"That part of New Orleans on the west bank of the Mississippi River is so different from any other district of the city that its original identity as the town of Algiers has persisted unmistakably throughout the changes that have come to the city as a whole. Absence of a bridge has naturally done much to accentuate the contrast, and although the ferry trip across the river is made daily by thousands of Orleanians, and takes but a few minutes, there is less intercourse between the west and east bank districts of the city than between parts of New Orleans proper."

[Federal Writers' Project, New Orleans, New Orleans City Guide (1938), p. 358]

The ferry boatA.M.Halliday, photographed at dock during the visit of President Theodore Roosevelt to New Orleans, October 26, 1905. The river played a key role in the festivities that day. The President entered the city by ship, was greeted at the Stuyvesant Docks by Governor Blanchard, Mayor Behrman and other dignitaries and taken on the S.S. Comus for a river up to Audubon Park and back around down to the Algiers Naval Station. The river was packed with sightseers in every describable kind of vessel out to catch a glimpse of TR--among them the passengers of the A.M. Halliday. After an address and luncheon at the St. Charles Hotel, the President ended his visit--again at the river, as he sailed away to the Gulf on the Magnolia. The Daily Picayune reported that Roosevelt was delighted with his visit, impressed by the activity and extent of the Port and by the enthusiastic welcome given him by the residents of the Crescent City.

On a "normal" day, the ferry provided the only public access between New Orleans and Algiers. In the absence of a bridge, even passenger trains had to be floated across the river on huge railroad ferryboats. The Southern Pacific Railroad trains crossed the river by ferry from the Southern Pacific yard in Algiers to the line's terminal at the foot of Elysian Fields.

[David Barrow Fischer Steamboat Collection]
For much of the 19th century, the right (or west) bank of the Mississippi, including the city of Algiers, was governed by its own Police Jury, entirely separate from the government in New Orleans. Algiers was incorporated into the City of New Orleans in 1870 as the 5th Municipal District, but this legal merging of the two sections could not erase the very real barrier that the great river had inevitably created between New Orleans and Algiers. Although ferries have provided access to the West Bank of the river from earliest times, the river has historically served as a divider between the city's two shores. While New Orleans boomed into a thriving metropolis in the years before the Civil War, Algiers--less than a mile away as the crow flies--stayed small and kept itself relatively isolated from the hustle and glitter on the east bank. Many Algiers residents rode the ferry to work each day, but many more remained on their side of the river, earned their livings on or near its banks, and valued the calmer pace of small town life offered on the West Bank. It was not until the twentieth century and the opening of the Huey P. Long Bridge in 1935 and, more significantly, the Greater New Orleans Bridge in 1958 (renamed the Crescent City Connection when its second span opened thirty years later) that the wide expanse of water separating the East and West banks metaphorically narrowed. In spite of the increased ease of movement between the east and west bank today, however, old habits and attitudes die hard, and the two banks remain in many ways distinct and separate--by choice now, perhaps, rather than by necessity.

Algiers' first public ferry was established in 1827, when the Louisiana legislature granted August Coycault and Barthelemy Gosselin a contract to operate a steam ferry from the foot of Patterson Street on the west bank to Jackson Square on the east bank. In 1834, a second ferry was added, its dock at de la Ronde Street and its east bank landing at St. Louis Street (moved later to Canal St.). And in 1858 a third ferry--the Third District Ferry began to run from Verret Street to Esplanade Ave; this later became the ferry that transported railroad cars across the river. The location of the landings of these three ferries shifted from time to time and additional routes were added, and the ferry business prospered until the Greater New Orleans Bridge opened in 1958 and the boats lost their practicality. Today, only the Canal Street Ferry remains of the original three and the "Lower Coast" of Algiers is now being served by the Chalmette Ferry.

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iw/we 5/1998