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The Magic of New Orleans Street Cars

The New Orleans Railway & Light Company launched the Desire streetcar line in 1920.

Street Car on Canal Street

Street Car on Canal Street-11PM New Orleans Louisiana Copyright by WyoJones. All rights reserved. Used with permision.

I still remember the first time we climbed aboard a New Orleans streetcar. I have never ridden on a streetcar before. We paid our money, we climbed aboard and grabbed what window seats we could, and rode from our stop, all the way along the line and then back to our car. It’s a great way to see New Orleans, particularly, IMHO, the Garden District.

I think those beautiful old homes planted a secret desire to live in something like that. I was sure I’d be so much more creative in a house like those. Lol 

The St. Charles Avenue streetcar in New Orleans is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world. It began as a passenger railway. The New Orleans and Carrollton Rail Road Company which launched in 1833, was one of the first passenger railroads in the United States. By keeping parallel with the river the tracks curved into a huge crescent shape. As New Orleans grew and added other streets, they too followed the curve of the river and the train tracks. And, that’s how New Orleans got its name —Crescent City.

The New Orleans and Carrollton steam train officially opened in September 1835. However, during the civil war the N.O. & C. was under military control by the Union troops who occupied the city. So, by the end of the war, the railroad company was close to going bankrupt, and they leased the railroad to former Confederate General, P.G.T. Beauregard for 25 years.  He did away with locomotives and replaced them with horse-drawn streetcars.

New Orleans expanded and incorporated land along the route into the city, then the horse-drawn cars were replaced by electric cars made by the St. Louis Car Company. The official opening of the electric-powered line was February 1, 1893. Which is how the St. Charles streetcar line evolved and nowadays it’s maintained by the Regional Transit Authority of New Orleans.

Canal Street New Orleans

Canal Street New Orleans Louisiana Copyright by WyoJones. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Beneath a leafy canopy of live oaks, the St. Charles Avenue streetcar rolls down legendary streets and past antebellum mansions toward Audubon Park and the universities of Loyola and Tulane. The green cars still have mahogany seats and brass trim just as they did in 1893. In recognition of its progressive step in the evolution of mechanical engineering and its influence on society, the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar Line was designated as a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. And rightly so because from 1833 to today (185 years) the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar Line has given the city of New Orleans so much, including its name —Crescent City.

In addition to the St. Charles, Avenue line, there are other streetcars in New Orleans, including:

  • Canal Street—This line features two routes. One runs to City Park and the other to the hauntingly beautiful aboveground tombs at the Metairie and Greenwood cemeteries.  
  • Riverfront—This line follows the Mississippi River from the trendy Warehouse District to the edge of the historic and vibrant French Quarter.
  • Loyola/UPT and Rampart/St. Claude —Two lines that are operated as one through-routed line. They roll down Canal Street then veer towards the modern, sleek, lively business district. Some other exciting places they pass or the new South Market District, famed St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, Louis Armstrong Park, and the St. Claude Arts District for great art and performances.

A Streetcar Named Desire

The New Orleans Railway & Light Company launched the Desire streetcar line in 1920. “A Streetcar Named Desire,” a popular play by Tennessee Williams, was published in 1947. By that time numerous New Orleans residents, who rode the line to work, home, and anywhere they needed to go, had heard that the city was replacing it with buses. The following year, on May 30, 1948, the streetcar line was converted to the Desire bus line. But the Desire Streetcar line will never be forgotten…for its immortalized in Tennessee Williams’ play.

You can still the Streetcar Named Desire in a museum in the French Quarter, but it looks like the others — lol — except for the name. 

I will always remember the unique joy of riding the streetcar. Have you ever ridden on a streetcar anywhere? Did you love it or were you meh?

Perilously yours,

Pauline

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