The first recorded use of the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico connection came in 1542, when Luis Moscoso led the remainder of the Hernado de Do Soto expedition down the river and into the Gulf. In the years since, the river, its tributaries, and the Gulf have formed one of the major transportation systems of the world.
The importance of the waterways and of the individuals and organizations that encourage their development is beyond question. LaRC preserves books, maps, images, archival records, and other holdings so future generations will have as full a record of the water transportation system as possible.
From the very beginning of the river's use, New Orleans has stood at the center of operations along the Mississippi, the Gulf, and later, the intracoastal canal. Indeed, it is difficult to consult any archival collection of New Orleans without finding some mention of the river. LaRC preserves colonial records detailing the movement of ships, troops, and supplies during the French and Spanish periods and the development of plantations on the waterfront. During the nineteenth century, the Mississippi River was the lifeblood of New Orleans touching all phases of life. A young lady's diary, for example, records the numerous times she and her suitors strolled along the levee just to look at the steamboats on the water.
The majesty of the river has produced a well-known literature. It was commerce and transportation, however, that were and remain the important aspects of inland water transportation. In the twentieth century, individual business and an increasing number of local and state agencies worked together to improve the system that had served the nation so well..
LaRC's holdings record the activities of individual businesses, the literature, organizations and the romance that the Mississippi and connected waters. These collections serve as a focal point for research. Listed below are some of LaRC's major collections for waterways research. Space is too limited to mention those numerous collections that have some information about the water transportation system. Rather mention is made only of those collections where water transportation serves as a major part of the collection.
- American Waterways Operators, region 3, records, 22 linear feet (in process).
- Behrhorst, Henry and Catherine, collection, 10 linear feet (in process). Papers of Vernon Behrhorst, former Executive Director of the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association, and his brother, Carroll Behrhorst, a physician active in Guatamalan health and community development programs.
- Beauregard, Pierre Gustave Toutant , papers, 1839-1888, 233 items, Manuscripts Collection 240. Mainly letters to reports of General Beauregard in his capacity as an engineer and his studies on the Mississippi River, especially concerning James B. Eads project for jetties at the mouth of the river.
- Brown, Richard L., collector, 1901, 1921, 128 photographs, Manuscripts Collection 787. Part I records a trip taken by Eugene H. Park to Port Eads, South Pass, Mississippi River in 1901. Includes views of steamers, tugs, the Port of New Orleans, fishermen, and fish.
- Burman, Ben Lucien 1896-1984, and Burman, Alice Caddy 1896-1977, papers, ca. 1927-1984, 40 linear feet, Manuscripts Collection 529. Correspondence, articles, book drafts, scrapbooks, photographs, sketches, and other papers documenting this Southern husband and wife, novelist/artist team. They were most famous for their "Catfish Bend" satires. Ben Lucien Burman also achieved fame as a North African-based journalist during World War II, where his exposes of the Vichy regime earned him the Legion of Honor.
- Burton, Walthall , papers, 1840-1866, 84 items, Manuscripts Collection 431. Business papers of Walthall Burton, a steamboat captain on the Atchafalaya and the Mississippi Rivers. He later became a plantation owner in St. Landry Parish.
- Catchings, Thomas Clendinen , 1862-1925, 3,175 items, Manuscripts Collection 37. Business, legal and political correspondence of Thomas C. Catchings, United States Representative from Mississippi from 1885 to 1901. Much of his correspondence concerns establishing greater flood control on the Mississippi River.
- Cooley Family papers, 1980-1960 1,177 items, Manuscripts Collection 301. Mainly the correspondence and writings of LaVerrier Cooley (d. 1931) as owner and captain of the America and the Ouachita. The collection also includes the papers of his daughter Esther, who also wrote on river related topics.
- Derbanne, Francois , 1679-1734, Relation du poste de Natchitoches..., 1724, 2 items, Manuscripts Collection M-968. 10-page account of Louis Juchereau de St. Denis and French activities at Natchitoches dealing with Indian trade, Spanish relations and attempts to find LaSalle's group lost in 1684. Describes navigation of the Red River, Spanish posts in East Texas and San Antonio, and trade routes to Mexico and New Mexico.
- Gilmore, Samuel Louis , papers, 1876-1910, 2 linear feet, Manuscripts Collection 618. Business and legal papers of New Orleans city attorney, Samuel L. Gilmore and includes the minutes and reports of the 1908 Louisiana Ports Investigating Committee.
- Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association records, 1875-1988, 12 linear feet, Manuscripts Collection 663. Correspondence, minutes, reports, published and pictorial matter of the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association, an organization formed in 1905 to promote the development and the use of a canal connecting the Rio Grande to the Mississippi. The Association, known initially as the Intracoastal Canal Association of Louisiana and Texas, has grown to extend its interest to include a canal across the Gulf to Florida and has supported the development of feeder waterways. The Association was the major force responsible tot he creation of a standardized waterway along the Gulf Coast and has been active in getting federal, state, local and private support for the maintenance and extension of the canal.
- Haar, Herbert R., Jr., papers, 1974-1988, 12 volumes, Manuscripts Collection B-322. Articles, speeches, and testimonials prepared by the Deputy Director of the Port of New Orleans. Pertains mainly to waterways and water transportation.
- Klorer, John , papers, 1920-1943, 160 pieces, Manuscripts Collection 59. Pertains to a former Supervising Engineer for New Orleans.
- Lafayette [N.O.] port register , 1834-1836, 1 volume, Manuscripts Collection 540 (23). Manuscript volume listing by date wharf fees for boats arriving at the Port of Lafayette [N.O.]. Lists cargo and fees, also boat breakup fees.
- Leathers, Thomas P., papers 1986-1951, 66 items, Manuscripts Collection 131. Mainly the correspondence of and clippings about Thomas P. Leathers captain and owner of a number of river steamboats, notably the Natchez series of vessels.
- Louisianais Records , 1824-1825, 100 Items, Manuscripts Collection B-110. Manifest records of a Mississippi River Steamboat in the early days of steam transportation on the river.
- Mississippi and Mexican Gulf Ship Canal Company Minutes , 1868-1872, 1 volume, Manuscripts Collection M-1018. Minutes of a private company created to build a canal from the Mississippi River to Lake Ponchartrain.
- McLellan Papers , 1839-1884, 92 items, Manuscripts Collection 629. Business correspondence of two ship chandlers in New Orleans for the middle of the nineteenth-century.
- National Waterways Conference records, 4 linear feet (in process).
- New Orleans Traffic and Transportation Bureau records, 1914-1986, 9 linear feet. Principally the minutes of the board of the New Orleans Traffic and Transportation Bureau established in 1915 to promote the development of the port of New Orleans through establishing competitive freight rates structures for water, rail and truck transportation. The papers also include directors reports and financial records.
- Norton, N.S., letter, 1838, 1 piece, Manuscripts Collection M910. On board the steamboat Echo , on the Ohio River, Norton describes river travel and financial arrangements of river boats.
- Red River Raft Project papers, 1872-1873, 664 pp., Manuscripts Collection 480. Correspondence and reports of United States Corps of Engineers C. W. Howell and E.A. Woodruff concerning the elimination of the log raft on the Red River in Louisiana.
- Standard Fruit and Steamship Company, 1901-1963, 25 linear feet, Manuscripts Collection 653. Papers covering all aspects of the operations of Standard Fruit Company including the records of subsidiary shipping companies. While Standard Fruit never equaled the Great White Fleet of United Fruit, it did operate over thirty ships in the Gulf of Mexico.
- United States Marine Hospital records, 1879-1891, 3 volumes, Manuscripts Collection 757. Register of patients, mainly seamen and river men, admitted to the New Orleans-based Marine Hospital.
- Water Resources Congress records, 1918-1982, 9 linear feet, Manuscripts Collection 643. Minutes of meetings and publications of the Mississippi Valley Association and of the Rivers and Harbors Congress. The two, and then unified, association work for improving water and transportation facilities, water conservation and flood control.
- Winsor, Daniel L., papers, 1841-1848, 129 items. Correspondence of a New Orleans merchant giving extensive details about market conditions, shipping, river traffic and freight rates.
- Wright, Donald T./ Jones, Joseph Merrick , collection, 1843-1975 135 linear feet. A comprehensive collection created by Donald T. Wright, former editor of the Waterways Journal, and then purchased for Tulane by the Joseph Merrick Jones Foundation. The collection focuses on all aspects of inland water transportation and includes over 1,000 books, 30,000 photographs of boats and crews, 3,000 bills of lading and freight bills, 500 steamboat advertising cards and covers, 2,000 newspaper clippings, manuscripts of Bert Banks and F.L. Woolridge, records of the Anchor Lines and a large gathering of ephemera relating to the Mississippi River System.
The Louisiana Research Collection preserves many collections, not specifically devoted to waterways, that contain important resources for waterways studies. These include the papers of Members of Congress Hale Boggs, Lindy Boggs, and F. Edward Hebert; Louisiana governors Sam Jones and David Treen; papers of Raymond Martinez, public relations director for the Port of New Orleans; records of International House and the World Trade Center (formerly the International Trade Mart), and others.