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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

A Brief History Of Streetcars In Charlotte

The growth and expansion of Charlotte in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were intimately bound up with the installation and development of its streetcar network. Streetcars initially appeared in Charlotte in January 1887, when a horse-drawn, later mule-drawn, system commenced operations. It was the Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company, locally known as the Four Cs, which truly revolutionized the transportation system of Charlotte, however. In February 1891, the Four Cs signed a $40,000 contract with the Edison Electric Company to construct an electric streetcar or trolley system. Work began in March and terminated on May 18, 1891, when the first trolley departed from Independence Square, the intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets in the heart of Charlotte. The system consisted of two lines, one from the Richmond and Danville Railroad Depot on W. Trade St. to McDowell St. on the eastern edge of the city and another from the Carolina Central Railroad Depot on N. Tryon St. to Latta Park in Dilworth, the streetcar suburb that the Four Cs opened on May 20, 1891.

The accessibility of residential property to the trolley system became indispensable for successful real estate ventures in Charlotte after 1891. The initial expansion of the electric streetcar network occurred in September 1900, when a line opened which extended through Fourth Ward to Elmwood Cemetery on the western edge of the city. In May 1901, the Four Cs began service on a line which meandered through First Ward or the northeastern quadrant of Charlotte. In March 1902, trolleys initiated service to Piedmont Park, Charlottešs second streetcar suburb. On December 13, 1902, the Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company opened a streetcar line that extended approximately three-fourths of a mile from the intersection of East Ave. (now East Trade St.) and McDowell St. along Elizabeth Ave. to a point three hundred feet west of the main building of Elizabeth Ave. (the present site of Presbyterian Hospital), thereby providing a powerful impetus for the growth of Elizabeth as an affluent residential district.

The Elizabeth College streetcar line enhanced the prospects for real estate development in the surrounding countryside, including the farms along Providence Rd. In 1911, George Stephens became the founder and president of the Stephens Company, a real estate firm committed to transforming the Myers farm and certain contiguous parcels into a lavish, sophisticated suburb. Among the essential amenities of Myers Park was a streetcar line. Grading for the route was well underway by February 1912, and trolleys began serving the neighborhood on September 1, 1912. The Myers Park line branched off from the Elizabeth College line at the intersection of Elizabeth Ave. and what is now Hawthorne Ln., and extended southward into the suburb, entering Myers Park at the intersection of E. Fourth St. and Queens Rd.

Streetcar No. 85 is now running between Uptown Charlotte and Dilworth. It was built in the Dilworth Trolley Barn at Bland St. and South Blvd. in 1927 and continued in service until March, 1938. It was the last streetcar to operate on the streets of Charlotte and was the centerpiece at a "Goodbye To Trolleys"; Ceremony at the Square that same month. Many of Charlotte's streetcars were sold for scrap or turned into hot dog stands or lake houses. Some were sold to Bogota, Colombia. There are two Charlotte streetcars in Lincolnton, where they have been turned into an office building. No. 85 was hauled to Douglas Airport and served as the office of the Air National Guard. It then went to Caldwell Station near Cornelius and became a convenience store in the 1940's. I first learned about Streetcar 85 in 1986. It was being used as a house and was about to be scrapped. The Historic Landmarks Commission raised over $200,000 to restore No. 85. It was transported to the Atherton Mill Complex in October 1993, and began running along the Norfolk Southern Railroad line to Uptown Charlotte in August 1996. Hopefully, a bridge will be built over Stonewall Street, so that the streetcar line can extend through the Convention Center and run through Second Ward and First Ward to the Seaboard Station on North Tryon St.

THINGS TO LOOK FOR

  • See the Virtual Streetcar Route Tour so you will know what you are seeing.
  • Seats on the streetcar are reversible. Since the streetcar went back and forth without turning around, passengers could lift the seatback to change the direction the seat faced.

    ACTIVITIES

    At the site...

  • Look for the sites mentioned in the Virtual Streetcar Route Tour
  • Soak up the sights and sounds of a trolley ride. It's not the same as any other form of transportation you're used to. Reflect upon what makes the trolley ride different from a car ride, bus ride, or train ride.

    On your own...

  • Would you want a trolley running through your neighborhood? Places like Myers Park, Dilworth, and Elizabeth were created thanks to the influence of the streetcar. Write a paragraph explaining why you would or would not want a trolley in your neighborhood.
  • Before the streetcars came, Charlotte was a very compact town. Soon after the streetcars arrived, Charlotte started to grow tremendously in size. Write several reasons why you think the streetcar had such an impact on Charlotte. (Hint - Charlotte became very much larger still after streetcars were replaced with automobiles.)
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