable.
NOPSI 931 at Arabella Station on Magazine Street, 1947. (Franck-Bertacci Studios, THNOC)
Magazine originally ran outbound on Camp, inbound on Magazine Street. Streetcars ran up to Toledano Street. The direction on Camp and Magazine flipped in the 1920s. Since then, line runs inbound on Magazine Street to St. Andrew. The inbounds turn there onto Sophie Wright Place, then onto Camp Street at Felicity. From there, they run to Canal Street. The end of the line is on Canal and Magazine. Outbound travels all the way up on Magazine, to Audubon Park. Magazine continued past the park, up Broadway to S. Claiborne until 1933. The service cut back to the park when the Freret line opened.
Ripping up the streetcar tracks on Camp Street, 1948 (NOPL)
The government lifted wartime restrictions in 1947. NOPSI discontinued streetcar operations as soon as possible. While West End and other long-haul lines switched to buses, The city ripped up the tracks in after trackless trolleys began operation in February, 1947. The overhead wire remained until 1964.
Napoleon Avenue links the river to Broadmoor
Napoleon Avenue at St. Charles Avenue, 1860 (photographer unknown)
Napoleon Avenue in 1860
The first streetcar service in New Orleans was along St. Charles Avenue. The New Orleans & Carrollton Railroad Company started at Canal Street. They expanded service in stages, as demand and their capital allowed. So, by 1860, the line extended past Napoleon Avenue,
Map of Uptown New Orleans, 1850
The street we known know as St. Charles Avenue was called “Nayades Street” for most of the 19th Century. So, architect and surveyor Barthelmy Lafon named this long street after the mythic Green Nymphs who watched over fresh water wetlands. The street ran from the Business District, out to the City of Lafayette. Finally, the line ran to the City of Carrollton. The “Route of the Nayades” connected the neighborhoods. Similarly, it connected the plantations. In 1852, descendants of Spanish planters like Francisco Bouligny continued development. So, they changed the name of the street to honor Charles III. Charles was a Saint and king of Spain. As a result, of naming an uptown-to-downtown street after a Spaniard they needed balance. Bouligny’s descendants named their north-south road after Napoleon Bonaparte. They subdivided the plantation after 1862. Streets on either side of Napoleon Avenue were named to commemorate Bonaparte’s major victories.
The NO&CRR opened its crosstown line in 1835. By the time of this 1860 photo, the company operated “bobtail” streetcars. The Johnson Car Company sold these cars to the New Orleans company. These streetcars, pulled by mules, were a good fit for New Orleans. Therefore, when the New Orleans City Railroad opened their line on Canal Street, they ordered bobtails. The uptown company acquired the property on either side of the tracks at St. Charles an Napoleon. Because the area grew in population, they extended service on Napoleon. So, the Napoleon line ran from St. Charles, going further up the street. NO&CRR opened a mule barn and a streetcar storage barn/maintenance shop at the intersection.
Eventually, the the mule-drawn streetcars were replaced with electrics. The NO&CRR facilities closed. Streetcar operations consolidated closer to the business district.
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.
Race Screens on NOPSI 930 were typical on the 800 and 900 streetcars.
Movable race screens on NOPSI 930 streetcar. (Franck Studios photo in the public domain)
Jim Crow segregation began in the 1890s. They started in the wake of the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision. It comes as no surprise that the city where Homer Plessy and the Citizens Committee did their work embraced Jim Crow. White families of the area asserted their supremacy over the former enslaved and their families. We often look at New Orleans society as something more than white versus black. Creoles of color had extensive influence in the city. The White League saw them as “colored,” however. Because they weren’t “white”, the Creoles of Color were no better than the former enslaved to white people.
The Jim Crow laws, and the overall attitude of racial segregation helped foster the Great Migration of the early 20th Century. The most visible impact of this movement of African-Americans to the north and west was with musicians. Jazz started out as a musical style in the various black communities of New Orleans. Musicians tired of having to enter/exit venues via the back door got on the train for New York or Chicago or Los Angeles. The music spread. It stayed home, too, as many African-Americans didn’t leave the South.
Back of the bus
Separate but equal was problematic on public transit. While the Canal and West End lines looped around Liberty Place, many of the lines operated “point to loop.” When the streetcar reached the outbound end of the line, the crew changed the direction of the electric poles on the roof. They also changed the direction of the seats. With the seats flipped, the race screens were at the front of the car. Black folks would get in and sit, but had to keep going to the back as white riders boarded. On crowded runs, it got to the point where black riders stood in the aisle. White riders kept moving the screens back.
Naturally, black riders got fed up. In Montgomery, Alabama, that came to a head when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in 1955. New Orleans was spared a Montgomery-style bus boycott. A federal judge ordered the race screens on NOPSI streetcars and buses be removed in 1958.
Chartres Street was one block down from the Clay Monument
600 block of Canal at Chartres, 1890. (Mugnier photo)
From the book, New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line, this is a Mugnier photo of Chartres Street at Canal. The Custom house is barely visible in the background. The trees in the neutral ground masked the streetcar tracks and activity. Because this is a winter photo, they’re barren.
The shoe store at the left of the photo anchors the Touro Buildings in the 700 block. The 600 block lacks the Godchaux Building. That dates the photo prior to 1892. The electric pole means the photo dates no earlier than 1890. The bare trees indicates this is likely the winter of 1890-91.
Leon Godchaux, the sugar magnate, demolished the buildings on 600 Canal in 1891. In their place, he erected a six-story retail/office building. That building survived until 1969. It was demolished to make way for what is now the Marriott Hotel Canal Street.
Mule-drawn streetcars on electrified streets
The streetcar in the background is a Johnson “Bobtail” car. These mule-drawn cars operated on the Canal line until 1895. Street electrification started in the late 1880s. Electric lighting replaced gas lamps. So, as the street lighting changed, commercial buildings desired lighted signs. Interior electrification allowed retail stores and shops extended business hours.
When I wrote the Canal streetcar book in 2004, I didn’t give much thought to “fading signs.” Even later on, when I wrote the Maison Blanche book, I looked past most of them. The new book changed the way I look at some of these photos. Because I’ve examined most of the walls of Canal Street buildings, this ad at Chartres and Canal caught my eye. I didn’t remember it. That’s because it vanished a year after this photo! Godchaux’s building contained too many windows to make a solid canvas for an ad.
So, what did this sign sell? I see:
World is the
I can’t make sense of that. Anybody have an idea?