Charcoal boats in New Basin Canal, 1906, Detroit Publishing Co., Library of Congress
All aboard the Mandeville, Abita Springs, Covington motorcar express. Express by 1909 standards, that is. Seen here crossing the Bogue Falaya River in Covington is the short-lived gasoline-driven motorcar that once transported local residents, day-trippers and vacationers from a steamboat pier on the Mandeville lakefront north to Abita Springs and then on to Covington. Along the way it made stops in Hansborough, Chinchuba, Ozone Park, Helenburg and Claiborne, hamlets that no longer exists.
For more than a century, St. Tammany has been a popular retreat for New Orleanians and a developer’s dream. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, steamboats such as the “New Camelia” and later trains carried city dwellers, fleeing yellow fever and summer heat, back and forth across the lake to hotels and summer houses on the Northshore. In the 1880s and 90s, land developers made fortunes promoting St. Tammany’s health-giving spring waters and so-called “Ozone” air while timber companies cleared virgin forests to make way for new developments.
As the population in west St. Tammany grew, more convenient forms of transportation were needed to transport people from steamer landings in Mandeville to Abita Springs and Covington. In came land developers Clay Riggs and Joseph Birg in 1905. According to Louis Hennick and Harper Charlton’s 1998 book, “Street Railways of Louisiana,” Riggs and Birg bought large parcels of land between Mandeville and Covington. Then in 1906, they created the St. Tammany & New Orleans Railways and Ferry Co. Their plan was to build a motorcar line that would give New Orleanians direct passage to west St. Tammany first by steamboat from Milneburg and West End on the New Orleans lakefront to Mandeville and then by motorcar north to Abita Springs and Covington. The following year they convinced the St. Tammany Parish Police Jury and landowners in the Mandeville-Abita Springs-Covington area to pass a ten-year property tax to finance the project. Tracks were laid, stations built, and two gasoline-powered motorcars purchased. Service began on Feb. 13, 1909. The company soon added two more cars to the line.
In 1915, the company reorganized as the St. Tammany & New Orleans Railways & Power Co. and converted most its motorcars to electricity, which required poles and electric wires be strung along the route from Mandeville to Covington. With their new diesel-powered generators, the company also provided electric power to the City of Mandeville. By 1917, as Hennick and Charlton noted in their history of the railway, the company was deep in debt and ridership had declined drastically. To pay creditors, the company shut down the line in June 1918 and sold off its cars and equipment to a St. Louis company for scrap.