Page One

Click on the thumbnail image to see a larger version.
Use your browser's BACK button to return to the introduction
The Conseil de Ville backed up the state-granted charter to the Pontchartrain Railroad by granting permission for the firm to use what we know today as the Elysian Fields Avenue neutral ground.

[A general digest of the ordinances and resolutions of the corporation of New-Orleans (1831)]

Pontchartrain Rail Road Company

Capital $500,000. President, WCC Claiborne; Secretary, Jno. B. Leefe; Directors Saml W. Oakey, Gaston Brusle, John B B Vignie, A Plicque, E L Bernard, P Guesnon.

Length of the Rail Road from the City to Lake Pontchartrain, about five miles--nearly two tracks of rails completed. The company was chartered in 1830. The road was open for business on the 23d April, 1831. The cost of the road has been $500,000.

Officers of the Road--General Superintendent, Hartwell Reed; Chief Engineer, Hamon Turner; Local Superintendent city end, W E Proseus, Ticket Seller city end, J Dumangel; Local Superintendent lake end, R Prouty; Ticket Seller lake end, George L. Brown.

[Gibson's Guide and Directory of the State of Louisiana and the Cities of New Orleans & Lafayette, 1838]

On November 28, 1832, before any railroad was fully operational within the Crescent City, property owners along Rampart Street were protesting against tracks and trains on their street. Such tension between railroad companies and the citizens of New Orleans has continued in one form or another down to the present.

[Conseil de Ville, Letters, petitions and reports, 1804-1835]

Plan for a station for the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad at the corner of Baronne and Poydras Streets, 1834.

[Louisiana Map Collection, MaM 834/2 (A16)]

The river lulled New Orleans into self-satisfaction. However, even to keep abreast of competitors in the race for economic supremacy would have taken all the Crescent City's energy. Instead, the metropolis rested while Eastern cities gradually overtook and ultimately surpassed it. New Orleans' complacency during the 1830's and 1840's left a transportation gap too great to close in the 1850's. By that time, war and reconstruction interrupted a belated effort and left the city in semi-isolation lasting until the 1870's. In the 1830's New Orleans probably suffered from too much rather than too little prosperity. Good times softened those who should have been more strenuously engaged in bringing the railroad into being. The vicissitudes of the New Orleans and Nashville Railroad, chartered in 1835, provided testimony to the fact that New Orleans might have done more. The city might have started its railroad earlier, as did Charleston and Baltimore, had the river been less generous. Had the New Orleans merchants been less prosperous, they conceivably would have been willing to pour several millions of dollars into a trunk railroad, but complacency held sway at the centers of power.

[Merl E. Reed, New Orleans and the Railroads (1966), p. 21]

The Pontchartrain Railroad derived steady income by carrying mail from the city to its terminus on Lake Pontchartrain for transfer to ships that would then carry it on to Mobile. This bill documents amounts due to the railroad by the firm that held the mail contract.

[First Judicial District Court #11248, Pontchartrain Railroad vs. Porter, Stone & Co.]

In 1852 railroad promoters in the Crescent City, including James Robb (whose signature appears on this sheet from the delegate register), organized a convention to promote the building of railroads in the Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas region. Delegates came to New Orleans from throughout the region (and from as far away as St. Louis, Virginia, and Florida), but the Louisiana contingent was the largest and it proceeded to dominate the proceedings.

[Louisiana Division Manuscript Collection]

. . . although one of the pioneer railroads in the United States was located in New Orleans, general accomplishments were unimpressive. Railroads received scant support from the public. Through 1850, New Orleans had only a few short intra-urban lines that served mainly to carry racing fans to the various tracks in the vicinity. The major north-south lines hardly got off the drawing board. A projected New Orleans and Nashville line, chartered in 1837, constructed only a few miles of road before being crushed by the depression. It received little financial support in New Orleans in spite of the recurring appeals to public spirit by the Daily Picayune. Finally in 1853, after a decade of inactivity, the General Assembly of Louisiana authorized the issuance of state bonds to the New Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern road; the New Orleans, Opelousas, and Great Western line; and two others. The legislature also authorized New Orleans to incur an indebtedness of $5.5 million in railroad bonds. New Orleans actually went in for some $4.5 million but most of this went to the east-west line rather than to the Great Northern. By 1860 New Orleans did have through connections with the North, but too late to affect her commerce.

This relative lack of enthusiasm for railroads reflected New Orleans' commitment to her water system, her willingness to let matters take their own course in regard to the trade with the upper Mississippi Valley, and her intention to concentrate on the staple trade of the lower valley. Of the lines actually constructed several functioned primarily as feeders to the river. This made sense in terms of the staple trade. One of the main lines, the Great Western, connected New Orleans with the western sugar parishes of Louisiana. In his Annual Report of 1847, the state engineer observed that communication with New Orleans for three-fourths of the year, generally at the very time when highest prices could be obtained. As a remedy he recommended the building of a railroad from the Mississippi to some steamboat point on the Atchafalaya or Grand River. The Great Western accomplished this objective by 1860.

[John G. Clark, "New Orleans and the River: A Study in Attitudes and Responses," Louisiana History, VIII, No. 2 (Spring, 1967), pp. 125-126]

The Police Jury for the Right Bank of Orleans Parish authorized a tax on Algierines to assist in the construction of the Opelousas Railroad. As this receipt shows, taxpayers were given shares of railroad stock in return.

[Official Vertical File]

James Robb's efforts to develop a railroad between New Orleans and Memphis were commemorated by a musical score penned by local composer Theodore von La Hache. The Great Northern Railroad was built only as far as Canton, Mississippi, but its route later became the path of the Illinois Central into Louisiana.

[Early Sheet Music Collection]

Businesses on the left bank of the Mississippi River wanting to ship goods west on the Opelousas Railroad had to first send them by barge to Algiers where they were then loaded onto the train for the trip to Berwick Bay on the Atchafalaya River in St. Mary Parish. The railroad issued receipts such as this one to its freight customers.

[Railroad Scrapbook, Louisiana Scrapbook Collection]

In some respects, thirty years [1830-1860] of railroad building in Louisiana ended in failure. New Orleans twice tried to reach Nashville and failed. There were two attempts to reach Texas across northern Louisiana, and one attempt from New Orleans which failed. Economic goals were also not achieved. New Orleans attempted twice to hold part of its commercial empire in the West by building railroads, but merely consolidated its cotton empire in the South. The Crescent City was also unable to open new trading areas toward Texas, and the scheme to provide New Orleans with a better port did not work out. In the rural areas of the state, the short lines proved impractical. Although the state and its people spent about $14,504,104 in thirty years, building and equipping railroads, Louisiana's economy and New Orleans' commercial empire remained basically on the water where it was in 1830.

But the fact that immediate goals were not reached must not overshadow more important, long-range achievements. The state eventually broke out of its isolation by establishing railroad connections through Mississippi with the remainder of the nation. More important, by 1860 Louisiana had built a foundation for continued railroad construction. This was the contribution of the 1850's. The trying task left the major railroads financially exhausted. But during the 1860's they undoubtedly would have continued the work of connecting New Orleans with the rest of the South, the West, and the Southwest. Unfortunately, this system would not begin to materialize until the 1870's. The tragedy of Louisiana's railroads was not the failure to reach their promoter's goals, but the untimely interruption of expansion and growth. The Civil War did more than destroy Louisiana's existing foundation. It also destroyed the railroads and shattered New Orleans' commercial empire.

[Merl E. Reed, New Orleans and the Railroads (1966), p. 130]

Several Louisiana railroads issued their own "money" during the Civil War. The New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern, for example, issued and circulated its own notes in Louisiana and Mississippi. This "railroad money" could neither bear interest, nor could its denominations be larger than five dollars. As the Confederacy began to crumble, the people along the railway turned to the Great Northern's currency. Yet at the end of hostilities, the company was bankrupt.

(Quote from Lawrence E. Estaville, Jr., Confederate Neckties: Louisiana Railroads in the Civil War (1989)) [Railroad Scrapbook]

In the years following the Civil War, the State of Louisiana and the City of New Orleans encouraged new railroad development by making outright grants of land to emerging companies. This plan shows wharf-side parcels granted to the New Orleans, Mobile, and Chattanooga Railroad during the year 1869.

[Louisiana Map Collection]

On November 7, 1879, in its eagerness to encourage railroads as much as possible, the city leased for a period of fifty years to the Louisiana & Texas Railroad and Steamship Co., the space of ground opposite Jackson Square, between Decatur street and the railroad tracks. The lease, for a price of $35,000, stated that the company "have a lease of the landings at and near the foot of St. Ann street, and under several ordinances and acts, have for many years occupied the tract of land in front of Jackson Square." The lease further stated that "the said company shall, during the said lease, have the right to erect buildings of brick or brick and wood or wood only, provided the roof be of incombustible material." A plan of the area dated the same day as the lease, is attached to it, drawn by H. C. Brown, City Surveyor, and showing the railroad tracks, the docks and the French Market, as well as the space of ground covered by the lease. Here the railroad constructed its freight depot and for the first time since its founding, the view from the Public Square was obstructed by a permanent structure. By 1883 at least eight railroad tracks were in use behind this freight depot and this area had practically become a freight yard.

[Samuel Wilson, Jr., The Vieux Carre, New Orleans: Its Plan, Its Growth, Its Architecture (1968), pp. 95-96]

New railroad ventures sprang up in Louisiana in the years following the Civil War. The New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Vicksburg Railroad was chartered in 1869 and received considerable grants of land in 1871. Apparently, though, the NOBR&V never did build any tracks or operate as a railroad. In 1881 the Texas and Pacific Railroad bought its land and franchise rights.

[Rare Vertical File]

This ticket for passage between New Orleans and Kansas City in 1885 shows that three separate railroads were required to make the trip possible.

[Rare Vertical File]

We don't know much about the Crescent City Excursion Club. We do know that on Sunday, April 9, 1893, 550 club members and guests journeyed on a chartered, seven-coach train from New Orleans to the New Iberia area. They toured the salt mines at Avery Island and also made a quick visit to New Iberia itself. It had to be a quick visit-the train left New Orleans at 3:10 in the afternoon and started its return trip from New Iberia at 6:30 p.m.

[Early Sheet Music Collection]

Union Station opened on June 1, 1892. It fronted on S. Rampart Street, roughly opposite what is now Union Passenger Terminal. The station was used primarily by the Illinois Central Railroad, as the terminus for its main line from Chicago, but, over time, it also served a number of other lines. By the 1940s, a total of 13 passenger trains arrived and departed from the station daily. This photograph was taken in the 1920s.

[Charles Franck Photograph Collection]

Postcard of Union Station in its early days. The caption on the reverse of the card reads,
Union Station is not, strictly speaking, a union station, inasmuch as only three of the six or seven trunk lines entering New Orleans have their terminals here, viz., the Illinois Central, the Southern Pacific, and the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley. It is in convenient distance to the business part of the city and, in consequence, is very popular with the traveling public.

[Louisiana Postcard Collection]

This letter from a railroad executive to Mayor Fitzpatrick illustrates all too well the dangers to which local citizens were exposed to by trains operating within the city limits.

[Mayor John Fitzpatrick Records]

Title Page ||| Introduction ||| Page 1 ||| Page 2 ||| Page 3 ||| Page 4