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Street Cars -- 
Horse, Cable and Electric

First street cars, horse drawn, ran in Grand Rapids May 10, 1865, from the Grand Trunk railroad station on Plainfield avenue west to Leonard street, thence over Monroe avenue to Fulton and Jefferson. This line soon went into receiver's hands. A horse car route was built out Division avenue, from Fulton to the old Fair grounds, Jefferson and Hall, in 1873. Another company built lines on the west side in 1881.

These properties were taken over by the Street Railway Company of Grand Rapids, organized in 1885.

In 1888 the city had its first cable line, which April 18 made first trips over this route: From Eastern avenue via Fulton, Union, Lyon, Monroe and Michigan to Grand avenue. The operating company was the Valley City Street Railway and Cable, promoted by William P. Innes.

There were two other cable lines, really continuous, Pearl street and Ottawa avenue being considered the downtown terminus. An old time cable car gripman thus describes how cars ran over these two line, from Hall street to Sweet:

From Hall north on Lafayette to Logan, thence via Logan, Sheldon, Wealthy, Commerce, Louis, Ottawa and across Monroe to Lyon, where the cars dropped the Ottawa street cable and picked up the Lyon street, or hill, cable; then from Ottawa via Lyon, Monroe and Michigan to Ottawa, where the Ottawa street cable was again picked up; then north on Ottawa and via Walbridge and Ionia to Coldbrook; then "cater-corner" from Ionia and Coldbrook to Leonard and Taylor, and north in Taylor to Sweet street.

The company built a power house at Lyon street and Grand avenue, where powerful machinery was installed to operate one cable line. Another power house was erected at the foot of Lyon street.

The cable used to pull the grip cars was imported hemp rope.

The cable company operated a horse car line from the foot of Lyon street on Campau, Louis, Market, Fulton, across the bridge to Straight avenue, to Butterworth street, to Lexington avenue. Also a horse car line south from Fulton street on Ellsworth and Grandville avenues, to the city limits. Also a horse car line from Lyon to Clancy and to the D. G. H. & M. railroad station. Also a horse car line westward on Wealthy street from Commerce avenue to Ionia, thence south on Ionia to Hall street.

Unique warning signals were employed on the old-time cable lines. A noisy bell was attached to the rear axle of each car. At every turn of the wheel the clapper would hit the bell with a resounding clang that could be heard for many blocks, and during the "rush hours" the downtown streets were a veritable bedlam of bells.

The Cable bought the other traction system, and the Consolidated Street Railway company of Grand Rapids came into existence in July, 1891. The Consolidated bought the "dummy" line C. C. Comstock had built to North Park.

In 1875, a franchise was granted to the Grand Rapids & Reed's Lake Street Railway company to lay tracks from Sherman street and Eastern avenue to Lincoln park, or the west city limits. The route was: From Sherman and Eastern to Wealthy, LaGrave, Fulton, Monroe, Division, Lyon, Bond, Michigan, across the bridge and west on Bridge street to the city limits. This company also laid tracks on Sherman street east from Eastern avenue to Reed's lake. At first horse cars were used on this route, but later a "dummy" steam engine was put in operation. For years this was known as the "dummy" line.

Horse car lines had been built, seemingly, on every down town street. There were tracks on Division north of Monroe; on Louis, Campau, Ionia, Barclay, Coit, Clancy and other streets. this was necessary because the council granted so many franchises to ambitious promoters, at the same time requiring each to keep as much as possible off the other's routes. On some downtown streets two companies operated, each over its own tracks.

In 1892, when electricity was substituted for horses, the mess of street car lines was cleaned up and the operating company began to make money.

The Grand Rapids Railway company in April, 1900, took over the property and franchises of the Consolidated. James R. Chapman, general manager, supervised the rebuilding of the lines. He was succeeded in office by G. S. Johnson, a capable executive. Benjamin S. Hanchett next became vice-president and general manager, and later president. He retired in 1919. Louis J. DeLamarter then became vice-president and general manager. He had been with the company a number of years, during which he aided in developing Ramona park at Reed's lake into a popular amusement center and a valuable financial asset to the street railway.

Automobile competition caused a big drop in the company's receipts and a higher rate of fare was necessary if the city hoped to have street cars.

In 1922 the city commission granted the Grand Rapids Railway company a new franchise, providing for a sliding scale of fares, the rate to be fixed in accordance with the volume of income, with a maximum of 10 cents. Commission and company work in harmony, for the best interests of all. The company now charges 10 cents each fare, but sells six tokens for 50 cents.

A devastating fire at the Hall street car house in July, 1924, forced the company to procure new cars, but instead of following the usual custom, Mr. DeLamarter and his engineers dictated what they wanted in modern transportation vehicles. In June, 1925, three test coaches, the Minnesota, Ohio and St. Louis, arrived here and were given trials. A composite type was designed by Mr. DeLamarter who, June 12, 1926, put Grand Rapids on the world map of transportation through the introduction of 27 new electric rail coaches, a revolutionary departure from the orthodox in street car construction, and costing $360,000. Built for the comfort, convenience and pleasure of the riding public, the new cars have increased patronage.

 


Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 16 January 2000
 URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/etten1926/streetcars.html