Streetcars

A series of posts about the trolley lines that played an important role in the development of Mississippi’s big towns in the early twentieth century. This series includes a much-appreciated re-print of Frank Brooks’ “Travelling by Trolley in Mississippi: Stories About Streetcars” originally published by Southern Traction, the magazine of the Electric Railroaders’ Association (Texas Division) in 1983.

Travelling by Trolley in Mississippi: Stories about Streetcars (view the scanned pdf)

Foreword and Introduction
Columbus
Greenville
Gulfport-Biloxi
Hattiesburg
Jackson
Laurel-Ellisville
Memphis-Lakeview
Meridian
Natchez
Pascagoula-Moss Point
Summit-McComb
Vicksburg
Yazoo City

7 replies

  1. Thank you for making Frank A. Brooks, Jr.’s, “Travelling by Trolley in Mississippi: Stories about Streetcars” available online – and thank you in particular to Dr. Brooks for granting permission to do this.

    One key detail about U.S. streetcar systems is difficult to research – passenger traffic. If you want to know how many passengers rode a particular system in a given year, then you should probably cross your fingers before starting research. Passenger traffic statistics for individual streetcar lines – not systems, but lines – are exceptionally rare.

    Unlike most countries, the U.S. did not collect statistics for “all” streetcar systems on a “national” basis (with one exception, discussed below). Instead, each state followed its own practices. Some collected annual operating statistics and published them (e.g. New York). Others collected statistics, but did not publish them (e.g. Illinois, Pennsylvania). Others are known to have collected statistics, but did not publish them and have lost the original reports submitted by the companies (e.g. Texas). Others did not collect statistics “statewide” because streetcar systems were regulated by local governments and not by the state (e.g. Iowa). My favorite story: Some Alabama companies did submit the required reports to the state and included financial data – but did not bother to fill in the blanks for number of cars, miles of track, number of passengers carried and so forth (the most flagrant “scofflaw” was the company that served Montgomery, the capital).

    The U.S. Census Bureau collected statistics for “all” streetcar companies nationwide for 1890. They did so again for 1902, and at five-year intervals thereafter to 1937. However, from 1912, statistics for individual companies were not shown. Instead, statistics were grouped by state. The Census Bureau eventually began grouping states together when necessary to “avoid disclosing individual companies” (i.e. when only one system remained in a given state). This was done apparently because the companies objected to financial and other data being published by the U.S. Census Bureau (they apparently didn’t mind, or perhaps couldn’t influence, state regulatory agencies).

    A few years back, I asked the National Archives if the “original” census forms submitted by streetcar companies from 1912 had been saved. The answer: no, they were destroyed after the statistics were tabulated. The loss to historians is incalculable.

    My associate, Michael D. Setty, and I have collected passenger traffic statistics for rail transit systems worldwide and have placed these online. (See: “Rail Transit Worldwide: Traffic Density & Related Statistics
    Links to Tables, References and Appendices,” http://www.publictransit.us/ptlibrary/trafficdensityonline.htm). Dr. Brooks’ book has been a valuable resource for our attempts to estimate annual passenger traffic for Mississippi streetcar systems after 1907.

    Like

  2. I’ll start with statewide statistics. “Miles” refers to “system length,” which is the total (unduplicated) length of routes. (This is called “miles of road” or “miles of first main track” in historic data tables). This statistic is somewhat less than “miles of track, which includes the second track on double-track segments, passing tracks and so forth. “Passengers” refers to all passengers, “revenue” (fare), “transfer” and “free.” We count “all” passengers in an attempt to make “historic” statistics reasonable compatible with modern ones.

    Please note that “companies” are exactly that – companies. At one point, Mississippi Power & Light operated four streetcar systems, and so the number of “companies” for this interval was lower than the number of “streetcar systems in operation.”

    1880: 4.3 miles, (assume this was in Jackson).

    1890: 4 companies, 18.3 miles, 700,000 passengers.

    1902: 5 companies, 23.7 miles, 3.1 million passengers.

    1907: 8 companies, 79.8 miles, 10.3 million passengers.

    1912: 12 companies, 107.0 miles, 12.8 million passengers.

    1917: 11 companies, 112.4 miles, 12.2 million passengers.

    1922: 7 companies, 90.0 miles, 9.4 million passengers.

    1927: 3 companies, 44.3 miles, 4.7 million passengers.

    1932: 3 companies, 23 miles (estimate), 1.8 million passengers.

    The four streetcar systems operating in 1890 included the Enterprise Street Railway Company, which was worked by mule (or horse). The town had about 1,000 people, and the streetcar line, which extended 1.25 miles, carried all of 2,186 passengers that year. It was opened sometime after 1882 and closed after 1890. The 1890 report states that the company owned one car, and one horse (or mule).

    Like

    • Wow. Thank you for the extensive background info. Just for comparison below are the population numbers for Mississippi from that time period.

      1880: 1,131,597
      1890: 1,289,600
      1900: 1,551,270
      1910: 1,797,114
      1920: 1,790,618
      1930: 2,009,821
      1940: 2,183,796

      The street car systems were getting quite a bit of use at their peak.

      Like

  3. This is really helpful information to give an overall perspective about streetcars in Mississippi–thanks so much for sharing it! And it looks like Enterprise escaped Dr. Brooks’ attention, so will have to be added to the list. That makes me wonder if the other company town in Clarke County, Stonewall, might have also had a streetcar at some point?

    It is strange that Jackson was so early in getting a streetcar, when Vicksburg was the dominant city in most ways including population during the post-bellum period.

    Like

    • Capital cities were often the first to receive streetcar service. What would be a more modern thing in the 1880s than for out-of-state dignitaries or out-of-town visitors to arrive at the train station and take a streetcar up the capital’s main thoroughfare to the state capitol. Remember, the first city-wide electric streetcar system in the United States was in Montgomery, Alabama. Montgomery in 1886 (the year the Lighting Route, formally known as the Capital City Street Railway, began) was not the largest city in Alabama (Mobile had that honor), nor was it the oldest (Mobile, again), nor was it the state’s economic powerhouse (Birmingham), but Montgomery did have the Stephen Button/Barachias Holt-designed Alabama State Capitol perched atop Goat Hill.

      For the record, the Lightning Route lasted exactly 50 years, opening on April 15, 1886 and ending service on April 15, 1936. The Lightning Route was replaced by those infamous Montgomery buses.

      Like

      • Richmond, Virginia is another example of this capital first mentality as the Richmond Union Passenger Railway began service in 1888.

        Like

        • I am so excited to know that the renevation have started, I was a patient in the Hospital several times the last time it was in the fifties, I have such a spirit of gratitude for the excellent care and love expressed to me in my stay, May the blessings of the LORD cover every one involve.

          Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 622 other followers

%d bloggers like this: