Southern Louisiana Railroad History


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The following is from Jim Bradshaw's "Acadiana Diary" column which appeared in Lafayette, LA "Daily Advertiser" newspaper on 12/26/01:

On Christmas Day 1882 it became possible to travel by rail from New Orleans
to San Francisco. On that day, the final track was put down to establish the Southern Pacific Railroad system.

It was not such an easy trip traveling the nearly 2,500 miles of rail from the Gulf to the Pacific.

The Louisiana Western Railroad ran from Algiers, across the river from New Orleans, through Morgan City and up the Teche, connecting New Orleans to Vermilionville.

The Louisiana & Texas connected at Lafayette and continued west across the Sabine River to Orange, Texas. At Orange, passengers switched to the Texas & New Orleans line, which ran to Houston, there to connect with the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railroad.

At San Antonio, there was another switch, to the Central Pacific, which went as far as El Paso. Then the passenger traveled by Southern Pacific of Arizona, Southern Pacific of New Mexico, and Southern Pacific of California to San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean.

By then, they probably never wanted to see a train again. But it was these railroad links that opened southern Louisiana to the wider world, stirred immigration and town building by farmers from the American Midwest, turned Vermilionville from a sleepy village to a transportation hub, and caused some once-promising places to lose impetus when the rails went elsewhere.

By the 1880s, railroading was only 50 years old in Louisiana. The Pontchartrain Railroad was chartered in 1830, opening its tracks from Elysian Fields to Lake Pontchartrain, about 5 1/2 miles.

The first trains were pulled by horses. The Pontchartrain line did not put a locomotive into
service until 1832.

The West Feliciana Railroad Company completed its line from St. Francisville to Woodville, Miss., in the early 1830s. The Clinton & Port Hudson Railroad was incorporated in 1833 to build a road from Clinton to the Mississippi River. Later that year, the New Orleans & Carrollton Railroad received its charter to build a line from Tivoli Circle (now Lee Circle) along St. Charles Avenue to Carrollton. The Alexandria & Cheneyville Railroad was incorporated in 1833, the New Orleans & Nashville in 1835, The Mexican Gulf in 1837, the New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern in 1850, and the Vicksburg, Shreveport & Texas in 1852.

By the time the Civil War interrupted railroad building in the state, Louisiana had just over 300 miles of track, the longest uninterrupted stretch running between Algiers and Morgan City, only 88 miles. At the end of the war, in 1871, the New Orleans, Mobile & Chattanooga Railroad reached Donaldsonville.

The local newspaper, The Donaldsonville Chief, proudly announced on Oct. 14 that the train arrived at noon each day
and departed on its return trip to the Crescent City at one o'clock, and
that "city papers not six hours old" could be purchased in Donaldsonville.

But the trains did have their drawbacks. According to The Chief, "A man might find a lucrative business in traveling up and down the railroad and picking up the hats that blow from the heads of passengers. ... We are of the opinion that there have been enough hats scattered along the road since it has opened to fill a small size hat store."

Updated September 7 , 2014

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