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.
- The Mysterious Case of the Missing Streetcar Lines
- Found: A Streetcar Map!
- Biloxi Trolley Line Routes
Travelling by Trolley in Mississippi: Stories about Streetcars (view the scanned pdf)
Foreword and Introduction
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.
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).
Wow. Thank you for the extensive background info. Just for comparison below are the population numbers for Mississippi from that time period.
The street car systems were getting quite a bit of use at their peak.
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.
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.
Richmond, Virginia is another example of this capital first mentality as the Richmond Union Passenger Railway began service in 1888.
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.
The Enterprise Street Railway Company was tabulated by the US Census Bureau in 1890. It reported 1.25 miles of track . . . one car . . . one mule (or horse) . . . and one employee, who was paid $25 during the year. Operating statistics show that the the car operated 2,670 miles during the year, and carried all of 2,186 passengers.
The population of Enterprise was 789 at 1900, and is less than 500 today. One wonders why this line was built. Railway station to hotel, perhaps?
I remember streetcar rails in Greenville being visible on one downtown side street when I was a child (1970’s). Have not visited the area in years, but if you go to Google and do a street view on Poplar Avenue right off Main Street, they’re still there!
My ho me town, Vicksburg, Mississippi,
is trying desperately to become a “Tourist Destination” and I hardily approve and am trying to help.
I ask the question, would it not be wonderful if we had the “Vicksburg Street Railway,” or a portion of it, in operation today, 2016.
Did you know; Did not happen, however. Document # 010. The Vicksburg Evening Post Friday, July 08th, 1904
The Vicksburg Rifle Range – Camp Williamson – The Mississippi State Rifle Range
The Warren County – Vicksburg Public Library, Vicksburg, Warren County, Mississippi
The Vicksburg – Jackson Railway (Trolley); July 08th, 1904. After a several days Conference at Terre Haute, Indiana, with Chief Engineer Paige in regard to the Inter – Urban – Electric Railway between Jackson and Vicksburg, Mr. S P Barton, Secretary of the Mississippi Land and Investment Company, has returned. He says that the construction of the Line is a certainty and the work of laying the Rails will be begun before the end of the year, as several well – known capitalists have assured the Company of their support. The work of surveying was competed some time ago and the plans are all ready now to be submitted to the contractors when bids are asked.
To Be Sure; I repeat. The Jackson – Vicksburg Trolley did not happen
The Jackson – Vicksburg Trolley System. The System got far enough along to be surveyed. The Routed followed, more or less, the Rail Road, Highway 80, I – 20 Route, more or less, from Jackson to Edwards. At Edwards, the route turned South Westward to the Big Black River. The Route crossed the Big Black RIver 4 – 6 miles down stream from the Rail Road – Highway 80 crossing. It followed the Brabston Road from the Banks of the Big Black RIver, passing through Mt Album, crossing the Rail Road, passing through Culkin and down Old Jackson Road – Open Wood Street, Martin Luther King Blvd, and Jackson Street to the Banks of the Mississippi River. All the way form the banks of the Big Black River to the Banks of the Mississippi River and did not cross a culvert, It followed the Ridge Line the entire distance. And to be sure, It Did Not Happen
My great aunt was run over by the street car. I have an article from the Jackson Journa in 1908 l if you would like to see it. I can’t post a photo that I have of it, but if you send me your email address, I will send it to you.
I’m so sorry to hear about your great aunt, but yes, I would definitely like to see the article! If you have access to Dropbox or some other cloud service, you can post a link in a comment and we will be able to see it. Otherwise, you can send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.