Early Railroads Excerpt – New Orleans, Opelousas, and Great Western Railroad

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Courtesy St. Charles Parish Planning and Zoning Department

Railroad lines, linking the region to new Orleans, arrived in the 1850s. The difficulties of this undertaking through the swamplands can be imagined. The inaugural run of the New Orleans, Opelousas, and Great Western Railroad, which established stations at Boutte and Des Allemands, may have concluded in St. Charles. An eyewitness said that its first train traveled west from Algiers in 1853, “a distance of 17 miles in 45 minutes,” upon which it stopped for the guests to have lunch” (Gautreau 1955:47).

A writer for the New Orleans Daily Picayune in November 1861 described what he saw along the rail route as “cane, cane, hardly anything else than cane. For acres and acres, and even miles together, on both sides of the road, and sometimes as far as the eye can reach, the green expanse of high vigorous cane stretched away in rich profusion” (Eastaville 1989:42). This must have been where the line ran parallel to the levee north of New Orleans. A conscript in the Union Army gave his own impressions of the area seen during a rail trip from Algiers to Brashear City (Morgan City) in April 1863 on the New Orleans, Opelousas and Great Western, after the Union took over the rail line:

“For 80 miles we rode on platform and baggage cars, through the lowlands of Louisiana. For a long distance we ran through a dense cyprus (sic) swamp, such a one as we had not seen before. it was like a wall of vegetation, almost, on each side, and through the leaves we could see dark bayous and black pools. Alligators several feet long lay on logs or in the water. Snakes, single or in coils, lay basking in the sun. There were turtles and lizards by the barrel, and trees draped with the peculiar Southern moss (Estaville 1989:42).”