New Orleans History -- Lake Pontchartrain
Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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West End History & the Excursion boats

In January, Poydras and I wrote a reply to James S. Janssen regarding the excursion boats which operated on Lake Pontchartrain before private automobiles and highway bridges put them out of business. We have heard from some readers who have mentioned memories of the Susquehanna and the waning days of West End Park. Since the trip across the lake took two hours each way, and since there was often a wait of an hour or so to board, the boats were not technically considered commuter ferries.

Opened in 1880, West End Park was at one time a nationally known amusement area. Having its own electrical generator, the park had arc lighting before the innovation was introduced to Canal Street. In later years, taking inspiration from Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition as well as Coney Island, the park grew and prospered – a wonderland of light and technical innovation. In June 1896, it was among the first places to screen motion pictures when Walter Wainwright and William Rock introduced New Orleans audiences to Edison’s Wonderful Vitascope.

Heavily damaged by fires, floods and storms, the worst of which was the 1915 hurricane, the resort never truly recovered, despite several attempts at revitalization. The Prismatic Fountain, now inoperative and abandoned, remains virtually the only surviving indication of the park’s former glory.

Dear Julia,

There was such a vessel by that name (Susquehanna ), but it wasn’t considered a ferry boat for the reasons you gave reader Janssen in your reply. It was owned by the Lake Transit Co. and traveled to Madisonville on Sundays and to Mandeville on Wednesday and Saturday. The voyages began at West End.

The Susquehanna carried passengers and autos. I rode this vessel with my parents in the late ‘20s to the mid-30s, when the automobile and better roads killed this delightful form of transportation.

There were two more steamers that I rode, the Madisonville and Mandeville – whether these were operated by the same company, I do not know.

As I remember, we would leave West End about 8 a.m., stop at the pier in Mandeville to let passengers off and then proceed to Madisonville, where the boat would remain until 3 or so, then return to Mandeville and then proceed to West End.

Sometimes, we would get caught in a late-afternoon thunderstorm which would provide some scary moments, especially when the boat would hit the bottom while heaving and pitching.

But it was fun. A good band on board, dancing and good food – who would want anything more? Today, I cross the Causeway in about 30 minutes – but it is dull.

I always enjoy your column.

Ed Gebhardt

Dear Julia,

Thanks for the memory via James Janssen’s letter published in your January column.

I can vividly see the passengers boarding the Susquehanna as she begins to get underway. Add this to the sounds of an orchestra, plus the din of a “Model A” or two and you’ve got an evening’s pleasure for little or no money.

Although other boats operated from this pier, the one I recall was the Susquehanna . I guess the name impressed me.

Like most families from this period, we were caught up in an economic squeeze that left nothing for entertainment. Sitting on the sea wall, watching the boats, listening to the music and the lapping of the waves as they crashed in the surf served as our fun.

Our visits to West End Park, the park with its beautiful fountain and the Susquehanna , all blended into an evening’s outing.

Othmar R. Capron
Metairie •

May 1999 - Vol. 33 - Issue 8 - Page - #338