Laissez les bon temps rouler! Let the good times roll! With Mardi Gras being celebrated in New Orleans tomorrow (March 5) you can be sure that a festive atmosphere pervades the city before Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of Lent, brings an end to the annual carnival. In bygone days, this was the time of year when the wharves were crowded with riverboats laden with costumed revelers and other visitors who arrived to enjoy the elaborate parades and, of course, to partake of the traditional King Cakes.
This week’s Old Boat Column presents an image, taken in 1900, of two packets, the J.E. Trudeau and the Parlor City, at the wharf. Note the people lining the upper decks of both boats as they await the arrival of King Rex, who was scheduled to appear on board the U.S. Naval Reserve Ship Stranger. Although not visible in the photo, the Stranger was a steam yacht (173.5 by 23 feet) that was built in 1880 at Philadelphia; it was designated military status in 1898.
Built for $16,000 in 1889 by the Howard Shipyard at Jeffersonville, Ind., the sternwheeler J.E. Trudeau had a wooden hull measuring 160 feet in length by 30 feet in width. Owned by the New Orleans & Washington Packet Company, the vessel was designed to run in the New Orleans, Black and Ouachita River trades. On April 20, 1898, while running between New Orleans and Melville, the steamer hit an obstruction at Alto Landing in Pointe Coupee Parish and sank, submerging the main deck, the only notable accident to befall the vessel. The steamboat Electra came to the scene and removed the passengers. Later owned by the Planters’ Packet Company, the steamboat was reportedly valued at $7,000.
While en route to Morgan City and Bayou Teche on February 29, 1912, the Trudeau burned, a total loss, with several deckhands losing their lives.
Also a product of the Howard Shipyard, the Parlor City was built in 1892 for a contract cost of $10,000. Constructed on a wooden hull that measured 125 feet in length by 26 feet in width, the vessel was equipped with one boiler that supplied steam to engines having 9-inch cylinders with a 4-foot stroke.
The riverboat was built by Capt. L. Brunner expressly for the Monroe, D’Arbonne and Bartholomew trade, connecting at Monroe with Ouachita River packets bound for New Orleans. Capt. L.V. Cooley purchased the Parlor City in 1895 and operated it between New Orleans and the Ouachita River during the summer and autumn seasons. By 1900, the vessel was again owned by Capt. Brunner.
There is no record of any major accidents involving the boat, except one. On October 22, 1902, while lying at New Orleans, the sternwheeler Natchez (No. 8) was making a landing when the packet crashed into the Parlor City, sinking it.
Steamboat Inspection Service records list the boat as being raised and taken to a drydock for repairs, but the decision was made to scrap the vessel.
The engines were salvaged and placed on the packet Frank B. Hayne, built by the Howard yard in 1904.