The St. Charles Line

A 1979 Trip Through Uptown New Orleans

H. George Friedman, Jr.

Last updated April 20, 2019 (added Picture 50.5)
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The Saint Charles streetcar line is the oldest streetcar line in the world still operating today.  Save for an interruption by Hurricane Katrina beginning August 29, 2005, it has operated continually since September 26, 1835.  Of course, over that long interval of time, it has evolved, from its beginning as a suburban steam train connecting what was then a string of upriver suburbs to New Orleans, then becoming a horsecar line, to its present state as an electric streetcar line.

The present cars operating the line can be considered the fourth generation in a long line of electric streetcars dating back to 1893.  They were designed and constructed in 1923 and 1924 by the Perley Thomas Car Co. of High Point, North Carolina, a company which is still in business today building school buses under the name Thomas Built Buses.  The cars have been extensively rebuilt several times in the excellent shops at Carrollton Station.  They are seen in this article in their next-to-last state, having been rebuilt once more since these pictures were taken.

We present here a series of photos in the author's collection, most taken by one photographer on Wednesday and Thursday, May 23 and 24, 1979.  (Exceptions are noted.  Unfortunately, most of the photographers' names are unknown.)  Our trip begins at the uptown terminal of the line at the intersection of S. Carrollton and S. Claiborne Avenues, and proceeds down the line on Carrollton and St. Charles Avenues to Lee Circle, around the loop via Howard Avenue, Carondelet Street, Canal Street, and St. Charles Street, ending at Lee Circle.

Carrollton & Claiborne
Picture 1.  At the terminal, there are double crossovers in a scissors arrangement, so that an incoming streetcar can switch to either of the two tracks.  This view looks toward S. Claiborne Avenue at cars 905 and 972.  Both have reversed ends, a matter of putting up one trolley pole and pulling down the one at the other end, with the motorman then reversing the backs of the passenger seats while moving to the new front end of the car.  They are ready to begin their next runs toward Canal Street (downbound, or inbound, depending on your point of view).  Car 905, at our left, appears to be the next car scheduled to leave, as the motorman is alert at the controls, and there are passengers aboard. — October 16, 1979
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Picture 2.  We are looking back down the line toward the River, in the opposite direction from the preceding picture.  Car 910 is on our left, with another car to its right and a third awaiting its turn to enter the terminal.
Picture 3.  Car 930 has just arrived in the right-hand terminal track and unloaded its passengers.  In a few moments, the motorman will pull down the trolley pole seen here and raise the other one to reverse the direction of the car.  The signs on the front dash were added when the cars were converted from two-man crews to one-man.
Picture 3.2.  The operator has changed ends of car 923, and it is filling up as he boards passengers for the next inbound/downbound trip. — October 12, 1979
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Picture 3.4.  Car 933 is awaiting its turn to enter the terminal tracks.  It has already discharged its arriving passengers. — April 15, 1977 — Charles Porter photo, Michael Strauch collection Picture 3.6.  Car 972 is pulling out to begin its next inbound (downbound) run to Canal Street.  It is taking the crossover from the terminal to the inbound track. — April 15, 1977 — Charles Porter photo, Michael Strauch collection
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Picture 3.7.  Car 930 is approaching the terminal, where it will have to wait until one of the two cars in the terminal pulls out, so that 930 can take its place. — April 1978 — Joseph Guarino
Picture 3.8.  Panola Street is only three blocks from the terminal, so car 945 is in the home stretch to the end of the line.  A Tulane bus is just visible in the distance at its terminal. — December 1975

Carrollton Station and Connection at Jeanette and Willow Streets
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Picture 4.  Car 900 on Carrollton Ave. near Jeanette Street.
Picture 5.  Car 903 near Jeanette Street.
Picture 5.3.  Car 962 is inbound/downbound, at Jeanette Street, passing the track connection which leads off to the left to the Carrollton Station car barn.  Note the dual gauge track at the switch in the foreground. — April 4, 1977 — William J. Madden photo
Picture 5.6.  Car 923 is outbound, crossing Jeanette Street near the Carrollton Station car barn.  The track connection leads off to the left.  Note the sign hanging from the support arm for the overhead trolley wire: “ELECTRIC SWITCH SLOW”.  The back of a similar sign can just be seen over the other track, across Jeanette Street. — May 30, 1977
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Pictures 6 and 7.  Outbound car 906 is at Jeanette Street, and is heading for the car barn, Carrollton Station.  Note the dual-gauge right rail of the track at the rail crossings and track curves, and the back of the SLOW sign above the trolley wire.  We follow the car around the curve into Jeanette Street....
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Pictures 8 and 9.  ...into Jeanette Street and up Jeanette toward the car barn a block away.
Picture 10.  Cars 907, 914, 948, and 953 peek out of the doors of Carrollton Station car barn on the Willow Street side.  At the right we have a glimpse of a diesel bus assigned to the Tulane line.  We can see through the car barn at left out to Jeanette Street.  It is Sunday, so fewer cars are out on the line than would be on a weekday. — June 18, 1978
Picture 10.5.  This photo was taken on a Monday, with more cars out on the line and fewer in the station awaiting the call to service.  904, 906, and 933 are at the head of their tracks in this view from Willow Street. — April 4, 1977 — William Madden photo
Picture 11.  Car 930 is inbound on Carrollton Ave. between Jeanette and Willow Streets (Willow is ahead).  There is a pair of red brake lights on the dash of the streetcar at both ends.  These were experimental, and were not successful, so they were not adopted for the car fleet.  Eventually, they were painted over, and were eliminated the next time the dash panel had to be replaced.  (For other views of them on this car, see Picture 3 and Picture 3.7, and for a view on car 923 after they had been painted over, see Picture 65.5.)
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Picture 12.  Car 911 is outbound on Carrollton near Willow Street.
Picture 13.  Outbound car 934 is at Willow Street.  The tracks at the right along Willow lead from the car barn to Carrollton Avenue.

S. Carrollton Avenue
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Picture 14.  Car 903 is on Carrollton at Plum Street.  The crossover switch in the foreground is one of several available to turn cars back in the opposite direction in case the line is blocked or cars are seriously behind schedule.
Picture 15.  Car 911 on Carrollton at Plum.  Experienced New Orleans drivers know to avoid blocking the tracks when waiting to cross the neutral ground.
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Picture 16.  Car 904 at Oak Street.  The shopping area centered on Oak Street was originally the business district of the town of Carrollton.
Picture 17.  Car 933 on Carrollton Avenue at Oak Street.
Picture 18.  Car 934 passes Zimpel Street along Carrollton Avenue.
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Picture 19.  The construction being passed by car 932 near Maple Street is a never-ending process along the streetcar line.  The wood ties that hold the track together are buried, and must be exposed and inspected from time to time and replaced as necessary.
Picture 20.  Car 932 prepares to stop for passengers near Maple Street.
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Pictures 21 and 22.  Car 972 approaching and crossing Maple Street.

Riverbend — The Corner of Carrollton and St. Charles Avenues
The New Orleans nickname “Crescent City” is based on the curve in the Mississippi River near the original city.  Actually, the River makes several major curves as it passes the City.  One of those curves is near the intersection of S. Carrollton with St. Charles Avenue, so this point has become known as Riverbend.  Over the years, the River has encroached on the City; St. Charles Avenue in the early 19th century extended another block or so beyond Carrollton Avenue.  Today, there is only a remnant beyond this intersection.
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Picture 23.  Here is car 905 starting into the turn upbound from St. Charles into Carrollton.
Picture 24.  The car has passed the photographer, who has turned around and captured it again as it stops for passengers before proceeding out Carrollton Avenue toward the Claiborne terminal.
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Pictures 25 and 26.  Car 910 is downbound, taking the turn from Carrollton to St. Charles Avenue on its way to Canal Street.
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Picture 27.  Upbound car 915 has just completed the curve from St. Charles Avenue, and is starting out Carrollton Avenue toward the Claiborne terminal.
Picture 28.  Downbound car 932 is just entering the curve to carry it from Carrollton into St. Charles Avenue.
Picture 29.  Car 965 is downbound, turning from Carrollton into St. Charles.

St. Charles Avenue
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Picture 30.  Car 922 passing Huso Street along St. Charles Avenue.
Picture 31.  Car 900 at Burdette Street.
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Picture 32.  Car 907 has just passed Adams Street.
Picture 33.  Car 915 at Milaudon Street.
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Pictures 34 and 35.  Uptown New Orleans developed in the 19th century as a series of small suburbs, called faubourgs (from the French faux bourg, “false town”), which were gradually absorbed into the City.  Several of those faubourgs included a pair of streets named Upperline and Lowerline, which marked their up-river and down-river boundaries.  Curiously enough, two of those names have survived to the present day, but from two different faubourgs.  So today, Lowerline Street is upriver from Upperline Street!  Here we watch cars 922 (at left) and 934 pass Lowerline Street.
Picture 36.  Downbound car 969 on St. Charles approaches Broadway, with Dominican College to our left.
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Picture 37.  Upbound car 953 has just crossed Broadway.  An old Katz & Besthoff Drug Store is on the corner.
Picture 38.  Downbound car 954 approaches Broadway.  Note the crossover in both of these pictures.
Picture 39.  Car 914 stops for a passenger at Walnut Street.
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Pictures 40 and 40.5.  Upbound car 932 at left, and downbound car 900 at right, are passing the entrance to Audubon Place, an early example of a gated community. — June 1978 (car 900)
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Pictures 41 and 42.  The St. Charles line passes the outer edge of Audubon Park.  Downbound cars 904 (at left) and 914 pass the park entrance.
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Picture 43.  Upbound car 905 is stopping for passengers at Tulane University, with another car close behind.
Picture 44.  Car 914 is in front of Tulane University, with the tower of Holy Name of Jesus Church at Loyola University in the background. — December 24, 1976
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Pictures 45 and 46.  Upbound car 904 at left is passing Tulane University, and upbound car 907 is passing Loyola University next door.
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Picture 47.  Car 933 is stopped for the red light and for passengers at Nashville.
Picture 48.  Car 969 at Nashville.
Picture 49.  Car 905 on St. Charles at Jefferson.
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Picture 50.  Car 920 at Valmont.
Picture 50.5.  This is somewhere along St. Charles Avenue; the cross street is unknown.  This was a common sight along the car line, as NOPSI track maintenance workers stand aside from their labors to let car 969 go past. — July 15, 1976 — New Orleans Times-Picayune photo by Paul M. Lester
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Picture 51.  Car 961 crossing Robert Street.
Picture 52.  Here is the surviving Upperline Street as car 904 crosses.
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Picture 53.  Downbound car 900 (at left) approaches waiting passengers as upbound 915 crosses Bordeaux Street.
Picture 54.  Napoleon Avenue is a wide major street crossing St. Charles Avenue.  In steam and horsecar days, there were important shops for the cars here.  We watch car 903 crossing Napoleon upbound.
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Picture 55.  Cars 904 (at left) and 900 prepare to pass as 900 crosses Delachaise Street.
Picture 56.  Car 904 and friend have just passed along St. Charles near Louisiana Avenue.
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Picture 57.  Car 954 has just crossed Louisiana Avenue upbound. Picture 57.5.  Car 915 is accelerating away from the Louisiana Avenue stop, upbound.  Notice in the left background the K&B (Katz & Besthoff) drugstore, a long-time New Orleans establishment. — April 15, 1977 — Charles Porter photo, Michael Strauch collection
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Picture 58.  Upbound car 922 has just passed Harmony Street.
Picture 59.  Car 933 passing Sixth Street.  It seems odd to find a series of numbered streets starting apparently in the middle of nowhere (First through Ninth, but the street between Fourth and Sixth is named Washington).  It makes sense if you know that they were the streets of one of the old faubourgs.
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Picture 60.  Car 903 crossing Josephine.
Picture 61.  Car 934 approaching St. Andrew Street.
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Picture 62.  Car 900 upbound at Felicity Street.
Picture 63.  Car 920 at Terpsichore.
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Picture 64.  Car 910 Crossing Thalia Street.
Picture 65.  Car 900 has just passed another car near Clio Street.
Picture 65.5.  Upbound cars 923 and 934 are just passing Erato Street, about two blocks from the approach ramps to the Mississippi River Bridge, seen in the background.  We have a good view of the pair of experimental red brake lights on the dash of car 923, after they had been painted over.  (See Pictures 3, 3.7, and 11 for the unpainted lights on car 930, taken about two years before this picture.) — September 17, 1981
Picture 66.  Car 922 is about to pass under the approach ramps to the Mississippi River Bridge, today called the Crescent City Connection.

Lee Circle, Downbound
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Picture 67.  Downbound car 911 has just reached the end of the St. Charles Avenue neutral ground and started to make its way three-quarters of the way around Lee Circle.
Picture 68.  Here is car 905 at the same spot from a different point of view, just after one of New Orleans' frequent rain showers.
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Picture 69.  Car 905 is halfway around the Circle, waiting for the red light at St. Charles Street.
Picture 70.  Car 934 is approaching the switch that will turn it to Howard Avenue.  Note the SLOW sign hanging from the trolley span wire.

Lee Circle to Howard Ave. to Carondelet
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Picture 71.  Car 920 has passed the light at St. Charles Street and is approaching the switch that will take it toward Howard Avenue.
Picture 72.  Having entered the switch, 920 is starting into the curve to Howard Avenue.
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Picture 73.  Car 915 on the curve leading from Lee Circle into Howard Avenue.
Picture 73.5.  Car 963 entering the Howard Avenue neutral ground. — March 21, 1978
Picture 74.  Car 907 on the Howard Avenue neutral ground heading for Carondelet Street.
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Pictures 75 and 76.  Car 953 (left) and 904 (right) on the Howard Avenue neutral ground approaching Carondelet Street, where they will turn right for the trip to Canal Street.
Picture 76.5.  Car 971 is on Howard Avenue approaching Carondelet Street, in the foreground, where it will board the waiting passengers, then await the red light to stop automobile traffic on Howard before turning to its right (our left).  We are looking in the opposite direction from Pictures 75 and 76.  Note the unusual sign on the traffic light standard in the left foreground: “Left turn on red or green permitted.”  This applies to traffic in the right-hand roadway of Howard Avenue, turning left into one-way Carondelet Street. — June 1976

Down Carondelet Street
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Pictures 77 and 78.  Car 926 on Carondelet Street at Girod.
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Pictures 79 and 80.  Car 914 on Carondelet, at Lafayette (left) and Poydras (right).
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Picture 81.  Car 932 on Carondelet crossing Poydras
Picture 82.  Car 965 at Union Street.

Canal Street
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Picture 83.  The stop on Carondelet at Canal Street is considered to be the number 1 stop on the St. Charles car line.  Today, it looks different, since the sidewalk has been enlarged to come all the way out to the streetcars, eliminating any danger from automobiles such as the one parked here.  We see car 969 at this point just getting ready to pull into Canal Street to begin its upbound run.
Picture 84.  Car 906 is taking the curve from Carondelet Street to the edge of the Canal Street neutral ground, which it will follow for one block to St. Charles Street.
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Picture 85.  Car 911 has almost completed the turn onto Canal Street, heading to St. Charles Street.
Picture 86.  This is the trailing end of car 914, as it completes the turn into Canal Street approaching St. Charles Street.  The curved seam in the concrete pavement marks the spot where the crossover between the Canal and St. Charles line tracks was removed in 1964.
Picture 87.  Car 932 on the Canal Street neutral ground awaiting the traffic light to turn right into St. Charles Street.  Note the PS logo behind the number on the side of the car. — May 30, 1977
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Picture 88.  Car 972 is approaching St. Charles Street, where it will turn right heading back to Lee Circle.  At the right we see the Canal Street busway which replaced the Canal Street car line in 1964, and was itself replaced by the restored Canal streetcar line in 2004.  The bus at the left is probably on the CBD Shuttle run.
Picture 89.  Car 914 turns into St. Charles Street in front of waiting automobile traffic.  The heavy painted line in the street warns automobile drivers not to encroach on the space required by the body overhang from the turning streetcar.

Up St. Charles Street
In the 19th century, the name St. Charles Street extended only from Canal Street to what was originally called Tivoli Circle.  The avenue from the Circle upriver was called Nayades.  After the Civil War, the famous statue of General Lee was erected at the Circle, and it was renamed for him.  And Nayades was renamed St. Charles Avenue.  Today, the street sign at the corner of Canal and St. Charles is marked “St. Charles Avenue”, but old timers still call the segment between Canal Street and Lee Circle “St. Charles Street.”
Picture 90.  Car 933 has just turned up St. Charles Street from Canal Street, upbound.  The car is passing Kolb's, New Orleans' premier German Restaurant.  Kolb's was founded in 1899, and served the City's citizens and tourists until 1995.  Note the bus stop marked off in the street, and at upper left, a corner of the bus stop sign for the St. Charles, Freret, and S. Claiborne lines. — April 15, 1977 — Charles Porter photo
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Pictures 91 and 92.  Upbound car 905 on St. Charles Street is crossing Common Street, one block up from Canal Street. — September 15, 1981
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Picture 93.  Car 904 crossing Poydras Street on its way to Lee Circle. — May 5, 1977
Picture 94.  Upbound car 954 on St. Charles Street crossing Julia Street.
Picture 95.  Car 933 boarding passengers at St. Joseph Street.

Lee Circle, Upbound
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Picture 96.  Car 965 turns from St. Charles Street into Lee Circle.
Picture 97.  Car 932 leaves Lee Circle for the neutral ground of St. Charles Avenue.
Picture 98.  Looking from the steps of the Lee Monument as car 954 turns from Lee Circle into the end of the neutral ground on St. Charles Avenue.

© 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2019 H. George Friedman, Jr.  All rights reserved.  Permission is hereby given for the QUOTATION of SHORT excerpts, as long as credit is given to H. George Friedman, Jr.

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