In 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. With 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, 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).With 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. 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.The 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!