The Classic City Street Railroad Company was incorporated in 1885 in the names of H.H. Carlton, R.B. Russell, and other prominent Athenians to build a street railroad to convey "either passengers or freight, or both" along a route beginning on Broad Street and continuing to College Avenue to Clayton Street to Lumpkin Street to Hancock Avenue to Pulaski Street to Prince Avenue to Milledge Avenue to the city limits. Its mule-powered cars were named Lucy Cobb, Pocahontas, and No. 2.
In 1889, the Street Railway Journal listed the officers of the company as George M. Snodgrass, President; R.B. Russell, Vice President; Lamar Cobb, Treasurer; and J.H. Dorsey, Secretary, Purchasing Agent, and Superintendent.
After several changes in ownership and management, the streetcar system emerged as the Athens Railway Company under the direction of E.G. Harris, Louis Mitchell, and John T. Voss. The company owned 19 horses, 9 cars, and 5 miles of main line. The 16-lb. rails were set on a 4-foot gauge. General offices were at 509 Prince Avenue.
By 1893, the company had converted its cars from animal-power to electricity, using the "Detroit system" to move 4 cars along 6 miles of track. It had also expanded to serve the new Boulevard neighborhood north of Prince Avenue. Here, like many other street railways, it constructed a park to encourage ridership on Sundays and other periods when fares from commuters declined.
The year 1893 was one of financial turmoil, however, and the company was forced into bankruptcy and receivership. In June of 1895, a successor company was chartered, the Athens Electric Railway Company. In 1898 the ERC was reported as operating as a standard gauge system with 9 motor cars on 40 lb. rails. A hydroelectric power plant provided electricity to the streetcars as well as for city lighting. For the six months ending December 31, 1898, the system carried 157,138 passengers paying a fare rate of 5 cents each. Directors were W.S. Holman, J.Y. Carithers, A.P. Dearing, W.T. Bryan, and C.D. Flanigen.