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.
NOPSI 934 and 935 were Canal Line Arch roofs in the 1960s.
NOPSI 934 and 935 at the Cemeteries Terminal, 17-Feb-1960. Photographer unknown. Thanks to Aaron for the find.
Canal Line Arch Roofs
900-series streetcars operating as Canal Line arch roofs, 17-February-1960. I can’t make out the ads on either streetcar; if you can, let me know! NOPSI 934 and 935 sit at the Cemeteries Terminal. Tennessee Williams mentions the “cemeteries” in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” While Williams employs a bit of artistic license, connecting Elysian Fields to the cemeteries, this is the real-life basis.
Perley A. Thomas streetcars
The arch roof design dates back to 1915. New Orleans Railway and Light Company (NORwy&Lt) acquired several from the Southern Car Company. Perley Thomas designed the streetcars. New Orleanians liked them. The streetcars offered decent seating and lots of windows for ventilation. Thomas opened his own streetcar company in High Point, NC. He took the arch roof design with him. NORwy&Lt’s successor company, New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) purchased two production runs of the arch roofs. They ordered the 800-series in 1923. NOPSI worked with Thomas, changing aspects of the design. That produced the 900 series. So, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, three generations of arch roofs operated in the city. The original 400s, then the 800s and 900s.
NOPSI kept 35 of the 900 series when they discontinued streetcar service on Canal in 1964.
The streetcar tracks at Canal Street and City Park Avenue underwent numerous changes over the years. After the West End line converted to bus service, the city cut the streetcar tracks back. Instead of turning left upon reaching City Park Avenue, the Canal line arch roofs terminated on Canal Street. They stopped in between Cypress Grove Cemetery and Odd Fellows Rest.
NOPSI designed this iteration of the terminal with two tracks and a double crossover. This is similar to the terminal built at S. Carrollton and S. Claiborne Avenues uptown. When NOPSI discontinued belt service on the St. Charles, Tulane switched to buses. St. Charles ended at S. Claiborne. That location remains the line’s endpoint today.
Back on Canal Street, the line used this terminal until 1964. When NORTA restored streetcar service on Canal in 2004, they built a single-track terminal. This was meant to be temporary. The line now ends in the 5500 block of Canal Boulevard, between Greenwood and St. Patrick No. 3 cemeteries.
NOPSI 924 came home as NORTA 450 on the Riverfront line.
From my book, New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line (2004), NOPSI 924 sits at Carrollton Station. The streetcar operated on the Riverfront line until 1997. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (NORTA) numbered it 450. They retired 450 when the line was expanded. A group called Bring Our Streetcars Home acquired the streetcar in 1988. They gave it to NORTA. The transit authority refurbished the car. They painted it red and yellow.
NORTA established the first new streetcar line in New Orleans in a century in 1988. The Riverfront line operated on an unused track owned by the former Louisville and Nashville Railroad. L&N offered passenger service to New Orleans for decades. It continues freight service as part of CSX Transportation. The L&N passenger terminal stood at the foot of Canal Street, near the ferry terminal. While L&N passenger service moved to Union Passenger Terminal in 1954, the tracks remained.
So, NORTA restored the track, replacing much of the rails. They built a “passing siding.” The siding allowed a streetcar going in one direction to wait so a streetcar traveling in the opposite direction could pass.
Riverfront operated five streetcars. Bring Our Streetcars Home found three 1923-vintage arch roof cars. NORTA put them into service. These streetcars didn’t have wheelchair access. They acquired two Melbourne W-2 cars with center doors. Those streetcars could accommodate wheelchairs.
The Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990. When NORTA upgraded Riverfront to two-track operation, the line lost its “grandfather” status with respect to ADA. That meant all of the streetcars on the line had to be wheelchair-accessible. Rather than cut holes in the sides of the arch roofs, the authority built new streetcars in the arch roof style. Those 400-series streetcars continue to operate on Riverfront, and occasionally on the Canal line.
NOPSI 924/NORTA 450 continues to languish at Carrollton Station, seventeen years after this photo was taken.
Thanks to Aaron for sharing the memory on Facebook!
Canal Street turnaround at “Liberty Place,” 1955.
903 at “Liberty Place.” Photo by William T. Harry, 1955
Canal Street Turnaround
These photos by William T. Harry show turnaround operations on Canal Street. The engineering firm, Ford, Bacon, and Davis designed the loop in 1899. The firm consulted with the second incarnation of the New Orleans City Railroad. While NOCRR was the “downtown backatown” operator that built the Canal and Esplanade lines, the second NOCRR was the first attempt to consolidate transit operations.
Thanks to Mike Palmieri for his comments from Vintage New Orleans Transit on Facebook.
NOPSI 903 – NEW ORLEANS – 31 MAR 1955 – WILLIAM T. HARRY image
New Orleans Public Service CANAL LINE car 903 had just run around the loop at the foot of Canal Street. The photo was taken from the pedestrian viaduct which crossed several railroad tracks and provided unobstructed access to the ferry landing on the Mississippi River. The black sedan with the white circular emblem that was parked to the left of the 903 belonged to a NOPSI supervisor who was overseeing operations at this end of the line. Car 903 was built by the Perley A. Thomas Car Works in 1923 and was still in operation on the ST. CHARLES LINE in 2021.
Yes, 903 is one of the 35 “survivors” from 1964.
Several lines used the turnaround loop. The Canal and Esplanade lines changed directions here, when running in belt service. After a break on the layover tracks, Canal proceeded outbound on Canal Street. Esplanade also proceeded outbound, but turned right at N. Rampart, then turned onto Esplanade. NOPSI converted the Esplanade line to bus service in the 1930s. From there, Canal ran only on Canal street.
West End also ran inbound and outbound on Canal Street, using the turnaround.
The turnaround tracks vanished in 1964. NOPSI discontinued streetcar service. They immediately cut down the catenary lines and ripped up the track. The modern incarnation of the Canal line uses layover tracks in the same location as the ones in these photos. Instead of looping around, the operators change the directions of the poles. They switch from the inbound track to the layover, then to the outbound.