“A Good Idea is Never Lost.” Thomas Edison

H.2000.01.315.16In 1891, a dream of great magnitude became a reality. In a move that would transform a small farming town into a thriving city of textile manufacturing success, Edward Dilworth Latta introduced Charlotte to the electric streetcar. 05With help from a famous entrepreneur, Thomas Edison and his company (now known as General Electric), Latta’s Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company (the Four C’s) created an electric trolley line to replace a horse-drawn system started in 1887. This new streetcar project would facilitate development of Charlotte’s first suburb,6a Dilworth a 450 acre development named Dilworth, and transport  new homeowners the lengthy distance of about twelve blocks from the center of town.

The Charlotte Electric Railway began with two routes. Both legs began at the two major Charlotte railroad stations,  the Carolina Central Railroad Depot (which would become Seaboard) on North Tryon Street and the Piedmont and Danville Railroad Depot (which would become Southern Railroad Depot).6 E Trade fr SquareWith the immediate success of the trolley line and its impact on real estate development in Charlotte, streetcar service was expanded in the early 1900’s through Fourth Ward to Elmwood Cemetery, and the City’s second streetcar suburb, Piedmont Park.  MP_2000_03_029_32 The addition of a route to Elizabeth College provided impetus for development of the affluent Elizabeth area and enhanced development along Providence Road.

The dream was magnified when James B. Duke bought the Charlotte Electric Railway Company in 1910 and began expansion with service to the newly developed neighborhood of Myers Park. This lavish, sophisticated neighborhood was designed with streetcar service as a focal point. Duke’s vision was to electrify the South, creating commercial and industrial uses for electricity generated by hydroelectric plants being developed along the Catawba River.

By 1920, Duke Power’s subsidiary, Southern Public Utilities, operated over fifty trolleys, on 29 miles of track, carrying over 7,000,000 passengers that year. In addition, Duke owned streetcar systems in Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Spartanburg, Greenville and other Piedmont cities.streetcar 18 intThe giant leap from walking, riding bicycles, horses, and carriages, to the seemingly effortless traversing along City streetcar rail, impacted the growth of Charlotte and cities across America.

No one could have dreamed of such a reality!


The Piedmont & Northern Railway celebrates 100 years

On the fourth of July, 1912, the Piedmont & Northern Railway celebrated the completion of James B. Duke’s latest undertaking – an electric interurban railroad connecting piedmont cities and textile mills in the Carolinas. The brainchild of William States Lee, the Piedmont & Northern Railway (P&N) was an extension of Duke’s purchase of streetcar systems in a number of Carolina cities including Charlotte, Gastonia, and Spartanburg.

The P&N began carrying passengers on April 3, 1912, originating on streetcar right-of-way serving Wesley Heights, Seversville, Lakewood Park, Hoskins and other westside neighborhoods.  Its southern leg provided rail service originating in Spartanburg, connecting South Carolina cities on its journey to Greenwood. The southern route was made possible by the purchase of the 98 mile long Greenville, Spartanburg and Anderson Railway Company. Lee and Duke envisioned a day when the two divisions would be connected with track between Gastonia and Spartanburg. That day never came.

Much of the success of Duke’s electric railway was the due to hauling freight. Most interurban railroads carried passengers only. Duke’s enterprize hauled freight which encouraged the location of new textile mills along its routes in the Carolinas, resulting in one of its slogans, “A Mill to the Mile”.

The Piedmont & Northern railway played an important role in the growth and industrialization of Charlotte and the Carolinas. Happy birthday, P&N!

Streetcar on West Trade Street

Actual photos of the streetcar era in Charlotte are pretty rare, especially considering the impact the electric railway had on the city. Most photos are portraits of motormen and conductors posing with their cars. Action photography was technically difficult. There are a number of postcards from that time, but most lack much detail of the actual cars. Once in a while a “new” postcard or photo shows up from some motorman family member or on Ebay.

 A recent find shows life in Charlotte at an early date. An outdoor market presents itself on the left with a wagon waiting for the needed supplies. Could the “10” be the old 5 and 10, the mainstay of an era gone by? In the distance the trolley approaches, entering through the dust made by horse-drawn wagons as a stylish woman crosses Trade Street to visit the market.

Weddington Hardware Company and Jordan & Co. host signs on their buildings  along with a sandwich board on the right advertising the latest “dance.”

Notice that most of the old streetcar postcards didn’t show the overhead wire over the streetcar. I guess the publishers thought it looked tacky.

from the Jim Lockman collection

Charlotte village – Intersection of Trade and Tryon

There wasn’t a waterfall hindering river navigation. There weren’t any natural resources hindering the movement of settlers to the West. The only attraction to settlement was the intersection of two Indian trading paths and some fertile farmland.

 An ancient trail was known as the Trading Path. Colonists followed it from Virginia to trade with the Indians. It was a spur of the Great Wagon Road that stretched from Pennsylvania through the Shennandoah Valley to North Carolina.

 The other trail was a route that took traders northwest from Charleston to the Blue Ridge, which became known as Trade Street.

 At the crossroads, the village of Charlotte grew.

 Source: The Growth of Charlotte: A history              Dr. Thomas W. Hanchett

Photos courtesy Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library

“Everybody loves trolleys”

Friends regularly ask me why I have so much passion for streetcars. I tell them, “I honestly don’t know the answer.”

 I’ve thought about this question a lot recently.

 Maybe it’s the charming sound of the gong (bell) on the streetcar as it approaches intersections. Or maybe it’s the unique whirring sound the streetcar makes as it motors down the track, made audible by the lack of a diesel or other noisy combustible engine.

 Or maybe it’s the quickness that the little cars speed through intersections, unlike trains that tie up the intersection long enough to make you late for your next appointment. Or maybe it’s the folks waving from the trolley as it passes you at the railroad cross arms.

 Or maybe it’s the gentle rocking and rhythmic vibration of a trolley rolling down the street. It could be the wide grins on kid’s faces as they move along the track.

 Or maybe it’s the discovery of the significance streetcars played in the history of Charlotte and other cities of the New South. Or it could be the enormous amount of Charlotte history gleaned from searching the vast resources of the Internet through Google searches.

 The joy of spending endless hours surfing Ebay for relics and memorabilia from the streetcar era could be a factor. Locating and restoring old photographs brings out the passion of a veteran photographer.

 The discovery of a streetcar disguised as a home in Huntersville and restoration of the last streetcar to run in Charlotte makes for exciting theatre.

 Or maybe it is the years of recording and capturing the rebirth of the trolley days as the photographer for Charlotte Trolley. It could also be the twenty plus years of participation on the Board of Directors of this streetcar organization.

 Whatever the actual answer is, bringing rolling stock and a streetcar museum to Charlotte continues to be my passion.

 Someone coined the phrase, “Everybody loves trolleys.” Well, I certainly do!

Photo copyright 2011 Jim Lockman/Click!