When it comes to evocations of the past, model railroads are hard to beat. Few North American cities, meanwhile, can boast histories as rich, as complex and as downright engaging as that of New Orleans. It’s only fitting, then, that in the heart of the Big Easy – that is, smack in the middle of the 1,300-acre urban oasis known as City Park – resides a thoroughly whimsical and impressive model train experience.
The Historic New Orleans Train Garden, located in the park’s Botanical Garden, a treasure in its own right, features almost a quarter-mile of track carrying 1/22-scale streetcars and freight trains similar to those that wound through and around Crescent City a full century ago.
What’s especially marvelous about this particular display, however, is the landscape the trains traverse. Designed by the ingenious artist Paul Busse, who for decades has created equally magical scenes in botanic gardens around the country, the small, dream-like buildings and iconic sights of New Orleans have been crafted from organic, natural, biodegradable materials. As visitors walk around the display, they can read about certain landmarks and neighborhoods (the Old Absinthe House; the Garden District; the St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square) that are “stops” along the trains’ routes.
The Train Garden is open when the Botanical Garden itself is open, but the trains run on a limited schedule, i.e., Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 AM - 4:30 PM.