A Depression Era Guide To New Orleans

Mississippi River: Uptown Riverfront Tour
The river-front can be seen best in two separate trips, an uptown and a downtown
tour, both of which start at the foot of Canal St. at Eads Plaza, and can be made
either in an automobile or on foot. The levee, from Jefferson Ave. to Southport,
however, can be seen only on foot. By automobile the road lies partly under the
transit sheds, partly on paved outside roads on the city side of the docks, and at
the cotton warehouse on the wide riverside platform of the wharf. The wharves
are open from? A.M. to 4 P.M. The dock superintendents and foremen are courteous
and pleasant. In making the tour on foot the best plan to follow is to walk along
the riverside platform, looking into the open transit shed doors as one passes.
When some point of interest on the inside of the levee is reached a crossing can
be made through the transit shed to view it from the carloading platform. If an
automobile is used, it will be necessary to park at times in the transit shed and
seek out a better vantage point on foot. A tour of the harbor, taking in all the
points of interest on both sides of the river, may be made on one of the excursion
boats that dock at the foot of Canal St. (See local newspapers for hours and rates.)

The following street-cars roughly parallel the tour route: Magazine car from
Canal and Magazine Sts. ; St. Charles car from Canal and Baronne Sts.

Coffee, to the extent of thousands of bags yearly, is unloaded at the
Poydras St. Wharf, first stop on the uptown tour.
Concrete ramps lead to the second story on the city side for the con
venience of trucks. Information can be readily obtained from the Dock
Superintendent as to when the next coffee ship is to be unloaded.

An interesting feature of former days, still surviving in the handling of
coffee, is the flag system of unloading freight, a method devised to take
care of the many illiterate dock hands to whom written signs, used to
sort materials, were meaningless. Flags, about 12 by 18 inches in length
and of various colors with designs of stars, moons, birds, or alligators,
are placed wherever different shipments or lots of merchandise are to be
piled. The longshoremen, as they pass with their loads, are tapped on
the shoulder by a foreman, who indicates the pile to which the carrier is
to go by shouting the color or design of its flag. The system is very ef
ficient, and provides employment to unskilled workers, with the ex
ception of the color-blind illiterate.

A dredge boat can usually be seen at this section of the levee, especially
during low water, dredging silt away from the dockside to maintain the
required 30-foot depth. The current of the river shoots toward the west
bank, and unless removed, silt will accumulate on the east bank in front
of the wharves.

The freight sheds and railroad yards of the Louisville and Nashville
Railroad, always a busy place, are at the foot of Julia St., just beyond
the Julia St. Wharf.

Bananas are unloaded at the Thalia St. Wharf, which is used by the
United Fruit Company. The wharf has two sheds, one for bananas and
another for passengers. The greatest activity on the water-front will be
found where the larger steamship companies make their landings, and
there is always a lively scene when a passenger boat docks.

Half a dozen railroad spurs run into the banana shed at right angles and
extend out to the riverside platform. Here are located the banana con
veyors, constructed so that they can be lowered into the hatchways.
Workmen in the hold of the ship place the bunches of bananas in the
conveyor pockets which lift them to the wharf, where they are taken by
carriers who tote them on their shoulders to railroad cars after being
sorted, at sight, by men skilled in the profession. There is an element of
danger in the work as tarantula spiders and large, green snakes (tree
snakes and small boa constrictors) often hide in the bunches. The over
ripe and broken bunches are sold to peddlers, who resell them in trucks
and wagons in the city streets. The banana ships dock almost every other
day. Exact information concerning their unloading can be obtained easily.

The Railroad Ferry Landings of the Trans-Mississippi Railroad Co.
break the line of wharves between the Erato and Robin St. Wharves.
Here the Texas and Pacific passenger and freight trains are transferred
from the Annunciation Street Depot to the west bank. One of the ferries,
the Gouldsboro, saw service during the Civil War as the monitor
Chickasaw. All transcontinental railroad traffic had to be ferried across
the river at New Orleans until the Huey P. Long Bridge was completed
in 1935 at Nine-Mile Point. The landing of a railroad ferry, an interest
ing sight, is always attended with an element of risk; yet for more than
fifty years many trains have been handled in this manner daily without a
single serious accident.

The Robin Street Wharf begins at the foot of Terpsichore St. Here
one sees a surprising variety of merchandise hogsheads of tobacco,
farm machinery, automobiles, cartons of carbon black, stacks of raw
food products, and canned goods of every description. Lumber and mill-
work and bales of cotton are encountered in every transit shed.

At the foot of Market St., opposite the Market St. Wharf, stands the
massive power plant of the New Orleans Public Service Corporation.
Submarine cables from this plant carry power across the river bottom to
the west bank. Near-by is the site of the old city water-works which sup
plied unfiltered water to the business section of the city for many years.

The Jackson Avenue Ferry, connecting the city with Gretna, makes
another break in the wharf line. Here at the ferry landing, as well as at
other points along the docks, boys may be seen diving and swimming in
the river in warm weather. It is a dangerous sport and is discouraged by
the port authorities. Until recently the river was the only swimming-
place available to the poor, many of the elders of the city having learned
their first strokes under the wharves.

Just above Jackson Ave. and across the railroad tracks there is an open
playground on Soraparu St., for many years the heart of the Irish
Channel, a district noted for its lawlessness in the decades following the
Civil War. In the early part of the igth century this section was the
civic center of the City of Lafayette, which was annexed to New Orleans
in 1852. It was a center of shipping and a favorite haunt of Lafitte,
pirate and smuggler, who came up from Barataria into the river through
what afterwards became Harvey Canal.

A driveway extends all the way from Jackson to Louisiana Ave. through
the transit sheds. Many foreign ships dock in this section and on any
day German, Norwegian, Japanese, Italian, or Russian ships may be
seen. At the Louisiana end of the wharves a few fishermen may usually
be found either fishing with lines from the docks, or with a dip net at
the water level. The docks have long been a favorite fishing-place, espe
cially with the Negroes, who find river catfish particularly to their liking.

The Seventh Street Wharf recalls an incident typical of the New
Orleans levee. The old wharf which preceded the present one began to
settle one day and, despite attempts to hold it, gradually sank out of
sight into the soft mud of the levee. A quicksand deposit had developed
underneath. The same thing has happened to other wharves. In 1908
when the Dock Board was expropriating property along the river-front,
an old open wharf which stood at the foot of Washington Ave. in those
days and to which the Dock Board had just taken title suddenly disap
peared into the river, carrying a train of freight cars with it. This sort of
thing rarely happens now, but constant vigilance is required since weak
spots may develop at any time in the levee. To ward off the danger every
wharf is anchored by wire cables to buried dutchmen on the inside of the

The Stuyvesant Docks of the Illinois Central Railroad Co. occupy the
river-front from Louisiana to Napoleon Ave. These docks are the oldest
on the river-front, having been built about 1907 to replace the docks
destroyed by fire. Much of their area is empty now because of the recent
slump in business, but during the World War many carloads of freight
were handled here daily. The Illinois Central Railroad yards, repair
shops, round houses, etc., lie behind the docks. One is impressed by the
distance between the docks and the streets of the city in this section.
Elsewhere, the city begins at the very foot of the levee, but here large
unoccupied spaces and wide railroad yards intervene.

The Public Cotton Warehouses are situated just above Napoleon Ave.
The group consists of three parallel rows of two-story concrete warehouses
equipped with compressing machinery and affording 33 acres of ware
house space. The riverside loading platform and adjoining dock are over
2000 feet in length. Accommodations exist for the simultaneous loading
or unloading of 258 cars. Electric traveling cranes, gasoline tractors, and
trailers, and a complete machine shop make up the equipment. Three
Webb standard high-density cotton presses have a capacity of 100 bales
per hour. There are 33 acres of covered warehouse space with a storage
capacity of 461,856 high-density bales. The daily unloading capacity is
7500 bales from cars, or 2000 bales from boats, with a wharf space ac
commodating four ships at a time. Visiting hours are from 7 to 4.

Built during the business peak of the World War, its capacity has never
been taxed, owing mainly to changes in world agricultural and market
conditions. But there is always plenty of activity. Tractors pulling
trailers loaded with bales of cotton are constantly traveling about the
warehouses and platforms. Workmen, both white and colored, shouting
at one another, singing and laughing, move the heavy bales. Large ship
ments of sisal are also handled at the Cotton Warehouses.

The Lane Cotton Mills can be seen across the railroad yards, the
buildings covering several city squares on Tchoupitoulas St. A modern
pumping plant for handling oils in bulk from ship to railroad car is
located on the upper end of the Cotton Warehouse riverside loading
platform. Olive, palm, cocoanut, and linseed oils are among the items
taken care of by this unit.

The New Orleans Public Grain Elevators, situated at the foot of
Bellecastle St., were completed in 1917 and are built on an unusual kind
of foundation. In preparing the levee for the heavy structure the baffle
type of construction was used. Three lines of piling, each some distance
higher up the levee behind the other, were driven down and backed with
a lining of concrete. Sand was filled in behind the concrete, providing a
solid three-section foundation.

These elevators have a storage capacity of 2,622,000 bushels and are
constructed of fireproof concrete. All machinery is electrically operated
by a special type of dust-proof, ball-bearing motor. Weighing-scales of
latest design, a modern laboratory for testing the grain, and a sacking
plant with a capacity of 7700 bushels per hour are among the additional
equipment. The unloading capacity from cars is 200,000 bushels daily;
from boats, 80,000 bushels daily. The wharf is 2090 feet long, with five
berths for loading and unloading vessels. Visitors may obtain a general
view of the working of the elevators between 7 and 4.

The Public Coal and Bulk Commodity Handling Plant, situated at the
foot of Nashville Ave., handles coal, coke, ore, and other bulk items. It
has a storage capacity of 25,000 tons and an hourly loading rate, between
vessels and freight cars, of 400 tons. The wharf can accommodate three
vessels at one time. Loading and unloading is done by belt conveyors
equipped with grab buckets; all machinery is electrically operated.
Visiting hours are from 8 to 4.

From this point it is necessary to proceed on foot, as there is no road
way near the levee. The batture is very wide from Jefferson Ave. to
Walnut St., and there is considerable space between the levee and the
streets of the city. During low water the batture is covered with willows,
and the young people of the neighborhood have swimming-places in their
friendly shelter along the river s edge.

Levees are something more than ridges of grass-covered land shoveled up in a
haphazard manner along the river bank. The diagram shows the grades of their
various slopes and where the dirt is obtained to build them. It is taken from the
riverside after a strip of land, or berme, twenty feet wide is skipped over. The
excavation of land for the levee forms the borrow pit which lies between the
levee and the batture. When the river is low, the berme, the borrow pit, and the
batture are high out of water. At high water all are submerged and only the
levees hold back the flood from pouring onto the land.

Houseboats and riverside shacks can be seen scattered here and there
among the willows, but beyond Walnut St. they form an almost unbroken
line as far as Protection Levee.

Across the railroad tracks on the right, beginning at State Street,
are the beautiful grounds and new buildings of the United States Marine
Hospital (visiting hours 1-4 Tues., Thurs., Sun., and holidays), the dome
of the central building rising high into the sky. Sailors of both the naval
and mercantile services are cared for in this hospital, which is owned by
the Federal Government and operated by the United States Public
Health Service. The reservation occupies four square blocks, bounded
by the levee, Henry Clay Ave., and State and Tchoupitoulas Sts.

The first Marine Hospital was established in New Orleans in 1830. It
was located on the west bank of the Mississippi and was not completed
until after 1844. This hospital was used by the Confederates as a powder
storehouse and was destroyed by an explosion in December, 1861. The
second Marine Hospital was built after the Civil War, at Broad St. and
Tulane Ave., where the new Criminal Court Buildings now stand. Re
moval to the present site was made in the i88o s. The first recorded
ownership of this land dates to 1770, when Jean Baptiste le Moyne,
nephew of Governor Bienville, sold the plantation two leagues above
New Orleans to Jean Lafitte and Francois Langlois. The property
changed hands a number of times, and while under the ownership of
fitienne de Bore produced cane from which he successfully refined sugar.
At the time the land was purchased by the Government there were two
buildings, used as residences by the plantation owner and caretaker, and
eight small, pegged, log cabins that had been used as slave quarters.
The small buildings were razed, and four frame structures were erected
to form the hospital. The two remaining buildings were repaired, and
are still used as quarters by the commanding and executive officers of
the institution. In 1929 the four frame buildings were replaced with four
teen modern brick structures, which serve as the present institution.
The main building, of classic design with large columns, topped with an
imposing dome, is five stories high, every room having an outer exposure.
Grouped behind this structure, on spacious and well-landscaped grounds,
are the smaller buildings which serve as quarters for attendants, laundry,

An average of 430 patients are taken care of in the Marine Hospital, at
tended by a staff of n medical and dental officers, 17 medical and dental
internes, 55 nurses, and 7 laboratory technicians. Thirteen outside
specialists in various fields of medicine and surgery are available for

A large mahogany lumber plant occupies the space between the Marine
Hospital and Audubon Park. A stock of cut lumber is piled out in the
yards, and a great raft of mahogany logs may be seen anchored in the
river along the batture.

Audubon Park extends from Exposition Blvd. almost to Walnut St.
(See Motor Tour 3.) This rear section, formerly neglected, has recently
been landscaped with walks, driveways, and a lagoon. From the summit
of the levee one can see the new zoo, the riding club buildings, and, in the
distance, the large swimming pool. This part of the levee is a favorite
camping spot for Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls, the latter having a
cabin within the precincts of the park. A reclamation of the batture for a
park addition is in progress. A levee, constructed with the aid of W.P.A.
labor, extends out to the river from the main levee in the form of a wide
U. It is planned to fill the enclosed space level with the levee top, land
scape it, and provide the city with a riverside park from which the river
can be seen. As it is, the river is hidden by the levee from the view of
persons at street level ; the same obstruction makes it possible to see only
housetops from the river.

After passing Walnut St. and the ferry, which was the main
artery of automobile traffic crossing the river before the new bridge,
plainly visible from the levee, was constructed, the plants of the North
American Distillers, Inc., and the United States Industrial Alcohol Com
pany can be seen on the right below the levee at the foot of Broadway.
On the left, beyond the batture, a number of ships are tied up. The group
includes ships belonging to several different steamship companies. Lack
of business has put them out of commission, and as they are beyond the
dock zone there is no charge for anchorage. Occasionally one is taken
back into service; many of them may never be used again. Here also
may be seen Negro batture dwellers, picturesque characters sunning and
gossiping on the levee, seemingly without a care in the world.

The Reservation of the United States Engineers, Second New Orleans
District, is one of the beauty spots of the levee. Here are situated the
equipment yards and shops, together with several office buildings and
beautifully kept grounds, all built above flood level on the batture.
The Government unit stationed here is in charge of dredging, revetment
work, levee construction, etc., for the southern half of Louisiana and
Mississippi, and along the Mississippi River from Warrenton, Miss., to
the head of the passes. The buildings occupy a tract of land on the levee
one hundred yards wide and about a mile in length. A ranking United
States Army officer, usually a colonel, is in complete charge of the district
office. The fleet, consisting of launches, dredge boats, cranes, steamboats,
a tug, a floating asphalt plant, etc., is tied up at the foot of Burdette
Street when not in use.

Batture Dwellers, who build their houses of driftwood salvaged from
the Mississippi, inhabit a ramshackle shanty town sometimes called
Depression Colony, located between Carrollton Ave. and the protection
levee at the Jefferson Parish line. It is composed of a wide variety of
shacks, neat little cottages, and houseboats. The houses are built on
stilts and are safe from all but the highest flood stages. During low
water the batture is laid out in little gardens with chicken coops and pig
pens. When the water rises, the livestock is taken up on the little galleries
that run at least part way around each house and the occupants remain
at home until Ole Man River becomes too dangerous. Driftwood in
the river supplies ample fuel; the river, plenty of fish; and the near-by
willows, material out of which wicker furniture can be made and sold
from house to house in the city. There is no rent to pay, as the batture
is part of the river and the property of the United States, and conse
quently beyond the reach of local ownership or taxation. The varied
occupations of the dwellers include fishing, wood-gathering, and auto
mobile repair work; many work on Federal relief projects. Drinking water
is procured from the neighborhood merchants.

The Reserve Fleet of the United States Shipping Board s Merchant
Fleet Corporation, consisting (Nov., 1937) of 46 ships, is to be found on
the west bank of the river opposite Depression Colony. Most of these
ships were built in 1919 and 1920 and are all steel cargo boats ranging in
size from 7500 to 10,000 tons. A Fleet Manager, with 5 assistants and a
crew of thirty-five laborers and 6 watchmen, is in charge. While the j
boats are not kept painted, they are treated regularly with an oil preserva
tive which prevents rust and decay. Most of these ships can be made
ready for sea within a few weeks.

At the Protection Levee, which runs from the river to Lake
Pontchartrain, protecting the city from a possible break in the upper
levee, one can see the Low-Water Intake Station of the Sewerage and
Water Board. On the other side of the protection levee in Jefferson
Parish the several Gambling Houses of Southport present a well-kept and
Erosperous appearance. Although prohibited by law, these places will
be found open or closed according to changes in local political conditions;
usually they are open from 6 P.M. to 6 A.M.

Looming up against the sky, seeming all the higher because of the
flatness of the surrounding country, the new Huey P. Long Bridge can
be seen spanning the river at Nine-Mile Point. This is the only bridge
spanning the Mississipppi below Vicksburg and is well worth crossing.
A beautiful view of the city in the distance, as well as of the surrounding
country, can be had from its summit. Bus connections may be made by
walking in Oak St. four blocks to Leonidas St.

The Mississippi River
 Uptown l Downtown l Port of New Orleans

A Depression Era Guide To New Orleans
Chronology l Mississippi River l French Quarter l Music l Restaurants l Gumbo
Jambalaya l Red Beans & Rice l Hotels l Garden District l Cemeteries l Home


Memories last forever. Old films & videos don't.
Save your home movies for generations to come.


or visit


Historic America

Alabama Alaska  l  Arizona  l  Arkansas  l California  l  Colorado  l  Connecticut  l  Delaware  l  Florida
Georgia  l  Hawaii  l  Idaho  l  Illinois  l Indiana  l  Iowa  l  Kansas  l  Kentucky  l Louisiana  l  Maine
Maryland  l  Massachusetts  l  Michigan  l  Minnesota  l  Mississippi  l  Missouri  l  Montana
Nebraska  l  Nevada  l  New Hampshire  l  New Jersey  l  New Mexico  l  New York
North Carolina  l  North Dakota  l  Ohio  l  Oklahoma  l Oregon  l  Pennsylvania
Rhode Island  l  South Carolina  l  South Dakota  l  Tennessee  l  Texas
Utah  l  Vermont  l  Virginia  l  Washington  l  West Virginia
Wisconsin  l  Wyoming  l  Washington D.C.  l  Home