This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on December 26, 1992
STREETCARS LEFT MEMORABLE TRACKS
by Roz Young
The four look-alike streetcars now running on the circulator route downtown look so attractive they make you want to take a ride even though they don't go where you want to go. The four cars are named for Wilbur, Orville and Katharine Wright and for Paul Laurence Dunbar, and carry the dates of their births.
It was a little after Wilbur was born and a little before the other three appeared on the Dayton scene that the very first trolleys appeared here. The trolley system began as a promotion to sell real estate.
William P. Huffman was born in Dayton in 1813. After he finished school, he studied law in the office of Warren Munger, Sr. He moved in 1837 to Huffman Prairie and married Anna M. Tate. After 10 years on the farm they bought a home in Dayton at the northeast corner of First and Jefferson, where they lived for many years. His business was banking and real estate.
Harbert S. Williams was born in Dayton in 1807 on a farm in the west end of Dayton. After finishing school here, he married Mary Ann Weakley and lived on the east side of Williams Street near Third. He went into the grocery business with David Davis and also developed a farm that he bought from his brother, James L. Williams. The farm was bounded by what is now Third Street and Germantown on the north and south, Broadway on the west and the river on the east. After his wife died, he married Agnes Whitmore.
Huffman and Williams believed that if there were only a way from people to get easily from one end of town to the other, they would buy lots and build homes, enabling them to divide their extensive acreage into building lots and to profit handsomely.
They organized the Dayton Street Railroad Company in 1869, and the next year they began operating a horse-car trolley from one end of Third Street to the other, a distance of three and three-fourths miles. Fares were 6 cents or 20 for a dollar.
At the west end of the line the cars connected with an omnibus, which took passengers to the Soldiers' Home for 50 cents a round trip.
The trolley idea caught on quickly. The Dayton View Street Railway Company began operating in 1871, running from Third north to Water (now Monument) Street to River (now Riverview) to Salem Avenue and up Salem to the corporation line at Plymouth.
The Oakwood Street Railway Company, which also began in 1871, ran from Fifth and Main in Dayton to Brown in Oakwood.
In June 1872, the Wayne and Fifth Street Railway Company, began operation, running from the state hospital down Wayne to Fifth to Jefferson to First and Main. The Fifth Street Railway began in 1881, and in 1890 a branch, called the Green Line began operating over LaBelle and Richard streets.
The knell for the death of the horse cars was already tolling before the Green Line started business. In May 1887, the White Line Railroad Company received a charter to build a line from the north end of Main Street south to Third, Ludlow, Washington and Germantown.
Company officers announced the White Line would run on electricity instead of being pulled by horses. The cars were to have large double-end platforms, electric lights, ventilated roof and fare-conveyor tubes and an anthracite burner. They would draw their power from trolley wires on overhead supports, which in turn would be powered by two 2,000 horsepower engines, three dynamos and boilers. At once rumors began to circulate that electric cars could not operate in icy or rainy weather, that the trolley wires would interfere with circus parades and that passengers on the electric cars would find their pocket watches magnetized by the electricity.
Oakwood Street Railway managers secured an injunction to prohibit the White Line from using its tracks downtown, and work on the line halted while the suit dragged on for three years through the courts. The Ohio Supreme Court found for the White Line and work resumed.
When the new line began operating and passengers found how much faster, cleaner and more comfortable the new cars were, the horse-car era ended. All the railway companies converted to electricity. During the '90s the City Railway Company organized and bought the Fifth and Third streets lines, the Green Line and the Dayton and Soldiers' Home Railroad. The White Line and the Wayne Avenue company consolidated as the People's Railway Company. By 1909 Dayton had 100 miles of tracks and five street railway companies with 10 city routes and one interurban company that provided local service on one suburban route.
The 1913 flood damaged all the streetcar lines, but they were soon repaired. Early in 1915 a jitney company with four 12-passenger gasoline buses started operating in Dayton. From then on the decline of the streetcar was steady, and slowly the transportation companies switched to buses. The last official streetcar run in Dayton occurred Sept. 28, 1947. Two cars, decorated with bunting and filled with streetcar buffs, left on the final run at 1:30 a. m. The Third Street extension to Drexel used street cars until November 1947.
The trackless trolleys Dayton has hung on to for some many years nearly went the way of the streetcar, but last year the RTA trustees decided to keep the electric fleet.
And now we're even back to streetcar look-alikes that give an elegant picture of how those old horse cars looked a century ago.
For those who are interested in a more complete history of transportation in Dayton, please visit the link below:
Public Transportation in Dayton, Ohio: From 1870 to the Present
by Harvey I. Hylton Copyright 2007
A very informative look at the history of how people got around in the Gem City, from horses and mules to our modern day trolleys and diesel buses.
Reprinted here with permission of the author