The Street Cars of Early Dayton
by Charles F. Sullivan
The population of Dayton in 1870 was 30,500 and the corporation line of the city on the north and west was the Mad and Miami Rivers.
If a resident of the city, wanted to go anywhere, it was up to him to walk or provide himself another means of transportation in the city, railroads were ready to carry him away from the city.
After the Civil War, the government located a Home for all disabled veterans four miles west of the Courthouse on the Eaton Pike.
As it was a government park and was a pretty place with good roads, beautiful lawns, fine buildings and close to the city, a means of transporting employees and visitors out there was a necessity. The Third Street Car Line was completed in 1870, running from the east terminous on Third Street near Horton to the barn on Third west of Western Avenue then called King Street.
The track was laid on stringers, supported by cross ties, and the railers laid upon these stringers and spiked to it, and the rail was not much more than strap iron from one edge double height to guide the car straight. Many excursionists from all over this part of the country came by railroad to see this new park.
The excursionists to the Home, as it was called, would use these street cars to their car barn, where they would change to the Dummy line, following the present tracks of the B & O R. R. to the home, landing the passengers near the Grotto.
The Dummy was a small passenger car with a steam engine located forward and geared to the front axle, with the rest of the car for the passengers. This method of transportation did not last long for it could not take care of the business.
Then small locomotives and cars were provided. At the peak of the business, they used four locomotives and about a dozen small cars to carry the excursionists to the Home and back.
The principal objects of interest were the Grotto, made out [of] an old stone quarry, which under Mr. Beck, the father of the artist, became a genuine beauty spot. Also the Zoo attracted the youngsters with monkeys and deer in abundance.
The street cars were small affairs and the motive power was furnished by horses at first, which later were replaced by two small mules each with a small bell fastened to the collar thus “making music where ever they went.”
The cars at first had a door in the rear end, but later this was replaced by a back platform for smokers. Inside a seat lengthwise of the car on each side holding about 6 or 7 passengers and standing room for about the same number, so about 30 was the limit in capacity.
The driver sat upon a high stool on the front platform, with a short roof over him, which was little protection to him from the elements. Hot or cold, wet or dry, there he sat driving those miles, applying the brakes and making change through a hole in the front door, for only 12 to 15 hours per day and 7 days per week.
Since the cars were light and only one truck of four wheels under them, they rocked easily. At imminent risk of the driver’s blacksnake whip, boys would hop on the rear platform and rock the car, until by a concerted lunge, it would be jumped off of the track, and the boys would have important business elsewhere.
This would give the driver and mules a hard job to get it back upon the track.
Dayton originally only ran to the river, while another town called Miami City lay to the west along the Pennsylvania railroad.
Miami City had its own depot and post office and lots of vacant land between it and Dayton. This city had merged with Dayton only a short time before the car line was built and it was a great help, in building up the gap between the river and Baxter street now called Olive street. At first it was a single track with switches every little a way for cars to pass each other, but if one car was late all were equally late.
After about ten years of this, the company found a T rail that would serve much better and the tracks were replaced with double tracks and cars made much better time.
After Third Street had proven itself to be a paying proposition another line was built, with car barn where the present loop of the Oakwood line at Salem and North is now.
The line followed the present route to Main and Fifth where it turned west to Ludlow and south to the depot, turning the cars upon a turn table and retracing to Dayton View.
Another line was built from their barn on Brown Street opposite the present N C R. Co. following the present route to the Victory Theatre, then called Music Hall, where they turned and retraced.
These two lines soon merged, using the barn on Brown Street and ran the cars through to Salem and North. About the first of this century they were asked to extend their line to Catalpa and Salem but refused and later extended twice to Oakwood.
About 1878, a bath house was built upon the old hydraulic (now the Great Miami Blvd.) east of Main in Riverdale then called McPhersontown, and the Oakwood built a line out to Rung street now Neal Avenue, but this did not pay and the track was taken up.
About this time a line was built south on Main to the Fairgrounds and during the Fair cars from all other lines were used but since this was only about two weeks in a year, this was abandoned.
The Wayne Avenue line was built in the early 70’s with their barn at Wyoming and Wayne, following their present route to First and Jefferson where they turned west to Main to serve Music Hall. From there they retraced back to the barn.
As the State Hospital was located upon top of the hill, and there was need of transportation for employees and visitors to it, a hill car was run every half hour up the side walk of Wayne to Charles Street now called Medford where they veered off to the east in a ravine to below the junction of Wayne and Wilmington, where they had a small barn and turn table. The passengers would have at least 40 steps to get to the pike, and it was still up hill to the Hospital. When the car arrived there, the driver would ring a farm dinner bell upon a pole, to tell return passengers that he was ready to return. In the 80’s this line was extended on east First to Keowee and the car shop. Later on Valley to Rita and now making a loop on Valley and Brandt.
In 1896, this line merged with the peoples line and was converted into an electrically driven line. In 1904, they moved the tracks of the hill car to the middle of the street and extended to Epworth and Wayne. They then housed all their cars on Bolander street with the White line division. This did away with the old car barn and hill car.
Another line was built on Fifth street from Western Avenue to Burkhardt where they turned to the foot of the Huffman Hill and back and this was a double track from the start, during the late 70’s.
As it ran close to the depot, they received the largest part of the excursion business to the Home, and the Dummy line made a stop for them also at the terminus, and they were very busy all summer long. In 1882, this same company built another line from the east end of Richard to Labell and west on Fifth to Wilkinson retracing from there.
The Third and Fifth with the Green line merged under the name of the City Railway Co. and in 1904 built the addition to the Green on Broadway and Lexington Avenue. In 1906 they built the Kammer Avenue line and east First.
Up until 1888 all cars were run by horse power and then Dr. L. Lowes and others planned a new route to be operated by electricity, even though the general thought was that it would not be a success.
The power house and barn were located on Washington and the railroad and the route was from Main and Forest in Riverdale to Third, to Ludlow, to Washington, to Germantown, to McCall and Western to Home Avenue were they unloaded passengers to the Dummy line.
When this work was all done ready for the curves in the center of the city, work was stopped by the failure to agree about the tracks on Main street. The Oakwood tracks were only two feet apart and electric cars needed four feet of a dummy track and the city would now allow four tracks upon Main street.
Late one night, after all cars were in the barn, a large force of men arrived, well equipped for work and began moving the south bound Oakwood track two feet toward the west curb but not disturbing the north bound track. The foreman of the crew was asked what he intended to do, and he replied that this city was laid out crooked and that the tracks were two feet closer to the east curb than the west curb, and that he was going to straighten it out. When asked if he was working for the White Line he answered NO. He then refused to give any further information.
Early the next morning, the crew had disappeared, had probably boarded the train and were outside of the county but came back the next night and completed the job with no one interfering with them.
Quickly, the council met and passed an ordinance allowing one car company to use a proportion of another’s track by paying a part of the cost of the track and upkeep. This settled the argument and the curves were placed promptly and all was ready for cars.
Just after midnight, August 8, 1888, the first trial trip was made over the line with the official of the line on the car.
It went through the city and out north Main and back to the barn and it was a success. The next day every one rode free, in order that all might know it was safe to ride in them.
The motorman rode in a glass enclosed room with the motor and this was a relief for the motorman for he was in, out of the weather.
Each car carried a kerosene headlight at night and was the first vehicle to carry a headlight other than a lantern, but now every vehicle carries a headlight. This line introduced a trolley party car for use in hot weather, with a heart shaped frame holding many lights on the front for a headlight. Churches and other organizations rented them to make a round trip of the line. Merchants would put a band on it with a large banner upon the side of the car, and it would go over all the lines in the city, advertising.
When this line was a proven success, all other lines in the city made the change to electricity for power.
About this time the Fifth street line built a double track up Home Avenue to the Home as it is now, and placed two cars upon it in opposition to the Dummy line. This did not suit the Dummy line so they extended their line north past Sucher’s slaughter house and around to the Pennsylvania railroad and hauled the excursionists to the home without change of cars.
This worked so nicely that they arranged to lay a third rail over the old narrow gauge to the Union depot and thus get all the excursion business.
The City Railway changed to electric power in 1894-5, Oakwood in 1895.
Then the Third, Fifth and White line all built to the Home and hauled passengers for one fare. This was the undoing of the Dummy line and they sold their equipment and leased the tracks to the B & O R R.
When the Fifth street first started to run their cars up the Home Avenue, four couples of us started out on the horse cars and changed cars at the barn. As we started from there so smoothly and making considerable speed, one young lady, still living but no longer young, looked to the front of the car and seeing no horses, turned with terror in her face and yelled “Where’s the horses.” The rest of the party gave her quite a laugh and it was a standing joke for several years.
Late in the last century, Lakeside Park was started and became quite popular with the young folks, so the White Line bought a farm at the junction of Main and Fairview and moved the base ball park there. It was called Fairview Park. They built a theatre and other amusements and made the White line a very busy road at both ends for many years. The Theatre burned down, the Ball park moved away. The White Line extended its line to Maplewood Avenue and sold the park which is now all built up with the residences surrounding the Brown School ground.
During this time, the capacity of the cars was increased from about 30 to over a hundred passengers and the speed from 4 miles per hour to 15, so much progress was made.
When the Oakwood Co. were extending their tracks in Oakwood, they bought their rail to be shipped to the Traction Co. who in turn hauled them in after hours to the extension and returned the empties to the railroad. One night about 3 AM the Traction was going up the Oakwood hill with two cars of rails. When almost at the top, the coupling broke and the two cars started down Fair Hills Avenue with no one on them, though if a man had been there he could not have set the brakes enough to have held the cars.
Down they went, turned the curve at Brown street and went at terrific speed the entire length of Brown. At Fifth, the curve turned them just enough to miss the city fire house and they plowed into a building just west of it wrecking it on top of the cars of steel. It does not seem possible that this could happen without some wrecks along the line but if it had happened during the day there would be a different story to tell.
The Dayton Street Company was started about the beginning of the century and follows the same route now except an extension at each end. One was past the Good Samaritan Hospital and the other to Hearthstone plat. A fire destroyed their barn and nearly all their cars so they replaced them with trackless trolleys in 1933, which have proven to be very successful.
This line has now been taken over by the City lines and is operated by them.
Now all lines have changed to trolley busses except the Third and Fifth lines and they are seriously considering the change.
All of the tractions have changed to gasoline busses but do not take city passengers except the South Main line which gives city service with gasoline busses.
The D & X traction now uses gasoline busses to Xenia but trolley busses for city business.
The trolley busses make better time, less noise, and are more comfortable than street cars and loading passengers at the curb makes them much more desirable than the cars.
Autos can get around them more easily and safely.
In the center of town they keep in the center of the street and load at safety zones there.
Dayton had grown from 30,000 in my childhood days to 211,000 in 70 years and what changes will occur in the next 70 years no one can tell.
“Change and decay in all around I see” never seemed so applicable as now. This war is making us close neighbors with every country on the Globe and we hear from our boys continually from all fronts almost as soon as anything occurs.
At present the auto is the most popular means of transportation, yet who can tell when it will be superseded by something unknown at this time. The same may be true of the busses and who can tell at this time, what and when it will come.
We must not say of anything that it cannot be done for there is always a first time for every thing.