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!
NORTA 2007 is a 2000-series Von Dullen arch roof streetcar.
NORTA 2007 on the Riverfront
A Von Dullen streetcar, NORTA 2007, operating on the Riverfront line, 10-June-2019. Photo by/courtesy of Michelle Callahan. While the 400-series streetcars, built in 1997, operated on Riverfront, after the line’s expansion, the 2000-series operating on Canal Street often turned left as they reached the river. They ran on Riverfront, from Canal to the French Market. So, it was often possible to catch a streetcar at the Old US Mint and ride it all the way to the Cemeteries Terminal, at Canal Street and City Park Avenue.
NORTA designed the 400-series Riverfront streetcars to be as close to the vintage-1923 arch roofs as possible. The Americans with Disabilities Act required accessible operation on Riverfront. So, NORTA retired the streetcars running on the line since 1988. They built new arch roofs that included wheelchair lifts on either side of the cars. The stops along Riverfront allowed wheelchair users to come right up to the side. The operator stops, lowers the lift, secures the passenger, and off they go.
While the 400s are not air-conditioned, the 2000s are. That’s why they have the faux monitor deck on top. The design is that of an arch roof. The aesthetics are challenged, though. The air-conditioning unit, as well as the electronics package sit on the car’s roof. They make for unsightly bumps. So, Von Dullen modified the design. When you’re inside a 2000, it’s clear you’re in an arch roof. From the outside, the faux deck masks the modern stuff.
Along the riverfront
In this wonderful photo, NORTA 2007 passes in front of the Jackson Brewing Company’s former facility, at Decatur and St. Peter Streets. The area along the river, from Canal Street to the Governor Nicholls Street Wharf, was converted into a pedestrian walk in the 1980s. This was expanded to add Woldenburg Park in the 1990s. The Riverfront streetcar line uses the old Louisville and Nashville Railroad right-of-way to transport passengers from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to the French Market.
West End Streetcar line ran until 1950.
West End Streetcar
NOPSI 933, running on the West End Streetcar line. Undated photo, between 1948 and 1950. This is the end of the line, out by Lake Pontchartrain. The streetcar ran from the the river, up Canal Street, turning left (West) on City Park Avenue, then turning right (North), following the New Canal to the lakefront.
The New Orleans City Railroad Company opened the West End line in April, 1876. It originally ran from the Halfway House, on City Park Avenue, out to the lake. So, if you wanted to get out to West End, you took the Canal Street line to the end, then the West End line. Two months later, in June, 1876, service was extended to Carondelet and Canal Street.
Service for the first twenty-two years of operation was via steam locomotive. A steam engine was made to look like a tram, a streetcar. The line was electrified in 1898, three years after the Canal Line.
Out to the lake
The West End line’s peak was in the 1920s. NOPSI operated the American Car Company’s “Palace” cars on the Canal/Esplanade Belt, along with West End. During the Spring/Summer seasons, The Palace cars pulled unpowered Coleman trailers. So, small trains of two to four cars went out to the lake.
Streetcars and canals
The West End line ran next to the New Canal, for all but the last year of its operation. While the main street connecting Mid-City to West End was Pontchartrain Boulevard, on the West side of the canal, the streetcar ran along West End Boulevard, on the East side of the canal. Confusing? Welcome to New Orleans. The streetcar tracks didn’t cross the canal. The line ran up to the lake, just past Robert E. Lee (now Allen Toussaint) Bouelevard. The West End line connected with the Spanish Fort Shuttle line, after the direct-from-downtown Spanish Fort line was closed in 1911.
The lakefront changed dramatically after 1940. The Orleans Parish Levee District reclaimed a massive amount of land and built the seawall in the 1920s and 1930s. By 1940, the US Army and Navy built hospitals in what are now the East and West Lakeshore subdivisions. The West End streetcar shifted from excursion service to commuter operation after 1940. NOPSI converted the line to buses in 1950.
This photo is courtesy H. George Friedman’s collection.