Detail from the register of flatboats, barges, rafts, and steamboats in the port of New Orleans, 1806 - 1812. These pages from the register show the numerous flatboats, rafts, and barges present in the port during the last three weeks of January, 1812. They also record the arrival of the New Orleans, listed here as the Rosevelt [sic] (after its owner and builder, Nicholas Roosevelt), the first steamboat to travel down the Mississippi to the Crescent City.A separate ordinance called for a Wharfinger of Flatboats and other laws levied duties on pirogues, barges, steamboats and other vessels using the New Orleans harbor. City officials continued to collect such fees until the State established the Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans (the Dock Board) in 1896. In 1854, the city took in $279,245 in levee dues. During the same year the city paid out $260,136 for work on its wharves and levees. Individual expenditures ranged from $36 for painting signs at the steamboat wharf to over $66,000 paid to C.V. Diamond for building and repairing wharves in the port.[Wharfinger's Records]
Fifty years later, with the Dock Board in control, total port receipts amounted to $1,094,519 and disbursements totaled $662.496. During the year that those amounts were generated, 1687 sea going vessels, with a gross tonnage of 3.9 million tons, called at the Crescent City's port. In addition to that foreign commerce, New Orleans also hosted 1145 steamboats arrivals, 729 miscellaneous arrivals (flats, coal, gravel, & stave barges, and tugs, etc.), and 2411 arrivals of luggers and gasoline launches. The latter category of craft was engaged in the oyster, fish, and vegetable trade.
Following the passage of another fifty years the Board reported (in 1994) operating revenues of more than $34 million and operating expenses of just over $21 million. But the port has changed dramatically during the last twenty or so years. Most significantly, the Dock Board has recentered maritime activity above the Crescent City Connection and along the Industrial Canal/Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, where modern facilities can handle the expanding needs of waterborne commerce as we head into the 21st century. This shift in port activity has opened up the riverfront for more people oriented-activities, from excursion boat and cruise ship (and once-upon-a-time, riverboat casino) terminals, to shopping malls and open green spaces. In some ways the river at New Orleans has come full circle--back to the "pleasant promenade" described by Benjamin Norman in 1845.
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