This week in Nashville history: Run out of town on a rail

Above: One of the mule-drawn streetcars in use between the 1860s and 1880s. This photo, from the 1926 newspaper story linked from this post, may be the only existing image of the mule cars. Below: Inauguration of electric streetcar service, 30 April 1889. These cars are at the corner of Broadway and 16th Street (Tennessee State Library and Archives).

Let’s wind up Marmaduke Morton once more and let him spin a yarn. Eighty years ago this week, the Nashville Banner‘s longtime managing editor published part six in his 12-part series on “The Colorful Eighties in Nashville,” recalling the city he had encountered as a young reporter a half-century earlier.

Much of this installment deals with the evolution of Nashville’s public transport system in the 1880s. Morton recalls the mule-drawn streetcars that gave way in 1889 to an electrified urban rail network.

26 October 1930: “Rapid Transit and Old Dummy Lines New Buildings Spring Up Places of Interest A Balloon Ascension.”

In those days most of the street sprinkling was done privately by the property owners along the streets. The sprinkling was the task of the boys of the family. These were warned through the press not to squirt a stream of water on the trolley wire, as the electricity would run down the stream and strike them. It is safe to say all these young sprinklers tried the experiment at least once. Then everybody was told that the electricity in the cars would interfere with the time-keeping qualities of the watches, and that the only preventive was to be very careful and also to have a non-conductor plate put in the watches. The jewelers did a thriving business for a while.

This week in 1926, Nashville celebrated the delivery of new, state-of-the-art streetcar wagons by holding a parade that highlighted the system’s history. As the Tennessean reported on October 28, featured guests included about 25 former mule-car drivers from days of yore.

The story which Friday’s parade will not tell is, that from an humble start obtained in the mule car, the street railway industry here has grown to be such a public servant that it carries approximately 35,000,000 passengers every year [sic — is that possible?] in Nashville, and in 1925 was rated as the nation’s safest street railway system.

Together with passenger rail services from suburbs like Bellevue, the streetcar system provided Nashvillians from all walks of life with efficient transportation to and from downtown for more than a half-century. But internal combustion would win out. In February 1941, just as a dispute between the U.S. and Japan that had much to do with oil and rubber began to take on ominous proportions, gasoline-powered city buses took over the streetcars’ routes.


New to the blogroll this week: The Posterity Project, Gordon Belt’s very active blog on issues involving Tennessee history and archives.

About Tom

I'm an old news man, any way you look at me. Not as old in years as some local journos I much admire, but committed to bringing old news from Nashville's deeper past back to life.
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2 Responses to This week in Nashville history: Run out of town on a rail

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention This week in Nashville history: Run out of town on a rail | Old News --

  2. Lewis Laska says:

    Yes, keep my name on your list to receive “old” stuff!!

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