The Henry Clay Monument stood on Canal Street from 1860 to 1901.
NOTE: If you see something else interesting on these maps, speak up! Le’ts talk about it.
Henry Clay Monument
A private group raised money to build a monument to American statesmen Henry Clay in 1860. The city approved their plan to erect the monument on Canal Street. They placed it at the three-way intersection of Canal Street, St. Charles Avenue, and Royal Street. The Robinson Atlas of 1883, Plate 6, shows the monument, with the streetcar tracks passing around it.
The Henry Clay monument stood as mapped here until 1895. The New Orleans City Railway Company electrified the Canal Street line that year. The city cut back the massive circular base. This provided the streetcars with a linear path across the intersection. Prior to 1895, mule-drawn streetcars curved around the monument.
Canal Street activity
Activity at the Canal-St. Charles-Royal intersection developed after 1861. The Henry Clay monument rose in the center of Canal Street a year earlier. The streetcar company simply went around the statue, completing the transit to the river. The main activity happens just above and below the intersection. Notice the circles in the center of the Canal Street neutral ground. Those are turntables. If you’ve been out to San Francisco, you may have seen the turntables used to change the direction of cable cars when they reach the end of the line. Before electrification, streetcar companies operated “single-ended” equipment. the mule pulled the streetcar onto the turntable. The operator guided the mule in a circle.
The turntable just below Clay handled “backatown” lines coming up from along the riverfront. Additionally, the turntable on the lake side (see, we really do express directions as “lake” and “river”) handled the streetcars coming to Canal Street from Carondelet, Baronne, Dauphine, Burgundy, and Rampart Streets.
The Clio Street line crossed Canal Street at Bourbon and Royal Streets. So, after passing by the Jackson Depot railroad station, streetcars on Clio made their way down Carondelet Street, crossing Canal, then heading outbound to Elysian Fields. They used Bourbon Street to traverse the Quarter. The line returned to the St. Charles Hotel via Royal Street. The streetcars curved around Henry.
NOPSI 888, a wrecked streetcar, outside Carrollton Station.
The running joke is, when there’s a streetcar-versus-automobile confrontation, the streetcar wins. While this is true, it doesn’t mean the streetcar comes out unscathed. Such was the case on 13-May-1947. NOPSI 888 became a wrecked streetcar, after striking a vehicle while operating on the Desire line. NOPSI 888 received a lot more damage than those involved in wrecks with automobiles because it hit a truck. The streetcar left the scene with heavy damage on the opposite end. We documented the wreck some time ago. Franck Studios photographed 888 from all sides. From this angle, the streetcar appears fine, unless you look through the window! While the Desire line operated out of Canal Station, the Rail Department brought 888 back to Carrollton Station. NOPSI 888 stands here on Jeanette Street. Once the photographer finished, they rolled the streetcar into the barn.
The “Streetcar Named Desire” operated until May 30, 1948. NOPSI replaced the 800- and 900-series arch roof streetcars with White Company buses. These buses bore the classic maroon-and-cream livery of the “old style” buses. The streetcars operating on Desire shifted to the two remaining lines, St. Charles. NOPSI chose not to repair 888. So, it was the first 800-series car scrapped. The remaining 800s, with only a couple of exceptions, joined 888 on the junk pile in the summer of 1964.
While the Desire line gained immortality thanks to Tennessee Williams, it didn’t happen because of traveling on Desire Street. The Desire line rolled inbound on Royal Street, and outbound on Bourbon Street, for the length of the French Quarter. Since Williams lived in a third-story walk-up on Royal Street, he heard those streetcars running past, night and day. Even had Williams not gotten around town much, those streetcars would still stick out in his memory.
On this day, NOPSI 888 sported ad signs on the ends for Regal Beer. The American Brewing Company owned the Regal (“lager” spelled backwards) brand. They brewed and bottled Regal from their plant on Bourbon Street, from 1890 to 1960.
The Pontchartrain Railroad station in Faubourg Marigny was on Decatur Street.
Pontchartrain Railroad Station
The Pontchartrain Railroad operated from Faubourg Marigny to Port Pontchartrain, in Milneburg. While the lake terminus extended out onto a shipping pier, the operated a regular terminal on the river side. The Robinson Atlas of 1883 shows the Marigny depot, and the businesses/residences surrounding it. The map shows the route of the Clio Street line, passing next to the station, before turning for its inbound run.
This plate also shows the ferry landing for the New Orleans, Opelousas, and Great Western Railroad.
The Pontchartrain Railroad operated a simple route: to the lake and back. Day trippers took the railroad out to “Lake City” (Milneburg), for a gathering or meeting, perhaps staying overnight at the Washington Hotel. These gatherings included more than people who lived within walking distance of the station. So, the St. Charles Railroad company extended its Jackson Depot line (later the Clio Street line) across Canal Street, into the Marigny. Folks rode streetcars from various lines to the St. Charles Hotel. They purchased railroad tickets at the hotel, then hopped on the Jackson Depot line. After passing by the Illinois Central station, the streetcar turned into the French Quarter, heading to Elysian Fields Avenue.
When the Louisville and Nashville Railroad acquired the Pontchartrain in 1880, that streetcar connection grew in importance. While L&N operated its own station on Canal Street, passengers from Uptown rode the Clio line to the Pontchartrain Railroad station. The L&N trains turned onto Elysian Fields, then headed out of town via Florida Avenue. So, passengers hopped on L&N trains there.
The railroad ferry
This plate shows a ferry landing on the right side. This ferry carried trains for the New Orleans, Opelousas, and Great Western Railroad to their station in Algiers. Morgan’s Louisiana and Texas Railroad and Steamship Company acquired the NOO&GW in 1883. They continued the ferry connection for a few years, then built a new ferry link in Jefferson Parish. That ferry crossing continued after the Southern Pacific acquired Morgan’s, and lasted even after the Huey P. Long Bridge opened.
1964 Transit Improvement Program ended the Canal streetcar line.
1964 Transit Improvement
Flyer updating riders on the 1964 Transit Improvement Program. New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) planned the removal of streetcars from the Canal Street line for May 31, 1964. While advocacy groups organized in late 1963/early 1964 to oppose the program, it was too little, too late. The plans for this removal began in late 1959.
This flyer emphasizes the advantages of switching Canal to bus service. NOPSI rolled out new buses as part of this “improvement.” Those Flixible company buses were air-conditioned. Riders in Lakeview and Lakeshore could get on the bus close to the house and ride all the way into the CBD.
This flyer promotes the Phase 2 changes. In Phase 1 of 1964 Transit Improvement, the city cut back the width of the Canal Street neutral ground. This allowed for three traffic lanes on either side of the street. When streetcars returned to Canal Street in 2004, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (NORTA, successor to NOPSI’s transit operations) built a single-track terminal at Canal Street and City Park Avenue. There was no space to re-create the two-track end of the line. So, at the time, New Orleanians approved these changes. Preservationists were caught off guard.
NOPSI immediately cut down the electric overhead wires on 31-May-1964, as part of Phase 2 of 1964 Transit Improvement. The city ripped up the streetcar tracks within weeks of the switch to buses. Additionally, the air-conditioning started on 31-May.
NOPSI expanded the “suburban” bus lines. They extended buses going to West End and Lakeview into downtown. Streetcars on the Canal line ended their runs at City Park Avenue. So, a rider living, say, off Fleur-de-Lis Avenue walked to Pontchartrain Blvd. They caught the bus to City Park Avenue, transferring there to the streetcar. While that doesn’t sound like a big deal, NOPSI discovered an opportunity. The rider starts on a bus with a/c, but switches to a hot, humid streetcar. If it’s raining, well, you get the idea.
Additionally, NOPSI offered an enhanced service, the “express” lines. Express 80 followed the Canal-Lake Vista (via Canal Boulevard) route. For an extra nickel, riders boarded Express 80 rather than the regular line. When the express bus reached City Park Avenue, Express 80 made no stops until Claiborne Avenue. Same for Express 81, which followed the Canal-Lakeshore via Pontchartrain Boulevard line. So that rider could not only stay on the bus from home, they got to the office that much quicker.
Downtown workers relied upon public transit so much more in 1964. When something is part of your day-to-day routine, improvements that enhance your experience are easy to sell. Preserving forty-year old streetcars didn’t seem like a big deal compared to not sweating through your clothes by the time you arrived at work.
Thanks to Aaron Handy, III, for this image of the flyer!
Desire Buses begin on 30-May-1948.
New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) converted their Desire line from streetcars to buses over Memorial Day Weekend in 1948. This flyer, distributed on transit lines across the city, explained the change. Streetcars ran until Saturday evening on 29-May. On Sunday morning, 30-May, White Company buses rolled out of Canal Station, taking over on Desire.
NOPSI moved quickly to remove streetcar tracks on the Desire line. So, they wanted the ride along the line to be smooth. Removing the tracks and re-blacktopping the street helped. From the brochure:
Street car tracks below Almonaster will be removed and the streets over which the buses are to travel will be resurfaced. During the progress of the track removal and re-paving, short temporary detours from the permanent route will be necessary. Signs at regular stops will direct passengers to the nearest temporary stop.
NOPSI implemented this plan for several reasons. First, streetcar tracks made for a bumpy ride for automobiles. To generate buy-in for buses, the company, along with the city, gave folks a smoother car trip. Sentimental feelings for the “Streetcar Named Desire” vanished quickly. Once the tracks were gone, the streetcars were quickly forgotten.
NOPSI and City Hall tore up streetcar tracks quickly on other converted lines. When the company converted the Magazine line to trackless trolleys, they left the overhead wire. Since the electric buses didn’t require tracks, up they came. Now, the blocks on Camp street the line traveled got that smooth-ride treatment. It also didn’t hurt that nobody really missed streetcars on Magazine.
NOPSI planned to convert a number of lines in the late 1930s. The outbreak of World War II delayed those plans. The War Department, along with other agencies supporting the war effort, denied the companies requests. Streetcars operated using electricity. They ran on existing steel rails. Buses required rubber tires and gasoline. The War Department needed those two resources more than public transit. So, streetcars remained throughout the war. As part of the peacetime economy transitions, the government approved the bus conversions.
Railroad connections in New Orleans via the Clio streetcar lines.
The 100-200 blocks of St. Charles Avenue, seen from Canal Street, 1890. The Crescent Billiard Hall is foreground, left, with a tailor shop in the retail space on the first floor. The second incarnation of the St. Charles Hotel looms over the scene in the 200 block. A mule-pulled buggy with three men approaches the photographer. Three streetcars stand in the street, with men crossing Canal Street in both directions. Detroit Publishing Company photo, via the Library of Congress.
This is the story of going down a historical rabbit hole, where you look at an image, or read a document, and find deeper story. I came across this photo and thought, what a great slice-of-life moment. This is a weekday scene, during work hours. Businessmen come-and-go, as the streetcars converge and connect them with other parts of town. While there are other hotels, even in this scene, the St. Charles Hotel dominates. The hotel served as a transit hub, with street rail passing by and most of the railroads operating in the city maintaining ticket offices in the first floor shops of the building. Lots to unpack and observe!
So, I shared the photo on social media. A while later, my friend Drew Ward messaged me. He pointed out the sign on the top of the bobtail streetcar on the right side. It says:
“ILL CENTRAL SO PACIFIC & PONT RR”
Three Railroads, Illinois Central, Southern Pacific, and Pontchartrain Railroad. Knowing my interest in the Pontchartrain Railroad, Drew double-checked to see if I caught that. I hadn’t. It got me thinking. The IC terminal was on Locust (S. Robertson), between Clio and Calliope Streets. The Southern Pacific also operated from this terminal. The Pontchartrain, however, operated from it’s long-time terminal, on Elysian Fields at Decatur Street.
So, one railroad terminal in Faubourg Ste. Marie and the other in Faubourg Marigny, and a single streetcar line tying them together? But that meant crossing Canal Street.
Yes, that’s how it worked. The Clio line went across Canal Street. Very few lines in the history of street railways in the city made that connection. Usually, streetcars came to Canal, turned around, and returned on outbound runs.
Rabbit hole. Questions. Maps. Stories. Soon I had an outline for a 3000-word piece.
Substack and Bloggery
I’ve been wanting to do more long-form pieces, possibly to submit to other publications, or just put on the blog. I’m taking my patrons along for the ride, with shorter articles like this. These articles will serve as extended captions to the maps and photos I discover for the long piece.
And we’re off!