Lake Pontchartrain (Images of America)

Back to the Bayou


The fort on Bayou St. John was decommissioned in 1823 and is best remembered as “Spanish Fort” a term used today to describe the crumbling remains of the ancient structure that was for a time surrounded by an amusement park and resort. By the 1870’s, Spanish Fort had become known throughout the United States -- as its proprietors billed it -- as the “Coney Island of the South” (West End also claimed that title). At the pavilion noted figures of the day spoke and lectured. The resort included the Pontchartrain Hotel, a casino, an opera house, a theater, restaurants, gardens, and bathing piers. In 1896 the East Louisiana Railroad constructed a wharf and trestle for the steamer “Cape Charles” which ran to and from Mandeville.

During the Civil War, private boats as well as commercial ships and steamers were used on the river and on the lake to deliver provisions needed by the Confederacy. The CSS Carondelet, which was built at Bayou St. John, and the yacht, Corypheus, were among those so employed on Lake Pontchartrain. A submarine, believed to be the first ever built, was constructed at Spanish Fort in 1861-62. It sunk while being tested in Bayou St. John resulting in the loss of three sailors’ lives. It was later dredged and displayed near the Over the Rhine at the Spanish Fort resort. Federal troops were depicted “Evacuating civilians from Lake Pontchartrain” in an 1863 edition of the Illustrated London News – the caption read, “Arrival of a Federal Steamer with Flag of Truce at Madisonville”.

Voodoo was practiced on the lake, most notably on the annual “St. John’s Day” ceremonies. A June 25, 1870 N.O. Times article describes “the great day for the voudous, and is greatly celebrated in their usual style at the lake, between Bayou St. John and Lakeport [Milneburg]”where “Voudou dances commenced at twelve o’clock and will be kept up until tonight at twelve o’clock…Marie Levou, Eliza Nicau, Euphrasie, were in their glories” amidst “not only their colored subjects, but also by a numerous crowd of well-known gentlemen from this city”.


Other books by Catherine Campanella:

Excerpts from New Orleans City Park (Images of America)

The Beginning
West End
Back to the Bayou
War and Peaceful Pursuits
Life on the Lake
Photo Gallery
More Lake Pontchartrain History

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A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book is dedicated to the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation's efforts to rebuild the historic New Canal Lighthouse.

Contact Catherine Campanella