Early Ferry Service


Since the founding of New Orleans in 1718, the Mississippi River proved crucial in the city's development as a colonial French and Spanish port. Crossing the river was essential from the outset. The first enslaved Africans brought to the colony during the John Law Company period (1717-1731) were housed directly across from the settlement on the West Bank in what is now Algiers Point. Smallpox patients and others suffering from contagious diseases were quarantined on what was then known as the "Left Bank."

Ferries and skiffs moved goods and people across the river to Algiers. In the early 1800s, city officials awarded steam ferry service contracts to convey passengers and goods on a regular schedule between the two banks. The first regularly scheduled ferry service between Canal Street and Algiers was established in 1827.

Several other public ferry crossings developed as the city spread up- and downriver from its original site. Six ferries served the New Orleans area in the 1930's. Three other ferries continue to serve the metropolitan area today: Chalmette to Lower Coast Algiers; Gretna to Canal Street; and East to West Point-a-la Hache.

The Canal Street to Algiers Ferry was recently listed as one of the world's ten best city boat trips by National Geographic Traveler Magazine. Unfortunately, the future of ferry service in the New Orleans area is jeopardized by proposed government funding cuts. For more information, please see: http://www.friendsoftheferry.org/index.html

Photos Show

2nd District Ferry (Canal Street Ferry), 1867

Successful bidders awarded leases for ferry services from the foot of Canal Street to the left bank were to provide a floating bridge and staging area for vehicles and passengers to gain access to the boat. Ferry operators were also responsible for buildings, lighting, boats, roadways, and labor.

Photographer: Theodore Lilienthal, Public Domain.

Canal Street Ferry, Louise, 1878

Ferries have been in regular service in New Orleans since 1827, when Auguste Coycault and Bazile Gosselin were granted the first leases to operate ferry service.

The Louise steam ferry operated between 1867 and 1879.

Image, Captain Fred Way, Jr., Leonard V. Huber, Collection

Canal Street Ferry House

The City Council required a waiting area for vehicles and passengers, a clock posted conspicuously on the building, and a posted ferry schedule.

The day schedule used a first class steam transport capable of handling at least eight loaded double horse teams and vehicles plus passenger accommodations. Tug boats served at night.

Image, Leonard V. Huber Collection

Captain Thomas Pickles

Captain Pickles successfully bid to operate the Canal Street ferry franchise for ten years. His first charter began January 1, 1877. By 1894, Captain Pickles owned nine steam ferry boats and operated four ferry systems as he developed a fortune based in urban transit. Another acquisition of Captain Pickles was the Algiers-Gretna mule car charter service.

Courtesy Buhler Family, www.buhlerfamily.net/library/thestoryofalgiers

Ferry boat Thomas Pickles

Ferry boat named after Captain Pickles, a New Orleans steam ferry magnate. The vessel featured twin hulls or a catamaran design, and it served on other rivers beside the Mississippi, including the Ohio River.

Courtesy Buhler Family,

"A. M. Halliday"

The ferry "A.M .Halliday" at dock during the visit of President Theodore Roosevelt to New Orleans, October 26, 1905.

Courtesy of Louisiana Division/City Archives, New Orleans Public Library

Postcard, early 1900s

Pedestrians crossing during the day paid five cents each. Every passenger on horse or mule paid ten cents while vehicles drawn by three or more horses paid one dollar. Rates for commodities such as barrels, livestock, lumber, and bricks varied.

Image: Public Domain

Ferry post card, circa early 1900s

Steam boat ferry operators encouraged families to ride in order to enjoy the cooling, river air during the short trip. This tradition remains a popular way to cool off on a summer day.

Image: Public Domain

Algiers Point ferry landing, circa 1980s

A short-lived restaurant known as Algiers Landing is visible at the tip of Algiers Point (left). The State of Louisiana now operates both the Mississippi River Bridge and the ferries in the Greater New Orleans area.

Image courtesy family of Richard R. Dixon and Friends of the Ferry

Cite this Page

Vincent Petreikis and University of New Orleans History Department, “Early Ferry Service,” New Orleans Historical, accessed March 4, 2015, http:/​/​www.​neworleanshistorical.​org/​items/​show/​290.​
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