MissPres has run three posts about streetcar lines in Mississippi, in all of which we bemoaned the lack of information or tangible evidence of these once dominant local transports. In “Mysterious Case of the Missing Streetcar Lines,” I reprinted a list of cities that had streetcars in 1901, and the list was surprisingly long. Then, back in January’s “Found: A Streetcar Map!,” I posted a map of Jackson’s streetcar lines in 1912 that I had come across in a publication called “From Frontier Capital to Modern City: A history of Jackson, Mississippi’s built environment.” That inspired Thomas Rosell to post a recent map of Biloxi’s streetcar lines that he had picked up at the public library in “Biloxi Trolley Line Routes.“
Fast-forward to May, and I was browsing at the archives and what did I come across but the original source of that 1912 Jackson map, along with maps of all the other streetcar lines in the state and narrative histories for each city! Titled “Travelling by Trolley in Mississippi: Stories about Streetcars,” this booklet was published in Southern Traction, a magazine of the Texas Division of the Electric Railroaders Association, in September 1983. How did I not know about this before? Since no one else mentioned this valuable history in the comments to any of the previous posts, I figured I wasn’t the only person who hadn’t known about it. So I started tracking down the author, Frank A. Brooks, to try to get permission to re-print it here on MissPres and bring it into the digital age.
Thankfully, Mr. Brooks has generously given permission to re-print, and I hope that a new generation of Mississippi historians can read it and use it as a starting point for their own research into Mississippi’s urban development in the early 20th century.
Today, we’ll post the introduction and tomorrow will be the first chapter. After that, we’ll post the next chapter each Thursday until we’ve got the whole book. At times, when available, I’ve added relevant postcards from the MDAH Cooper Postcard Collection. If you have images you’re willing to share, send me an e-mail and we’ll see what we can do. Enjoy!
Summer of 1983
All of us have felt a yearning to see what Mississippi is really like. Is it all magnolias? No, you will thrill at the azaleas and the green everywhere. Thanks to today’s automobile we can see it. But fast. Too fast. When you peek at downtown Yazoo City or Natchez or even Jackson, you are struck by evidence of what it was like in the ‘teens and twenties. You can see some of those same 1890 buildings even today. Of course some new buildings have cropped up, store fronts improved, but you can even visit the antebellum homes in exact restoration, the real things still there. Too, the rivers are much the same.
Mississippi being essentially rural today as then, you recall it was agricultural products and forest products that carried those glory days. Now cattle and oil lead to a new era. In Mississippi, as elsewhere, you get the feeling that only the trolleys are missing.
Postbellum decline, resulting in diminishing plantation economy, caused the rise of the small cities which had high hopes of becoming another New Orleans or Memphis. Streetcars were the imprinter or proof that a village had become a city. From the 1880’s to the 1920’s Mississippi “city pride” tried to the show the world! They had street railways. We all still marvel and try to recall what it was like.
Now in the 1980’s, Frank has tried to show what it was like. Not by statistics nor by pioneering names, but just what he could discover about that relaxed and fanciful era. He doesn’t subject you to lists of car rosters and fare structures. Nor annual riders records nor even annual losses. Just what he could find out by asking.
Thus, Frank has given you a peek at what it was like in those days. Russ Powers tried to create maps to illustrate the times that Frank was describing. Rich Andrews and Joe Canfield searched for and found transfers of those days. Frank was given many rare photos by his friends to illustrate how it really was. The Texas Division Electric Railroaders’ Association is pleased to present this gem of a publication to record, for you, memories of those days.
Wait a minute, you ask, why Texas Division encouraging a Southern publication? Easy to answer! There are no electric Railroad clubs anywhere in the South so members often ask, “If we don’t publish it, who will?” That says it for us! Relax and enjoy–Rodney Varney, Division Chairman.
TRAVELING BY TROLLEY IN MISSISSIPPI
by Frank A. Brooks, Jr.
It has been 33 years since an electric motor received power from an overhead trolley wire and propelled a streetcar along some well-worn tracks within the state of Mississippi. While only three of the passenger systems survived until the 1930’s, a unique little freight operation survived considerably longer. Two elderly freight motors swayed through Biloxi streets calling at several seafood plants and canneries as they picked up or set out an occasional car or two. This surviving electric service officially ground to a halt on July 8, 1949. As of that date, Mississippi joined the growing ranks of many other states which formerly supported networks of street railway and interurban systems, but which now were “trolleyless” because of outright abandonment or bus substitution.
Mississippi has always been a rural state. Therefore, it may be surprising that there were, at one time, 13 electric railway companies operating within the state. They varied in size; the largest was the Gulfport and Mississippi Coast Traction Company, which operated up to 30 miles of track, the majority of which were in the 22 miles of interurban line between Biloxi and Pass Christian. The remaining 8 miles of track provided local streetcar service in Biloxi and Gulfport. The smallest company was Yazoo City’s Public Service Commission’s railroad which operated over 4.3 miles of track. Other street railway lines in Mississippi were operated at Jackson, Meridian, Vicksburg, Hattiesburg, Laurel, Natchez, Greenville, Columbus, Pascagoula, DeSoto County (Lakeview), and McComb.
Counting Biloxi and the Gulfport and Mississippi Coast Interurban as two separate electric systems, and leaving out McComb, you have a total of 13 trolley lines. McComb (motor) was one of those lines that were never electrified. This is true also for Enterprise, Miss., which had a mile and a quarter of mule car track in the 1880’s and 1890’s. In the 1930’s, an interurban was created on ex-Mobile & Ohio tracks, with the grand name of Okolona, Houston and Calhoun City Ry. Co. (motor). It was to be electrified, but it never reached that exalted position before falling victim of the depression. While these three systems ran on track, they were not trolleys.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Frank A. Brooks, Jr. has loved trains and streetcars for as long as he can remember. He and his wife Jo Anne are parents of 2 children and grandparents of 4. During his active ministry of 43 years in the Presbyterian Church he served in Kentucky, Mississippi, Virginia and Arkansas. In retirement, Dr. and Mrs. Brooks live in her hometown Corinth, MS.
Categories: Historic Preservation
Thanks Malvaney, Rosell and especially Brooks. This will be fun. Everyone loves streetcars and trolleys.
I can’t wait to read more of this series!
I’ve got a 1907 map of the Meridian streetcar lines.
If you’re willing to share, I’d love to include it as an addendum to the Meridian chapter.
Would be happy to share the map. Where do I send it?
I am so pleased I discovered this website in my Home State. I am learning so many wonderful things I never knew. Just wanted to thank you for these enlightening articles.