Wednesday, November 28, 2018

By Kris Krell

Spokane’s History With Street Cars aka Trolleys

Did you know that Spokane had numerous trolleys running routes in Spokane in the 1880s?  Did you think public transportation would have been an issue way back then?  Did you know that Spokane had buses in the 1920s?

A Streetcar or Trolley runs on rails but the power comes from onboard electric motors and the trolley pole sticking out of the top of the streetcar attached to power line above. 

Spokane’s trolley era began April 15, 1888, and ended August 31, 1936.  The heyday of Spokane’s trolleys was around 1910 when at least 150 trolley cars clanked down city streets—Washington Water Power’s (WWP) trolley line’s ridership was recorded as 24 million riders in 1910!

Real estate developers were the first to develop trolleys in Spokane.  Developers wanted people to buy houses outside of the downtown area, but the buyers needed to know that they could get to work using public transportation.  This was true for both working-class neighborhoods because everyone could ride a trolley to work, as well as upper-class neighborhoods because their servants, maids, cooks needed to use public transportation to get to work.  

There were several types of trolley all wanting to beat out the other competition:  

·      April 15, 1888 Spokane’s first streetcar by Spokane Street Railway was horse-drawn were the first developed; their route was Riverside Avenue to Brown’s Addition.  Cons:  messy streets from the horses.
·      June 1888– Spokane’s first cable car line (not a streetcar or trolley)—Spokane Cable Car Company--had one route heading toward Fort Wright, and another route heading up toward a new South Hill development called Cable Addition.  This company built the first Monroe Street Bridge for its cable line.  Cons:  Very expensive.  Streets had to be dug up to lay cable.  When the cable went out, every car stopped.
·      November 1888– Spokane’s first steam-powered line by Spokane and Montrose began operation on the South Hill. The streetcars were called Steam Dummies.  The Montrose reference was to an undeveloped potential park to be called Montrose Park but was eventually developed and became Manito Park.  Cons:  Noisy, frightened horses, blew soot over pedestrians, had to build up a head of steam before could move trolley.
·      1889– The first electric trolley line begins in the East Central area.  
·      1889– The horse-drawn lines immediately begin changing over to electricity.
·      1891– The remaining horse-drawn lines complete conversion to electricity.
·      1892– The steam-powered lines convert to electricity.
·      1894– The last cable car line ceases operation; its route is taken over by electric trolley

Competition between the companies was fierce.  WWP—in 1899--bought up all of the smaller trolley lines except one.  By 1910, WWP and the Spokane and Montrose each had 12 lines all around the area.  People could ride the Trolley to work, to baseball games, to vaudeville shows, to Natatorium Park.   Often high school students when riding a streetcar would rock the cars to get them off the tracks!  Then everyone had to wait until someone could come and put the car back on the tracks.
The price to ride any trolley was five cents which back then was a large amount of money. An ad for the new electric streetcars read:    
"Imagine speeding down the street at the amazing speed of ten miles per hour. Gliding up hills effortlessly and traveling in style to all the corners of Spokane Falls for only a nickel." 
These days we may not think that ten miles per hour is very fast, but when that ad was written it was pretty fast! 
By 1915, the trolley era was already declining.  Cars were more common.  By the 1920s buses were becoming the new public transportation—they were faster and cheaper. Spokane’s trolley lines consolidated in 1922 renamed to Spokane United Railways; by 1933, they saw the future in buses and began to convert; the conversion to buses was completed in three years.  
On August 23, 1936, all of the trolleys were burned in a huge bonfire!

Sources: Spokane History Timeline, Trolleys, Streetcars and Steam Dummies – 1888, Spokesman Review article, “Clang, Clang, Clang Went the Trolley…Spokane’s Electric Trolley’s Helped Shape the City and Became Its Lifeline At the Turn of Century, May 21, 1995

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