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?
NOPSI 921 was one of 35 arch roofs that survived.
Arch roof streetcar NOPSI 921 on St. Charles Avenue. Roger Puta photo.
St. Charles Avenue at night. This photo, by Roger Puta, shows NOPSI 921 as it’s just made the turn from Canal Street, onto St. Charles, for its outbound run on that line. NOPSI 921 survived the massive cutback in streetcar service NOPSI implemented in 1964. They discontinued streetcar service at the end of May that year. All but thirty-five of the 900-series streetcars were either demolished or donated to museums.
The route of the St. Charles Line changed a number of times to get to the present configuration. In 1950, NOPSI discontinued “belt” service on St. Charles and Tulane. That change set the current route used by NORTA.
- Start at Carondelet and Canal Streets
- Right-turn onto Canal from Carondelet, on the “third” track
- Immediate right-turn onto St. Charles Avenue from Canal Street
- First stop: pick up riders at St. Charles Avenue and Common Street
- Head outbound on St. Charles to Tivoli (Formerly Lee) Circle
- Half-circle around, entering the neutral ground on St. Charles, just before Calliope.
- Outbound on the St. Charles neutral ground to Riverbend.
- Right-turn from St. Charles Avenue onto S. Carrollton Avenue
- Up S. Carrollton Avenue to S. Claiborne Avenue
- Terminate at Carrollton and Claiborne
- Depart S. Claiborne Terminal
- Down S. Carrollton Avenue to St. Charles Avenue
- Down St. Charles Avenue to Tivoli Circle.
- Three-quarters around the circle, to Howard Avenue
- Up Howard Avenue one block
- Right-turn onto Carondelet Street
- Down Carondelet Street to Canal, where the run terminates.
There are a number of signs in this photo, marking the locations of “ain’t there no more” businesses. The Holiday Inn is now a Wyndham, for example. The Musee’ Conti Wax Museum is closed. The sign on Canal and Royal Streets grabbed drivers’ attention, to entice them to turn into the Quarter and go to the museum.
What other ATNM things do you see?
I found this photo in the Commons while looking for images for my next book project. The History Press considers old electric signs for businesses that are no longer around to be “fading signs,” so Kolb’s Restaurant (the sign is visible on the left) counts.
City Park Line connected Mid-City and the French Quarter
Trackless Trolley on the City Park Line, 1964s (courtesy NOPL)
City Park Line
The Orleans Railroad Company opened the City Park line on July 1, 1898. It connected the French Quarter with Mid-City, mostly via Dumaine Street. Orleans RR merged into New Orleans Railway and Light in 1910, along with the other streetcar companies. NORwy&Lt combined the French Market line with City Park (both ex-Orleans RR). The rollboards said “French Market-City Park” in 1921. While the route didn’t change, the line’s name returned to just City Park at that time.
The original route, 1898:
- Start at Canal Street and Exchange Place
- Up Canal to Dauphine Street
- Turn on Dauphine to Dumaine
- Left on Dumaine, then up Dumaine to City Park Avenue
- Down Dumaine to N. Rendon
- N. Rendon to Ursulines
- Ursulines to Burgundy
- Turn onto Canal at Burgundy
- Terminate at Canal and Exchange
In 1910, the route expanded. Instead of turning on Burgundy, City Park continued down Ursulines to Decatur. So, it then continued to Canal, via Decatur and N. Peters. In 1932, NOPSI re-routed City Park, turning the line on Royal to terminate on Canal. This route remained until the line was discontinued in the 1970s.
Streetcars on City Park
Orleans Railroad ran Ford, Bacon, and Davis (FB&D) single-trucks on City Park. Their cars bore a red-and-cream livery. NORwy&Lt replaced the single-trucks with double-truck “Palace” cars in the mid-1910s. NOPSI later replaced the Palaces with 800/900s.
The red livery used by Orleans RR and New Orleans City Railroad are the heritage behind the “red ladies” of the modern Riverfront and Canal Street lines.
Buses and Trackless Trolleys
NOPSI discontinued streetcar operation on City Park in 1941. They switched to buses. City Park was one of the last lines switched before WWII. The War Department turned down other conversions. Buses required gasoline and rubber. Both of those were needed for the war effort.
In 1949, NOPSI replaced buses on City Park with trackless trolleys. They never removed the overhead wires on the route. Trackless Trolleys ran on City Park until 1964. So, buses returned to the line then. NOPSI discontinued the City Park line completely in the 1970s.
The City Park line serviced the “Downtown Backatown” neighborhoods. Like the Desire line, the name indicated the termination point. The streetcars ran on Dumaine Street, through Treme, into Mid-City. Since the line went to Canal Street, City Park carried commuters into work. The line serviced the Quarter as well, particularly Burgundy Street. Armstrong Park blocked the Dumaine portion of the route. I remember seeing the City Park buses at the route’s terminating point as I rode past Dumaine Street on the Esplanade line.
When Aaron Handy III shared this photo in a Facebook group, the City Park rollboard brought back memories of riding home from Brother Martin in the 1970s. While I never rode the line, I was fascinated that there were streetcars going all the way out to the park, in-between Canal Street and Esplanade. This photo looks to be part of the Dorothy Violet Gulledge collection at the New Orleans Public Libaray.