Canal Street / Algiers Ferry
New Orleans, Louisiana (April 2008)
A Short Video of the Canal Street Ferry
This video records our Mississippi River traverse from the base of Canal Street in New Orleans across to Algiers Point in April 2008. This presents scenic views of the waterfront on both sides of the river from multiple perspectives.
I tried to do the same thing on an earlier trip in October 2007 but the ferry had been taken out of service for the afternoon. This video provides a closeup view of the ferry at its Canal Street dock as well as some of the waterside sights in the immediate vicinity.
Crescent City Connection
The quickest way to cross the Mississippi River between New Orleans' Central Business District and its Westbank is to take the Crescent City Connection, eight lanes on twin cantilever bridge spanning nearly a mile. That's impressive if the goal is simply to get from one shore to the other. Just focus on the road and it's like the river doesn't exist, and it's crossed before anyone even realizes it. Fast yes, but not very remarkable. For a slower pace that combines sweeping views of the city with an appreciation for the river's power, head instead for the Canal Street / Algiers Ferry.
Paddle Wheeler Natchez and French Quarter Waterfront
We used a hotel near the Convention Center as our home base to explore many of the typical New Orleans attractions. Satisfied with that we turned our attention next to Algiers Point, an old historic neighborhood across the river on the Westbank. It's easy to do and it doesn't require a car. The ferry departs from the base of Canal Street every half hour during the day at the quarter before and after the hour (with return trips on the hour and half-hour). The price is also right: for pedestrians it's free. As we fought the Mississippi current, pushing further across the river, we could clearly see behind us the three spires of St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. We also spotted the paddle wheeler Natchez moored at the Toulouse Street Wharf near the Jackson Brewery, preparing to take tourists on a scenic river cruise.
There is a long history of ferry service in this section of the river. Perhaps the best summary is provided by the New Orleans Public Library in their online exhibit, "The River Runs Through It: New Orleans and the Mississippi": "Algiers' first public ferry was established in 1827, when the Louisiana legislature granted August Coycault and Barthelemy Gosselin a contract to operate a steam ferry from the foot of Patterson Street on the west bank to Jackson Square on the east bank. In 1834, a second ferry was added, its dock at de la Ronde Street and its east bank landing at St. Louis Street (moved later to Canal St.). And in 1858 a third ferry--the Third District Ferry began to run from Verret Street to Esplanade Ave; this later became the ferry that transported railroad cars across the river."
Today the ferry is operated by the State of Louisiana by it's Department of Transportation and Development through its Crescent City Connection Division.
St. Louis Cathedral from the Mississippi River
The amazing thing about Algiers Point is that it's maybe a mile from the French Quarter, but it exists and thrives in a completely different world. The Mississippi River neatly cleaves Algiers from the revelry and exuberance of its more famous counterpart across the water. Because of its relative isolation from the larger city, Algiers Point has been a quieter place with a slower pace and a greater affordability for families that chose to live there. This allowed a close-knit neighborhood of detached single family homes to thrive in the shadow of a distinctive New Orleans skyline so nearby and yet so completely removed.
Hotels with River Views
The Canal Street / Algiers ferry lets tourists to visit Algiers Point with ease. It provides ready accessibility to an interesting and historic area that might otherwise be overlooked. Most people may never stop filling their go-cup hurricanes in the French Quarter long enough to realize a ferry exists, but for those who are looking for a more meaningful experience and something a little different, the opportunity certainly exists. A pleasant afternoon or even an entire day could be spent strolling the historic streets of Algiers, browsing through quirky shops, and pondering the river from the top of the levee. Another destination is Mardi Gras World, the birthplace of many elaborate and creative floats that will wind their way down crowded streets on the days leading up to Fat Tuesday. Each arriving ferry is met by a van that whisks visitors right to the front entrance a few blocks away.
But the ferry isn't just about tourists, and in fact most passengers are probably commuters who live in Algiers and work across the river, either in the high rise office buildings of the central business district or among the many shops, restaurants and attractions that make New Orleans famous. When Hurricane Katrina came through Louisiana in 2005 it affected the ferry along with the rest of the city. The state cut back the ferry schedule severely. The Friends of the Ferry arose within that context to fight for the restoration of service levels and to otherwise promote the ferry as the Algiers Point neighborhood. Today the ferry is back to its former glory under the watchful eyes of its protective guardian.
Readers who have an interest in ferries might also want to check my Ferry Index page.