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Louisiana Anthology

John Smith Kendall.
“The History of New Orleans.”

p599 Chapter XXXVIII

The Work of the Dock Board

"Two ports only, New Orleans and San Francisco," observes Herbert Knox Smith, in a famous report on the commerce of the United States, "are noteworthy for their high degree of public ownership, control, efficiency, and equipment." And he adds: "New Orleans is one of the most important as well as one of the most interesting harbors in the country, particularly in its advanced terminal facilities, its organization, and its methods of public administration," and, "in general, the physical conditions, control and organization of the harbor of New Orleans are worthy of careful study by other municipalities, as an example of a modern system of a well-equipped and co-ordinated harbor, with a high degree of public control."1 This fortunate result has not been attained without long labor and in the face of grave obstacles. War, pestilence, and other disadvantages have had to be overcome; erroneous theories of administration have been experimented with, to be discarded only after much mischief had been done; and the public mind, trained away from habits of co-operative endeavor, has had to be educated at much expense of time and money.2

Few, among the great ports of the United States, are so fortunately located as New Orleans. It is in communication by a vast system of navigable inland waterways with practically all parts of the Mississippi Valley. Its situation is equally favorable with regard to Mexico, Central America, South America, and the West Indies. Through the Panama Canal it has access to the western ports of North and South America, and the Orient. Moreover, the fact that it is removed from the sea a distance of •110 miles insures to shipping protection from the effects of most of the storms which sweep over the Gulf of Mexico. The river in front of the city varies in width from one-half to three-quarters of a mile, and in depth, within 3 m of the shore line',WIDTH,150)" onMouseOut="nd();">•from 40 to 100 feet within ten feet of the shore line. The port is capable of indefinite expansion. It is served by twelve lines of railroad, nine of which are trunk lines. These advantages indicate that the rapid growth of recent years will continue on a constantly expanding scale in the future.

The history of the port can be traced back to the beginning of the city. Under the act of Congress admitting Louisiana to the Union, the state, as sovereign, has control of navigable streams and harbors. Since the state must necessarily act through an agent in administering the trust, as early as 1827 we find that the administration of the port was committed to the city. The Act of March 9, 1827, "made it the duty of the council to regulate the port of New Orleans, so as to admit ships and other sea vessels to anchor along the levee from Esplanade Street to Canal Street, and so as to admit steamboats to moor at the levee from p600Canal Street to Notre Dame Street." The charter granted to New Orleans by the State Legislature in 1836 specifically grants to the city the administration of the port, with the right to fix and collect wharfage rates.3 The city was slow in taking advantage of the latter privilege, and still slower in recognizing the possibilities implied therein.

From 1836 to 1865 the city administered its own wharves. But, in the latter year, the financial condition of New Orleans was such as to render the continuance of municipal control impossible. A contract was therefore made with the firm of Eager, Ellerman & Co. to take over this important department. The contract ran till 1881. During this period the limits of the port were gradually extended from Louisiana Avenue and the lower limits of Jefferson City, to Jordan Avenue. The wharves were not built continuously along the whole length of the river front. Long stretches of empty levee intervened between the units of the system. There were a few scattered wharves in the Third District. There was a connected stretch of wharves from Market Street to a point above Soraparu. There was another wharf at Seventh Street. At Eighth Street there were piers or slips. The Cromwell Steamship Company had wharves in the Second District. The steamboat wharves ran from Julia Street down to St. Louis. The most difficult problem which the lessees had to face, however, was not the building of new wharves, but the preservation of those already in existence through each recurring spring, when the river rose to flood levels. At the close of every winter they stripped the piers and outer wharves, and allowed the piles to be swept away by the rising waters.

In 1875 the first definite scale of charges was established by the City Council.

A new lease was made in 1881, with the firm of Joseph A. Aiken & Company, which ran till 1891. The agreement provided that the company should expend $25,000 per annum in making improvements, and pay an additional sum of $40,000 per annum for policing the harbor and providing the services of other employees, as needed. Their jurisdiction extended from Louisiana Avenue to Jordan Avenue. There were sixty-six wharves and a wharf for river steamers and barges •1½ miles long. The company at once began to build wharves. In a short time the pier or slip system was done away with entirely. It remained for Joseph A. Aiken & Company to solve the problem of saving the wharves during high water. It was found that the sand and mud driven under the docks by the action of the current, and deposited there during high water, cut the piling and was forced out when the river fell. One of the company's first acts was to purchase a powerful tug boat. By backing this vessel up to the wharves, and working her propeller at the highest possible speed, the accumulation of mud and sand was washed out. In this way it was found possible to preserve the wharves through the annually recurring period of danger.

During the first year of their lease, Aiken & Company expended $58,000 in revetting the levee between Piety Street and Jordan Avenue, wherever no wharves existed. They were required to maintain this levee. Although the company expended annually in new constructions the sum p601stipulated in their contract with the city, the work did not have the lasting character of the improvements made by the Board of Commissioners of the port since 1901. The wharves built under this lease being temporary in character were, therefore, not to be depended on for any considerable period. There were on the whole river front no sheds for the protection of freight, except those at the foot of Erato Street, over the Illinois Central landing. These sheds were built of wood, and were unimportant, both in extent and type of construction. As the lease drew to a close, it was found that the existing wharf system, such as it was, owing to the conditions under which it was evolved, was in a bad state of repair.

On April 25, 1891, the City Council adopted Ordinance 5256, providing for a reconstruction of the wharf system by the municipality, through farming out of the revenues. This ordinance was passed in anticipation of the termination of the lease with Joseph A. Aiken & Company. The comptroller was instructed to advertise for bids for sealed proposals for a further lease, under the terms and conditions prescribed in the new law. Among the bidders who appeared and submitted proposals were Joseph A. Aiken & Company, and Charles K. Burdeau. The latter bid was $465,000, to be expended for improvements on the river front during the first two years of the lease. This bid was accepted. Thereupon the successful bidder and associates formed the Louisiana Construction & Improvement Company. The principal stockholders in this corporation, aside from Mr. Burdeau himself, were James D. Houston, M. D. Lagan, M. D. Lagan, Jr., Mrs. Catherine M. Aiken, Walter R. Wasson, E. T. Leche, Maurice J. Hart, and John C. Bach. On May 20, 1891, the transfer of Mr. Burdeau's lease was authorized by the City Council to this company.

The ordinance by which the Louisiana Construction & Improvement Company thus acquired control of the wharves was full and elaborate. It was especially explicit with regard to the obligations of the lessees. The rates, charges, wharfage, etc., were to continue the same as they had been under the agreement with Joseph A. Aiken & Company, the principal of these being: wharfage on all ships and other docked vessels, steamships, etc., 1,000 tons and under, 20 cents per ton; excess over 1,000 tons, 15 cents per ton. The rate applied to all barges and sailing vessels, and an extra charge of one-third of these rates was to be paid by all vessels remaining in port over two months, the charges to be recovered before departure. Another charge of one-third the rates was made in addition to the first extra charge on vessels remaining in port over four months. There was a discount of 20 per cent allowed on these rates, in certain contingencies hereafter referred to.

Wharfage on steamboats not over five days in port was fixed at 10 cents per ton, and for each day thereafter, $5. Wharfage on boats arriving and departing more than once a week was assessed at 5 cents per ton for each trip. Wharfage on vessels laid up during the summer months and occupying such space as was not required for shipping, was assessed at $2 per day for the first 31 days, and $1 per day for each subsequent day. The same charge was made on barges, flatboats, etc. When not lying at wharves or piers, but tied up alongside the levee, where suitable conveniences were available, steamboats were to be charged $1 per day; ships and steamships, 5 cents per ton for every 60 days; p602flatboats and barges, 2 cents per foot; rafts, 3 cents per log; and a charge of $3 was exacted for each flatboat broken up and sold for cordwood.

Pirogues and other craft of from 5 to 15 tons, trading with the city were required to purchase a license which cost $15 under penalty of a fine of $50 and prohibition to engage further in business in the port. All steam towing vessels, as a condition precedent to doing business in the harbor, were required to procure a license costing $150, under a penalty of a $250 fine and forfeiture of the right to do business. Barges, flatboats and other craft not using steam, engaged in transporting brick and other building material or produce to the city, not measuring over 25 tons, were to pay $30 per year; the same kind of vessels, averaging over 25 tons but not exceeding 50 tons burden, $60 per annum; over 50 tons and under 75 tons, $80 per annum; over 75 tons and under 100 tons, $120 per annum; and over 100 tons, $200 per annum. Scows and coastwise pirogues of not more than 25 tons, not trading directly with the City of New Orleans, were charged $2 per trip. A section of Ordinance 3112, adopted by the City Council, May 12, 1875, which was embodied in the new ordinance, made provision for vessels coming into port in ballast. Such vessels were allowed five days in which to discharge their ballast, providing that the ballast were sold to the city. Vessels which loaded grain after discharging ballast, were required to pay 5 cents per ton for the first fifteen days, and one-third of a cent per ton for each day thereafter. All government vessels were to be allowed to use the wharves without charge. Vessels in distress entering the port were required to pay only half of the existing rates.

Under the ordinance by which the Louisiana Construction & Improvement Company was placed in control of the river front, the existing improvements were transferred to its care. These improvements comprised wharves already constructed in the First, Second, Third and Fourth districts, from Toledano Street to Piety. The ferry and nuisance wharves, and all private wharves, within these limits, were, however, exempt from the new company's control, until the grants whereby they were held should expire, when they, too, should fall under the jurisdiction of the company. The wharf space was defined as extending from the water line to the street, a distance which varied considerably, •from 48 to 100 feet.

One of the principal stipulations in the contract was that the Louisiana Construction & Improvement Company should accept the existing wharves in the condition in which they were on May 29, 1891, that the lessees should keep them in repair and in good order; should provide "inclines" to the steamboat wharves, and build such additional wharves as might be necessary, provided that the expenditures necessitated by such work should not exceed $35,000 per annum. These provisions, of course, did not apply to the ferry, nuisance, and private wharves until such time as they, too, came under the control of the leasing corporation. The lessees were also required to put in order immediately the landing in the First, Second, Third and Fourth districts, and to grade them from the outer edge, covering the grading with some hard substance — gravel, lake shell, or oyster shell. The landings were to be raised to the grade established by the Orleans Levee Board. All the landings were to be lighted by electricity from Toledano Street down to Poland. The subdivisions of the wharves were to be marked by signs with white letters painted on a white field.º

p603 The wharves between Harmony and Ninth streets, except the portion between Eighth and Ninth streets, and those at the head of Soraparu Street, were to be used by steamships and sailing vessels. A space •250 feet long immediately below the West India & Pacific Steam ship Company's wharf was set aside for the use of flatboats and stave carrying boats. A salt wharf was established between Fourth and Fifth street,4 and an incline between First and Second streets, was set apart for the use of salt carrying barges and vessels. The wharf between the New Orleans Gas Light Company's wharf at Race Street and Market Street, was assigned to the use of coal vessels. From Henderson Street to the upper line of the New Orleans & Pacific Railway wharf was reserved for the use of steamships. From the lower end of that wharf to a point 250 feet below the Louisville & Nashville Railroad landing, the wharf was to be used by both steamships and sailing vessels. A space of •650 feet below the point just described was set apart for barges; below that space, the river front as far as St. Louis Street was for the use of steamboats; and between the steamboat landing and the lower end of the Harrison line wharf, for steamships and sailing vessels. The "Picayune" tier, which extended from the Harrison line wharf to the foot of St. Philip Street, was assigned to steamboats and sailing vessels. Another section between St. Philip and Ursuline street became the regular landing place of the picturesque luggers manned by Italian and Malay fishermen and trading between the city and the sea coast west of the mouth of the Mississippi. Finally, the interval between Ursuline Street and the lower end of the New Orleans & Northeastern wharf was assigned to steamships.

The distribution of space described above is interesting. It was evidently made arbitrarily. There was no attempt to adjust the landing places to meet particular requirements — no scientific allotment of wharves owing to the needs of various classes of sea-going vessels entering the port. The idea of such distribution was practically unknown at this time. It was to come later, and was brought to a relatively high degree of efficiency only after the construction of the Public Belt Railroad.

In consideration of the lease on these conditions, the lessees agreed to pay the city annually the sum of $40,000, of which $30,000 was to defray the expenses connected with policing the harbor, and the remainder was to be devoted to the salaries of wharfingers and other employees. The lessees also took over the plant of the previous lessees, Aiken & Company, at a price fixed by a board of appraisers, on which the company appointed one member, the city another, and these two jointly selected the third member. The Louisiana Construction & Improvement Company was required by its contract of lease to expend the sum of $465,000 between 1891 and 1893. As soon as the company took charge, the work of reconstruction and of building new wharves began. The total outlay in the first two years of the lease was about $350,000 — or less only by $100,000 than the sum stipulated in the contract. In the ten years over which the company's control of the wharves extended, it practically rebuilt the entire wharf system. After the first two years the annual expenditures fell to the sum stipulated in the ordinance — $35,000 per annum. On May 28, 1891, a reduction of twenty per cent was made in all the port charges. This was done in accordance p604with the provisions of Ordinance 3112, adopted by the Council, in 1875. The reduction as contemplated in that measure was to continue to May 20, 1901. This particular feature of the ordinance of 1875 was incorporated in the lease to the Louisiana Construction & Improvement Company. In spite of the large outlay involved in the improvement of the wharves, and notwithstanding this reduction in the fees and charges, the company had a paying investment. Apart from the construction of new wharves and the repair of old ones, little or nothing was done in the way of structural work. Only two or three sheds were erected on the railroad wharves, and these were frail, wooden buildings.

In 1896 the Illinois Central Railroad Company obtained a grant from the city of that portion of the river front from Louisiana Avenue to Napoleon Avenue. The Louisiana Construction & Improvement Company naturally contested the legality of this concession. The matter was taken into court, and the company obtained decisions in its favor both in the District and in the State Supreme Courts. But the Constitutional Convention held in New Orleans in 1898 confirmed the grant and incorporated the same in the State Constitution. On the site the Illinois Central then erected the great Stuyvesant Docks. This extensive plant was destroyed by fire in 1905 and immediately afterwards rebuilt on a larger and more substantial scale.5

Prior to 1888 the limits of the Port of New Orleans were co-terminous with the boundaries of the Parish of Orleans. In that year, however, an act of Congress extended the city front so as to include a portion of Jefferson Parish. "New Orleans," reads this enactment, "shall be a port of entry, to include the Parish of Orleans and that portion of the parish of Jefferson lying between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, and between the upper line of the Parish of Orleans, left bank, and a line running parallel thereto, commencing at the Mississippi River, at the upper line of the City of Carrollton, and extending to Lake Pontchartrain."6 An act of Congress passed ')" onMouseOut="nd();">at the same time added to the Port of New Orleans that portion of Jefferson Parish known as Southport, where important railroad docks were situated. "The limits of the port of entry of the City of New Orleans, Louisiana, shall be and the same are hereby extended so as to include that portion of the Parish of Jefferson lying between the Mississippi River, Lake Pontchartrain, the upper line of the Parish of Orleans, left bank, and a line running parallel thereto, commencing at the Mississippi River at a point •two miles above the upper line of the said Parish of Orleans, and extending to Lake Pontchartrain." In 1896 the port limits were further extended to include a portion of Jefferson Parish on the opposite side of the river, including the terminal docks at Westwego, and also a portion of St. Bernard Parish, where the Chalmette Terminals, controlled by the New ')" onMouseOut="nd();">Orleans & North Eastern Railroad, were located and where subsequently the docks of the New Orleans Terminal Company were erected at a cost of $2,000,000. The act making these extensions was approved March 20, 1896. "The limits of the port of entry of New Orleans," runs the essential portion of this law, "shall be, and the same are hereby extended, so as to include that portion of the Parish of Jefferson on the west bank of the Mississippi p605lying between the upper line of the Parish of Orleans, west bank, the west bank of the said river to a point opposite the upper boundary line of the Parish of Orleans, east bank, a line drawn thence back 4,000 feet, perpendicular to said river, and a line drawn thence parallel to the Mississippi until the intersects said upper parish boundary line, west bank; and so as to further include that portion of the Parish of St. Bernard lying between the lower boundary line of the Parish of Orleans, east bank, the east bank of the Mississippi River to a point •three miles below said lower boundary, a line drawn thence back 4,000 feet parallel to the Mississippi River until it intersects said lower boundary line of the Parish of Orleans."

On the expiration of the Louisiana Construction & Improvement Company's lease on May 29, 1901, the control of the wharf system passed into the hands of the Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans. As the time approached for the lease to end, a number of public spirited citizens in New Orleans, animated by the desire to see the wharves brought once more under the control of the people, so that the same might be operated in the interest of shipping on a strictly maintenance basis, took up the matter with the commercial bodies of the city. As a result an act was introduced into the State Legislature at its session in 1896, providing for the creation of a board which would take over control of the entire Port of New Orleans as the agent of the state. A special reason in favor of this action existed in the extension of the Port limits. It will be seen from the foregoing resume of the various acts of Congress that, in 1901, the boundary of the port had been extended over three parishes, namely, Orleans, Jefferson, and St. Bernard, with the result that a ship entering the port often had to pay three parishes their several sets of fees in order to satisfy the requirements of the three parishes forming one port. It was clear that only by concentrating authority in the hands of a single organization, having jurisdiction over the entire port, could the disadvantages under which commerce thus labored, be cured.

The act passed by the Legislature in 1896 provided for the creation of a board of five members, to be selected from among the residents of the Parishes of Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard, who, at the time of their appointment, should be prominently identified with the commerce or business interests of the port. One commissioner was to hold office for three years, one for four years, one for five years, one for six years, and one for seven years. At the end of each term the governor was empowered to appoint a successor to serve five years. The board, however, had the power to fill vacancies occurring through death, resignation, or otherwise. This board was invested with power "to regulate the commerce and traffic of the Harbor of New Orleans [. . .] to have and enjoy all the rights, powers and immunities incident to corporations; [. . .] to take charge of and administer the public wharves of the Port of New Orleans; to construct new wharves where necessary and erect sheds thereupon; to protect merchandise in transit; to place and keep the wharves, sheds, levees, and approaches in good condition; to maintain sufficient depth of water and provide for lighting and policing such wharves and sheds."

In order to provide a revenue to meet the expenses of the board, the board was authorized "to charge upon the shipping visiting the port, for the use of the wharves, etc., of the Port of New Orleans, not exceeding p606one per cent net register per ton per twenty-four hours (commencing at midnight just preceding the arrival of the vessel) for the first six days, providing that the minimum charge upon sea-going vessels shall not be less than $5. Where sheds are provided by the said Board of Commissioners, shipping using same shall pay an additional charge of one-half cent per net register ton for twenty-four hours (to be calculated same as above), said charges, however, in any case, not to exceed cost of construction, maintenance and management of said improvements." But it was stipulated that "should the income within the maximum rates herein authorized be more than sufficient to carry out the duties of the commissioners, they shall make said charges conform to the necessary expenditures. Should the total amount paid by any vessel reach 6 cents per net ton [. . .] the vessel shall not be liable for any further sum until after she has remained at the wharves thirty days. The charges on barges, steamboats and other river craft and luggers shall be carefully calculated by the commissioners and the reduction in same shall accord with the charges on seagoing vessels."

The board was further authorized to appoint a suitable number of persons, not to exceed five, to be known as Deputy Commissioners, to perform the duties previously discharged by officials known as wharfingers, harbor masters, masters, wardens, etc. To compensate these officials a fee not to exceed $10 might be levied upon all vessels arriving in ballast or loaded with green fruit, and a further sum of $5 for vessels with general cargo, and a fee of $1 might be collected for each copy of certificates of inspection of hatches, surveys of cargo, etc. From among the deputy commissioners the board was directed to appoint a superintendent, to be the executive officer of the port. The closing section of the act contained provisions authorizing the acquisition of the lease of the Louisiana Construction & Improvement Company, either by purchase or appropriation; and making it the duty of the City Council of New Orleans to provide the money necessary to carry out this provision.7

As a matter of fact, however, the board did not immediately avail itself of the rights conferred by this concluding section of the act. From the time the board came into existence — September 5, 1896 — till the expiration of the lease of the Louisiana Construction & Improvement Company on May 29, 1901, the commissioners contented themselves with discharging the duties formerly performed by the commissioners of public works, harbor masters and port wardens in connection with the administration of the port. The funds in the city treasury were appropriated to other important enterprises, and the city was thus financially unable to provide the means necessary to purchase or expropriate the lease in advance of its expiration, as the act of 1896 contemplated.8 In 1900, the lease being about to expire by limitation the State Legislature re-enacted the legislation, reducing the port charges and bringing the landings under the jurisdiction of the board.

Pursuant to the authority thus granted the Governor of Louisiana proceeded to appoint the first Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans. In the month of September, 1896, Hugh McCloskey, a well known business man, and W. A. Kernaghan, a prominent real estate dealer, both of New Orleans, were appointed. They were the first commissioners. p607The board formally began its duties on September 3, 1896, but did not take charge of the wharf system until the expiration of the Louisiana Construction & Improvement Company's lease in May, 1901. Branch M. King was the third member of the board. Wm. H. Byrnes was appointed to the board in 1899. The death of Mr. King in 1905 created a vacancy which was filled by the appointment of Jeff D. Hardin. Colonel Byrnes died in 1910 and was succeeded by T. J. Kelly. After serving sixteen years as president of the board Mr. McCloskey resigned in 1911, and was succeeded by W. A. Kernaghan. Adolf Dumser was appointed a member in 1901.

The presidents of the board have been: Robert Bleakley, 1896-97; Hugh McCloskey, September, 1897 to October, 1911; W. A. Kernaghan, October, 1911 to May, 1913; W. P. Stewart, May, 1913, to July, 1913; R. G. Guerard, July 13, 1913, to May, 1914; Ernest Loeb, May, 1914, to August, 1916; B. B. Hans, August, 1916, to December, 1916; W. B. Thompson, December, 1916, to October, 1919.

The act of 1896, creating the board, was amended in 1900 with respect to the fees to be charged upon the shipping and the location of the landings. The board was now authorized to charge all sea-going vessels "2 cents per day, based upon the gross tonnage, for the first three days, and the sum of 1 cent per day for the next three ensuing days, making a maximum charge of 9 cents on the gross tonnage, and thereafter the said vessel shall be free from charge for a period of thirty days. That any part of a day be considered a full day as to the above charges, and the above charges shall be based upon a single voyage. Where sheds are provided by the said Board of Commissioners, the shipping using same shall pay an additional charge. Said charge shall not exceed in any case the cost of construction, maintenance and management of said improvements"; but it was specially enacted that nothing in the act should apply to "wharves owned by riparian proprietors, already constructed or hereafter constructed, whether individuals, firms or corporations, and maintained or used by the owner or owners or lessees."9

When the Board of Commissioners assumed control in 1901, the wharves could comfortably accommodate about forty vessels, but of a smaller type than those which visit the port today. The only sheds for the protection of transit freight from the weather were one at the Illinois Central fruit wharf, two at the New Orleans & Northeastern wharf, and a few other structures of a temporary character. At that time, as had been the case for many years, freight on the levee was protected by tarpaulins, which were spread over the piles of merchandise. The business of supplying these tarpaulins was a large and lucrative one. Of the private wharves in existence at that time, the Illinois Central's Stuyvesant docks ranked first. At Westwego the Texas & Pacific had wharves. The same company had other wharves at the foot of Thalia Street. The New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad had wharves at Press Street and a terminal of large size at Chalmette; the New Orleans Gas Light Company had a coal wharf near Robin Street; the St. Louis & Mississippi Valley Transportation Company's barge wharf, relinquished by the corporation, was utilized as a steamboat landing, Jos. A. Aiken & Company providing the "aprons" necessary for that use. Over these wharves was handled p608only that business which was consigned to the owners of the grants. They did not, therefore, compete with the public wharves.

The policy adopted by the Board of Commissioners was a very progressive one, but its execution was hampered by lack of funds. Nevertheless, within seven years the entire wharf system was practically rebuilt, and steel sheds of the most modern construction were erected from Canal to Clouet street, and on a number of the wharves between Harmony and Julia streets. The new wharves were constructed of heavy timbers, resting on creosoted piles. In the opinion of engineers, they will have a life of fifty years. Two-thirds of the wharves themselves were constructed of this treated material, to insure long life. At the same time the wharves were widened and lengthened. As compared with the system taken over from the Louisiana Construction & Improvement Company, the facilities were increased about 100 per cent. Moreover, suitable approaches and paved roadways were constructed so as to give better means of access to the wharves. Dredges and towboats were added to the equipment for dredging; the fire protection system was improved and extended, and the lighting and policing of the wharves amplified and reorganized.

In 1908 the State Legislature recognized the necessity of providing further funds with which to carry out the board's plans. An act10 was passed by which the commissioners were empowered to issue $3,500,000 of 5 per cent tax exempt bonds. A portion of the proceeds of the sale of these securities was to be applied to the retirement of valid outstanding obligations of the board. Provision was also made to submit to the people of the state a constitutional amendment authorizing the contemplated bond issue and ratifying the provisions of the act. The revenues of the board were pledged to the extent necessary to secure the payment of the loan. It was stipulated that the commission should continue in existence until the bonds, principal and interest, were all paid. The bonds were made payable between July 1, 1924, and July 1, 1959. The amendment was adopted by the people of the state at an election held in November, 1908. Under this authority the board proceeded to sell the bonds and provide the funds of which it was so greatly in need. •Five and one-half miles of permanent wharves were thus completed and the steel sheds were extended to cover a total area of 3',WIDTH,90)" onMouseOut="nd();">•2,642,689 square feet. These improvements were instrumental in greatly reducing the port charges upon shipping.

But if New Orleans were to realize the greatness to which it was manifestly destined,º further improvements in the nature of storage facilities were essential. The board was without the means to provide them. Application was therefore made to the State Legislature to provide additional funds for the purpose. In 1910 a constitutional amendment was accordingly submitted to the people, empowering the board "to erect and operate warehouses and other structures necessary to the commerce of the Port of New Orleans," and "to expropriate any property necessary for said purposes, and to pay for same by issuing mortgage or mortgages, bond or bonds, against the real estate and buildings erected thereupon; said mortgage or mortgages, bond or bonds to be paid out of the net receipts after the payment of operating expenses."11 This amendment p609was approved at an election held in the following November. Differences of opinion were at once expressed as to the interpretation to be placed upon this amendment, and as to what, if anything, could be accomplished, from a legal and financial point of view, under its terms without enabling legislation. The argument was advanced that, even were such legislation enacted, the bonds authorized by the Constitution were limited in payment to the net receipts from the warehouses, and consequently, as no receipts were available from that source to support the bonds, they would be unsalable. Hence, it was considered that the proposition was an impossible one, particularly in view of the fact that the board had no land which it could mortgage as an alternate security for the debt, and no fund to which it could resort to pay interest during construction.

In 1913 a solution of the problem was worked out. The proper interpretation of the constitutional article was arrived at. The board was advised that the amendment was self-executing; that the board was authorized to carry it into effect by ordinance or otherwise; that the authority granted was a continuing authority, and that the bonds were to be paid by preference out of the receipts of the warehouses, and to the extent that these receipts were insufficient, or non-existent, out of the receipts and revenues from all other sources, subject only to the prior bonded indebtedness. This view was subsequently admitted to the Constitutional Convention of 1913, and adopted by that body as Article 322 of the instrument which it framed.

The board, moreover, as the agent of the state, was informed by its legal advisors that it had authority to reclaim the batture, or land between high and low water mark, mortgage it as additional security for the warehouse bonds, sell the bonds, and with the proceeds build the warehouses. This was promptly done, and $3,000,000 of bonds were thus sold, and the work of construction was begun. This solution of the difficulties posed by the amendment, opened the way for an indefinite expansion of the port's storage system, the amount of indebtedness and the number of structures being limited only by probable revenue to be earned by the new structures, computed on the demonstrated revenues of the earlier buildings and the general increase in the revenues of the port.

The next step taken by the board was to employ a staff of efficiency engineers and to call upon the local commercial organizations, exchanges, shippers, and other interested parties to make known their needs. This investigation led to the formulation of a more or less definite policy for the continuous development of the port's facilities which has been followed consistently ever since. The board found that the "through" shipper enjoyed some advantages over the local shipper, and that consequently the New Orleans "market of deposit" was languishing. A large part of the commerce used New Orleans as a shipping point only, when it properly should use New Orleans as a port market of deposit. It was found that true economy in handling import and export commerce would be promoted by creating such concentration and warehouse facilities on the river front as would enable shippers to use New Orleans as a market of deposit, assembling import commodities here, and distributing them to the interior as needed, and assembling export commodities here and distributing them to foreign consumers as occasion might arise. New Orleans should, therefore, be made the port market of deposit of least resistance, at least insofar as the area extending from Pittsburgh to Chicago and Denver was concerned. In other words, the steel sheds p611already installed along the wharves must be supplemented with a system of the most economic warehouses and concentration and handling facilities that could be built.


United States Army Supply Base at New Orleans and Commodity Warehouses, Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans

The first of these facilities to be undertaken, as before stated, was a river front cotton warehouse and handling plant. This was begun in 1914 and finished in that year at a cost of $3,500,000, exclusive of the land. It has been enlarged every year since. The importance of this structure is so great that a detailed description in this place is justified.

The plans for this structure were prepared after careful study of the latest types of construction in the United States and abroad. They were then submitted to the local Cotton Exchange for criticism and approval. The first units of the plant were completed in 1914. It covers an area of •100 acres. The site includes •fifty acres additional, not as yet utilized. There is a yard trackage for about 2,000 cars. The warehouse and terminal proper provide a storage capacity of 400,000 bales, the sorting shed 80,000 bales and the wharf 60,000 bales. There are three high density compresses. The compress room has a capacity of 6,000 bales. It is estimated that the facilities are capable of handling an annual cotton movement of approximately 2,000,000 bales. Within the terminal there are •about four and one-half miles of overhead and floor-level runways for the accommodation of electrically operated trains for conveying cotton from cars and compress to compartments, from cars to ships, or otherwise, as may be required. Within the compartments are traveling cranes with appliances for pulling, pushing and grappling cotton bales which are truly remarkable in the extent to which they render service, exceeding in efficiency andº similar devices previously employed.

The plant is operated by the port commissioners through an operating organization, the manager and other officials of which are recommended by a Civil Service Board composed of representatives from the New Orleans Cotton Exchange, the Board of Trade and the Dock Board itself. No employe of the warehouse drawing more than $75 per month can be removed except for cause, after trial upon charges and specifications. Samplers, weighers and inspectors are employed only on recommendation from the Cotton Exchange, but such employes are, of course, subordinate to the warehouse management. The responsibility for sampling, inspecting and classing cotton passing through these warehouses is assumed by the Cotton Exchange, and in order that receipts of cotton stored in these fireproof, state-owned warehouses may have a wide negotiability, the New Orleans Clearing House Association approves the form of warehouse receipt. The economies arising from the creation of this great plant have been numerous. The most obvious is a reduction in the minimum insurance rate of about one-fourth of the previous cost. Finally, the cotton is delivered directly to the warehouses from all railroads by the Public Belt Railroad.

In 1917 a public grain elevator and terminal was completed under the authority of the warehouse article in the state constitution. This, also, is a structure of so much importance to the port of New Orleans that a fairly complete description must be given here. The plans were made after a careful study of modern grain elevators in the United States, Argentina and Canada. The completed plant incorporates advantages over other elevators in regard to the rapid handling and relatively large receiving and shipping capacity; great flexibility in conveying, distributing and grain blending systems and loading, unloading and transportation p612appliances. Located on the east bank of the Mississippi, at the head of Bellecastle Street, the plant communicates directly with the Belt Railroad, and immediately adjoins the public cotton warehouses and terminals already described. The main plant consists of a track shed, drip shed, workhouse, storage annex, drier house, shipping conveyor gallery, dock gallery and marine tower. All these buildings are of re-enforced concrete except the galleries and marine tower, which are of structural steel with the roofs and floors. The buildings are fireproof. They are supported on pine piles, jetted in place, cut off well below the water line and capped with concrete. The elevator equipment consists of four shipping legs, with a capacity of •25,000 bushels per hour each; two receiving legs, with a capacity of 25,000 bushels per hour each; one utility leg, with a capacity of •10,000 bushels per hour; four conveyor gallery shipping belts, with a capacity of 25,000 bushels per hour each; two shipping conveyor belts under the annex, three distributing conveyor belts over the annex and three transfer conveyor belts in the workhouse, each with a capacity of 25,000 bushels per hour; and one drier conveyor belt with a capacity of •20,000 bushels per hour. There are eight unloading sinks, with interlocking device, equipped with positive electric control and having a capacity of •2,000 bushels each. A pneumatic unloader with a capacity of •6,000 bushels per hour is provided to unload from vessels and barges. Finally, there are two Morris driers, with a capacity of •1,000 bushels per hour each; two Monitor oat clippers, with a capacity of •1,500 bushels per hour, and one Monitor separator, with a capacity of •3,500 bushels per hour. In addition, the elevator is equipped with a complete signalling system, strand indicators, journal alarms, intercommunicating telephones, fire protection and dust collecting systems. All the machines are electrically operated.

The handling machinery is designed for a simultaneous storage capacity of approximately •4,000,000 bushels. The present storage has a capacity of •2,622,000 bushels. The storage consists of 172 circular tanks and 137 interstices. The capacity of the tanks is •12,100 bushels each, and of the interstices •2,690 bushels each. In addition, the workhouse has a storage capacity of •about 200,000 bushels. Several special features are worth noting in the design of this structure, as, for instance, the basement, which is provided with head room from the bottom of the binds to the basement floor of •17 feet 6 inches. The basement is entirely open, affording ample light and ventilation, while the head room permits of the use of turn heads under the storage bins, giving delivery from 110 bins on any one of the four shipping conveyors. The bin floor and the cupola are also of interest. Above the bin floor of the annex is the installation of Mayo spouts and storage belts, which forms the most complete distributing system to storage yet installed in this type of elevator. The great flexibility of the system is shown by the fact that the center belt is capable of delivering grain through the Mayo spouts to 254 bins.

The shipping conveyor gallery leaves the south side of the workhouse just below the four shipping bins, at an elevation of •approximately 60 feet above the ground, and extends out to the dock gallery a distance of •400 feet at a grade of about 10 per cent. In this gallery are four •40-inch shipping belts, which discharge into hoppers in the marine tower, which in turn discharges onto the 40-inch belts in the dock gallery. The p613dock gallery extends •650 feet parallel to the wharf both east and west from the marine tower, a total distance of •1,300 feet. The capacity of the four shipping conveyors per hour is •100,000 bushels, all of which may be used to load one, two, three or four vessels at the same time. Along the dock gallery a system of spouts •60 feet on centers is provided for loading. At the center of the marine gallery stands the marine tower. On account of the large amount of grain which can be shipped to New Orleans by the river and the desirability of bagging that product at the dock front and also in order more readily to accommodate the variation in water level and the varying dimensions of barges and ships, this tower has been equipped with a pneumatic unloader and ample storage capacity is accessible in the center of the dock gallery, at a point where the shipping conveyor joins the dock gallery. The grain when lifted from vessel or barge is discharged into hoppers located at the top of the marine tower, and from these hoppers to one of the 40-inch shipping belts, all of which are arranged for reversible operation. For bagging the grain, there is a platform in the marine tower •about 15 feet above the wharf, where grain is weighed into the bags by automatic scales. Similar provisions are made on the first floor of the workhouse, where the bagging platforms are located.

As has already been mentioned, the shipping capacity of this elevator is greater than that of any similar elevator at any Gulf or Atlantic port in the United States. This renders it particularly attractive to ocean vessels, in view of the minimum loading time required to take on cargo. The plant went into operation on February 1, 1917, to date has received •approximately 48,000,000 bushels of various kinds of grain.

This great elevator may be classed as the second most important commercial enterprise undertaken in New Orleans. As a factor in developing the efficiency of the port, it ranks next in value only to the state-owned and operated cotton warehouse and the municipally owned Belt Railroad. As the great cotton trade of New Orleans required the construction of the cotton warehouses, so the rapidly increasing export grain business made the erection of the grain elevator imperative.

At the present time the improved wharfage facilities of the port cover eight miles of water front, of which •5.21 miles are under direct control of the port commissioners, with steel sheds •3.64 miles in length. Vessels lie alongside the wharves; there are no slips necessary in this, one of the world's most capacious harbors. The wharf area of the public docks is 2',WIDTH,100)" onMouseOut="nd();">•4,133,182 square feet, of which 2',WIDTH,100)" onMouseOut="nd();">•2,629,186 square feet are covered with eighteen steel sheds. The docks and sheds are of the best modern construction and provided with all facilities for loading and unloading vessels, storage of freight, including banana conveyors, escalators, electric traveling cranes, electric trucks, etc. In addition to these facilities, the railroad wharves add 2',WIDTH,100)" onMouseOut="nd();">•2,358,088 square feet, of which 2',WIDTH,100)" onMouseOut="nd();">•1,849,288 are covered. There are private warehouses for special commodities like sugar, coffee and sisal which aggregate 2',WIDTH,140)" onMouseOut="nd();">•1,500,000 square feet additional.

The Author's Notes:

1 Report of Commissioner of Corporations on Transportation by Water in the United States, Part III. Water Terminals. September 26, 1910, pp15, 16.

2 W. B. Thompson. Address before the Liberal Institute, March 31, 1912, on "Our Public Ownership, Control, and Operation of Terminal Facilities at the Port of New Orleans," published in "Facts about the Port of New Orleans, Compiled by the Board of Port Commissioners," pp40-51.

3 Preliminary report of the Inland Waterways Commission (1908), pp147-148. For these references I am indebted to Prof. M. J. White, of the Department of History, Tulane University of Louisiana, whose paper "New Orleans as a port," read before the American Historical Society, is a valuable study of the recent history of the port.

4 Now Washington Avenue.

5 This frontage is subject to expropriation by the Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans, at any time, under article 200 of the Constitution of the State of Louisiana.

6 Section 2568, Revised Statutes of the United States, approved July 23, 1888.

7 Act No. 70 of 1896, State of Louisiana, approved July 9, 1896.

8 Preliminary Report of the Inland Waterways Commission, p148.

9 Act No. 36 of 1900, approved July 3, 1900.

10 Act No. 180 of 1908, approved July 3, 1908.

11 Act 133 of 1910, approved July 5, 1910.


  1. Capuchin A Catholic friar.

Text prepared by:


Smith, Kendall J. History of New Orleans. Vol. 1 an 2. Chicago: Lewis Pub., 1922. Archive.Org. Chicago New York, The Lewis Publishing Company. Web. Apr.-May 2015. https://archive.org/details/historyofneworle02kend.

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