Ferry godfathers: Meet the men who started the Canal Street ferry — in 1827
In 1827, the Louisiana Legislature granted August Coycault and Barthelemy Gosselin a contract to operate a steam ferry from the foot of Patterson Street in Algiers to a point near Jackson Square. While skiffs and smaller vessels had been bringing people across the river for years before that, the new service marked the first regular public ferry service between the east and west banks. The city embraced it, and more ferries would follow — from Delaronde Street in Algiers to St. Louis Street (later moved to Canal Street) in 1834 and, in 1858, a ferry from Verret Street in Algiers to Esplanade Avenue. The latter vessel, incidentally, transported railroad cars across the river. By the 1930s, six ferries served the New Orleans area, according to friendsoftheferry.org.
Two ferries operate regularly in the New Orleans area: one from the foot of Canal Street to Algiers Point, and another from Chalmette to lower Algiers. The Canal Street ferry is the dominant of the two. Despite construction of the Huey P. Long Bridge and the two spans of the Crescent City Connection, and the imposition of a $2 toll, ridership on that ferry remains high – about 2 million passengers a year, according to friendsoftheferry.org. According to a study by the Regional Planning Commission, most passengers use it to get to and from work.
- The route of the ferry that transported railroad cars was later moved from the Press Street area to the Southern Pacific Railroad yards in Algiers.
- Another railroad ferry — the Walnut Street Ferry — operated from Westwego to a point upriver from Audubon Park.
- The 1936 completion of the Huey P. Long Bridge, which has railroad tracks as well as lanes for motor vehicles, eliminated the need for railroad ferries.
- The Canal Street ferry’s most memorable appearance in a movie came in the 2006 Denzel Washington thriller “Déjà Vu,” when it was “blown up” in a terrorist attack.
- In the HBO series “Treme,” the character Creighton Bernette (played by John Goodman), a professor who had been despondent since Katrina’s onslaught, committed suicide by slipping into the river from the ferry.
- The ferry also put in appearances in “12 Rounds,” a 2010 action flick starring John Cena, and “Tchoupitoulas,” a 2013 documentary by Turner Ross and Bill Ross IV.
- The Canal Street ferry and the Chalmette ferry are the only ones operating in New Orleans, but they’re not the only ones in the region. Plaquemines Parish ferries operate between Belle Chasse and Scarsdale, and between Pointe à la Hache and West Pointe à la Hache.
- A ferry used to operate between Gretna and New Orleans — first to Jackson Avenue, then to Canal Street — but that ended in 2013.
- The prospect of regaining the Gretna ferry arose last year, when the French America Line, a cruise company, picked the Gretna ferry landing as its home port. A $50-per-passenger fee would be directed to a Gretna fund that, perhaps, would include restoring ferry service. No date for resumption of that route has been set.
The ferry, like the city’s streetcars, is an important, iconic part of New Orleans. Like the streetcar, it serves a purpose — providing transportation for plenty of people — and, also like the streetcar, it forces passengers slow down and take a few deep breaths and appreciate the beauty of the city from a singular point of view.