New Basin Canal

The New Basin Canal and adjacent West End Park in 1915, viewed from Lake Pontchartrain towards the City of New Orleans, three miles to the south The New Basin Canal, also known as the New Orleans Canal and the New Canal, was a shipping canal in New Orleans from the 1830s through the 1940s. Small pleasure boats now moor on the only remaining portion of the canal that was important to regional commerce in the 19th century.

The New Basin Canal was constructed by the New Orleans Canal and Banking Company, incorporated in 1831 with a capital of 4 million United States dollars. The intent was to build a shipping canal from Lake Pontchartrain through the swamp land to the booming Uptown or "American" section of the city, to compete with the existing Carondelet Canal in the Downtown Creole part of the city. Work commenced the following year. Yellow fever ravaged workers in the swamp in back of the town, and the loss of slaves was judged too expensive, so most of the work was done by Irish immigrant laborers. The Irish workers died in great numbers, but the Company had no trouble finding more workers to take their place, as shiploads of poor Irishmen arrived in New Orleans, and many were willing to risk their lives in hazardous backbreaking work for a chance to earn $1 a day.

By 1838, after an expense of $1million, the 60-foot (18 m) wide 3.17-mile (5.10 km) long canal was complete enough to be opened to small vessels drawing 6 feet (1.8 m), with $0.375 per ton charged for passage. Over the next decade the canal was enlarged to 12 feet (3.7 m) deep, 100 feet (30 m) wide, and with shell roads alongside. No official count was kept of the deaths of the immigrant workers; estimates ranging from 4,000 to 30,000 have been published, with most historical best guesses falling in the 8,000 to 20,000 dead range. Many were buried with no marking in the levee and roadway fill beside the canal.

The Canal joined with Lake Pontchartrain around the present day intersection of Robert E. Lee and West End Boulevards, but jetties were added on both sides extending into the lake, one with a lighthouse standing on the far end. From the lake the canal headed south through the swamp, cut through the highground of Metairie Ridge, through the mid-city lowlands, into the city, ended in a turning-basin at Rampart Street & Howard Avenue in what is now the New Orleans Central Business District.

The canal was commercially important through the 19th century, and served additional uses as improving drainage in nearby areas and being used to harvest the bald cypress trees in what is now the Lakeview neighborhood, which were brought in to the city near the river via the canal and used to build many Uptown houses.

alt=" "Black Bridge" over New Basin Canal in raised position. (This was at or about at the same spot now occupied by the railway viaduct over the Pontchartrain Expressway a short distance riverwards from the West End Boulevard interchange.) " The importance of the canal declined after World War I, especially with the opening of the Industrial Canal in 1923. In 1936 the Louisiana Legislature passed a state constitutional amendment to close the canal. In 1937-1938 the area back to Claiborne Avenue was filled in, but the rest of the length continued functioning on a more limited scale until after World War II. The rest was filled in by about 1950, except for a half mile long stretch at the lakefront by the lighthouse which was left as a small boat and yachting harbor and continues to exist.

Much of the route became the Pontchartrain Expressway in the 1950s, which was incorporated into I-10 the following decade. The stretch from the Interstate to Robert E Lee became a long narrow park by West End Boulevard. On November4, 1990 the Irish Cultural Society of New Orleans dedicated a large Kilkenny marble Celtic cross in the park to commemorate the Irish workers who constructed the canal.

The lighthouse that stands at the entrance to the canal, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was heavily damaged during the 2005 hurricane season. By the end of hurricane season the first floor had collapsed and its cupola had fallen off. In 2006 the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation signed a lease with the United States Coast Guard to repair the damaged lighthouse.

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