Today’s post is Chapter 5 in our series re-printing Frank Brooks’ “Travelling by Trolley in Mississippi: Stories about Streetcars.” View other posts in the series at the “Streetcars” tab.
It has been a good many years since I have been in downtown Jackson but I remember how old streetcar tracks used to be visible in the pavement where Capitol Street ended at State Street. There were also tracks to be seen in a street alongside the Illinois Central passenger station. All remnants of trolley transportation may well be gone by now, but Jackson boasted travel by streetcar railway for 64 years. The first tracks appears in Jackson streets in 1871 with the inauguration of mule-drawn cars. Those cars followed a route from the railroad station to the old capitol, thence up State Street to Fortification Street. Another line traveled northerly on West Street to the area of Millsaps College. In a recent book entitled Jackson, the Way We Were, Carl McIntire wrote a delightful story about Norris Morgan, a driver of one of Jackson’s mule cars, who did shopping for some of the housewives along his line. As he passed their houses going downtown, he would get their orders and then make the purchases upon arrival at the stores. He then made the individual deliveries on his next outbound trip! The laides appreciated his services so much that they presented him a gold watch in 1899–the year that marked the end of the mule-drawn cars and the beginning of the electric trolleys.
James H. Bowman and R.O. Stevens first tried to build a street railway in 1863. Presumably, the ravages of the War Between the States, then in progress, blocked their efforts. The next attempt came in 1867 when the legislature granted to Joshua Hull the right to organize the Jackson City Railway Company, but he failed to do so. Another charter was granted and service began on October 19, 1871, when the mule cars made their maiden runs. After electrification of the lines, there were extensive expansions of the system’s facilities. There were also multiple companies operating within the city at the turn of the century. However, by 1914, there were only two major utility companies in Jackson: the Capitol Light and Power Company and the Jackson Light and Traction Company. The latter company finally assumed operations of all the gas, electric power and streetcar services in Jackson. The Jackson Light and Traction Company was eventually taken over by the Mississippi Power and Light Company, which, in 1923, also bought the utility services operating in Columbus, Greenville and Vicksburg.
In the early years of this century, Jackson had a very special trolley car, “No. 3,” delivered by the American Car Company in St. Louis to Jackson. A trade magazine, dated March 1905, described the car as being truly remarkable! The interior was richly finished in handsomely carved mahogany, and the ceiling was painted light green and decorated with gold. There were four elongated beveled mirrors on each side of the car and the windows were fitted with quarter inch polished French plate glass. Wire screens were placed behind the low, curved glass windows in the vestibules. Among other furnishings were angle-iron bumpers, sand boxes, gates of Brill manufacture plus gongs and steps of the American Car Company’s type! I wish we knew for which purposes and occasions this car was normally used and something of its final disposition.
In 1916, the Jackson system operated 22 cars over 16 miles of track. However, by 1924, the system had shrunk to 20 cars and 13.5 miles of track. The power station and repair shops were at Tombigbee and Commerce Streets.
Trolley service came to an end in Jackson on March, 24, 1935. As of that date the M.P.& L. Company sold its transit operations to the Jackson City Lines, a company which subsequently provided municipal bus transportation to all sections of the city.
Streetcars without wheels were ordinary sights in central Mississippi towns when I was a growing boy. They were, nevertheless, in use. It seems like most of them housed short order diners, but I remember several which were used as shoe repair shops. I remember one such car in downtown Forest and I always wondered if it was a car which formerly clanged its way past the Governor’s Mansion on Jackson’s Capitol Street and then moaned its way along the fronts of the beautiful old homes on North State Street. I never knew.
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.