The last years of the Steamboat President in New Orleans
Ad for concerts on the Steamboat President in the Loyola Maroon, 3-December-1982.
Midland Barge Company built the President in 1924. The steamboat operated in overnight packet service, running from Cincinnati to Louisville. Streckfus Steamers acquired the steamboat in 1933. They renovated it and renamed it from Cincinnati to President. Streckfus originally operated the boat out of St. Louis. They moved President to New Orleans in 1941. World War II put constraints on purchase of fuel oil. Therefore, the company kept President close to home. They offered port tours and dance cruises. That business continued through the 1980s. The President left New Orleans in 1989.
The Steamboat President offered a mix of “dance” and “concert” cruises during its time in New Orleans. Touring bands and musical acts played the boat as they passed through town. When there were no headline acts in the area, the President featured local bands for floating dances. Ticket prices for these dance cruises were affordable, even for high school kids. A number of well-remembered local bands played the boat in their formative years. Occasionally, local “oldies” bands attracted older audiences to the President.
This ad from 1982 presents a lineup typical of the holiday season. With dozens of live-music venues, New Orleans attracted touring bands. Bands avoided the colder climes in the northern states by traveling I-10, from Florida to California. The Steamboat President offered a change of pace from the typical roadhouse venues these bands played. B. J. Thomas, the English Beat, and Romeo Void all sat on the charts at one time or another. Thomas appealed to an older crowd. As a 24-year old in 1982, I can say with confidence, he wouldn’t be an artist I’d go out for a night on the boat.
Pros and Cons
The upside to an evening at a concert or dance on the President was that the evening was a cheap date. The biggest con was being trapped on the boat for the evening. One exercised caution who one went on the boat with. Blind dates on the President were risky. Double- and triple-dating provided safety in numbers, lest you end up stuck in a situation where you had nothing to talk about.
End of an era
1989 marked the end of an era. The President was the last large riverboat used as a concert venue. While riverboats like the Natchez and Creole Queen offer dinner cruises, none of the current boats hold the same number of passengers.
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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.
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2-8-0 Steam Locomotives operated regularly in Gentilly
Southern Ry (NO&NE) 2-8-0 near Gentilly Blvd (between NE Tower and Seabrook) New Orleans, Frank C. Phillips Photo
2-8-0 Steam Locomotives
We mentioned the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad (NO&NE) last week, in our discussion of Homer Plessy’s ticket to Covington. Plessy was arrested at Press Street Station. That station was the terminal for the NONE in the 1890s. Southern Railway acquired NO&NE in 1916. Southern Railway moved NO&NE’s passenger service to Terminal Station on Canal Street. Freight service operated from NO&NE’s Gentilly Yard. The way out of town for the Southern system was their five-mile bridge across Lake Pontchartrain. So, passenger trains came out via the Lafitte Corridor, then merged onto the Back Belt. Freight trains came up Peoples Avenue from the yard, then to the back belt. The trains traveled north, alongside Peoples Avenue. The trains crossed the Industrial Canal at Seabrook. From there, they headed out of town.
Gentilly Blvd. and trains
The Back Belt more-or-less follows Gentilly Blvd. While train tracks run as much as possible in straight lines, streets tend to twist and turn. Because Gentilly Blvd intersects the train tracks several times, the railroad and the city built several underpasses. Trains stayed at the same level, going straight. Automobiles turned, curved, and dipped under the tracks.
Tony Howe, admin of the Louisiana Railroad History group on Faceback captioned this Frank C. Phillips photo:
Southern Ry (NO&NE) 2-8-0 near Gentilly Blvd (between NE Tower and Seabrook) New Orleans, Frank C. Phillips Photo
Others in the group (which is highly recommended for railfans and rail historians) added details. The houses to the left place the photo in Gentilly Terrace. The train heads south, towards either the Back Belt or the yard. The photographer stands just south of the underpass at Gentilly Blvd. The WPA/city/railroad built that underpass in 1940.
Baldwin Locomotive Works introduced the Consolidation 2-8-0 locos in 1883. So, this type of engine was a regular workhorse by the late 1940s. NO&NE owned a number of Consolidations. Unfortunately, the number on this engine isn’t visible.
Canal-Baronne Transit Operations were important at the turn of the 20th Century.
Streetcars at the intersection of Canal and Baronne Streets, 1906. (Detroit Publishing Company postcard)
Single-truck streetcars along Canal Street in 1906. This postcard shows common Canal Street operations at the time. We’re eleven years into the electric era here. Single-truck Brill and Ford, Bacon & Davis streetcars run all over New Orleans. Double-truck cars replace the singles on the Canal Street and St. Charles Avenue lines by 1910.
800 Block of Canal Street
Single-truck streetcars dominate this scene, but it’s the buildings in the background that got my attention. There’s a wall sign on the reddish building towards the center-rear of the image. That sign advertises A. Shwartz and Son, a dry goods store in the 700 block. That store closed in 1892. So, by 1906, the wall ad is already a “ghost ad.”
A. Shwartz ad, 800 block of Canal Street (Infrogmation photo)
That’s important for my next book, Fading Signs of New Orleans. That ad still exists! The building became the Trianon Theater in 1912. The theater’s owners painted over the A. Shwartz ad. Passersby saw the theater promotion from 1912 until the Saenger Brothers bought the Trianon in the 1920s. The ad remained. Over time, the paint from the Trianon sign faded. Weather and age revealed the Shwartz ad underneath. Now, the sign is a mixture of the two. Because the edge of the Shwartz ad was dark (red) with white letters, it held up. All of the photos I’ve found are either of the Trianon ad or the mash-up. That’s why this postcard is important.
The old Trianon Theater became office and retail space. The Keller-Zander department store operated there for years. The building next to the old theater is an old house from the 1850s. The Boston Club purchased the house and converted it for use by the luncheon club. The Boston Club is the private organization most closely associated with the Mystick Krewe of Comus.
Streetcars on Baronne
Baronne Street was a part of the St. Charles line for decades. The line ran on St. Charles to Tivoli Circus, inbound and outbound. At the circle, inbound streetcars curved around, to Howard Avenue. While the modern line turns right onto Carondelet Street, the cars traveled inbound on Baronne at the time of this photo. Baronne had dual-track operation. So, the inbound streetcars came to Canal Street on Baronne. They traveled down to the turnaround at Liberty Place. The outbound cars turned left at Baronne. They traveled up Baronne to Tivoli Circus (later named Lee Circle), then out to the Uptown neighborhoods.
Rigolets Pass connects Lakes Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne
L&N train crossing the Rigolets Pass, 1922
Map of the Rigolets, 1935
The Rigolets Pass is a waterway just north and east of New Orleans. It connects Lake Pontchartrain with Lake Borgne. The Louisville and Nashville Railroad (now CSX) uses a bridge over the Rigolets to connect trains outside the Isle d’Orleans. L&N decided that a bridge over the Rigolets was easier to build than one over Lake Pontchartrain.
Norfolk Southern built their eastern exit from the city over the lake. Their bridge over Lake Pontchartrain runs parallel to the Highway 11 bridge and the I-10 “twin spans”.
L&N Serviced the Gulf Coast
While the Southern Railway traveled up through Mississippi from New Orleans, L&N headed out to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Their system then turned north. So, regular freight trains ran from the riverfront in New Orleans, out to Gulfport, Biloxi, and points east.
Gulf Coast Passenger Trains
L&N crossing the Rigolets, 1922
Additionally, L&N ran passenger service from New Orleans to the Gulf Coast. The railroad was the US mail link for the towns along the water. These photos are of an L&N train, heading back from the coast, most likely Ocean Springs, MS, to New Orleans
David Price contacted Jerry Lachaussee when we were discussing the top photo on Facebook. Mr. Lachaussee wrote an article with Parker Lamb for TRAINS magazine in 1987. It was titled, Where CSX Goes to Sea. Here’s what David said about his conversation with Jerry:
I have heard from Jerry Lachaussee who is the real authority on the L&N across the Gulf Coast…he and Parker Lamb did a feature article on that line in TRAINS…cover photo and all. Jerry is familiar with the photo and says the same photographer actually shot two images of it on the bridge that day. The L&N train is powered by an L&N G-class 4-6-0. The lack of head end cars means that it well could have been one of the coast commuter trains. The train is heading railroad-south…toward New Orleans.
Mr. Percy Viosca, Jr. shot these photos on 27-June-1922. Both photos are in the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program repository at the LSU Library.
Mr. Bingle 1952 – Jingle, Jangle Jingle
Maison Blanche Canal Street, December, 1952
Mr. Bingle 1952
In 1947, Emile Alline was the display-window manager for Maison Blanche. He took his family up to Chicago that fall, for a family trip. While up there, he applied a professional eye to Christmas displays along the “Miracle Mile.” Alline decided his store needed a Christmas character. He sketched a short snowman. Snowman? Not quite right. How about holly wings, and an inverted ice cream cone for a hat? Now Alline had a snow elf!
Mr. Alline brought the concept to MB management. The little guy captivated everyone. The store featured Mr. Bingle all over its print advertising for Christmas, 1958.
Mr. Bingle hooked New Orleans. While the other Canal Street stores did Christmas displays, they didn’t have a character. So, Maison Blanche presented Mr. Bingle. Kids loved him. By 1952, the store displayed Mr. Bingle right up front!
Maison Blanche grew from the single store on Canal Street in the post-war 1940s. They opened stores on S. Carrollton Avenue in Mid City and Frenchmen Street in Gentilly. Mr. Bingle flew out to those locations! So, when Alline commissioned the Mr. Bingle puppets, they visited all the stores.
Canal Street in 1952
Maison Blanche anchored the 900 block of Canal Street for almost a century. S. J. Shwartz built the “MB Building” in 1908. So, by 1952, it stood for over forty years. Shoppers entered on the corner of Canal and Dauphine Streets. The entrance on the left of the photo (behind the bus) led to the office building. The first five floors of the building were retail space. The next seven housed a number of businesses. Many doctors set up shop in the MB building.
Santa and Mr. Bingle look down here from the second floor. So, that area was stockrooms. Eventually, the store covered up the second floor windows with year-round displays.
Maison Blanche Department Stores
Maison Blanche Department Stores, by Edward J. Branley
Mr. Bingle tells his story in Chapter 3! Buy the book here!