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Streetcars in Augusta

A streetcar on Broad Street in Augusta

Postcard view of a streetcar on downtown Augusta's Broad Street ca. 1903.

Beginning in 1866, Augusta developed an extensive streetcar system that served the city well during its seven decades of existence. It connected most of the developed areas of the city and provided quick transportation at a reasonable cost to its riders.

The system's backbone was Broad Street, the aptly named (168-ft wide) main commercial thoroughfare in the historic center of town. Its tracks extended from First Street on the east to Lake Olmstead on the west. Branching off Broad at various connecting streets were lines to Union Depot, Turpin Hill, Paine College, Magnolia and Cedar Grove cemeteries, and many other places. Two lines went to Summerville, atop the plateau overlooking downtown, one on Walton Way and the other on Central Avenue. Remarkably, the city also had an interurban connection that reached across the river some 26 miles to Aiken, South Carolina.

The Early Years

As was the case in many cities, horses and mules provided the initial power. By 1890 the pioneering Augusta & Summerville Railroad Company was using 112 of the animals to pull 27 cars over 10 miles of tracks, according to Poors Manual. The company, which had been incorporated March 20, 1866, only a year after Appomattox, transported nearly 800,000 passengers in 1888 with cars running over a quarter-million miles in that year.

Summerville had been established before the Civil War as a place for prosperous Augustans to escape the heat and "miasma" in town. Summer houses were built, as were year-round residences and, later, hotels. The street railroad allowed people to live on "The Hill" and commute the three miles down Walton Way to downtown.

As the 1880s came to a close, the horsecar days were also nearing their end. A new Augusta Railway Company, incorporated in November 1889 and under the direction of president Daniel B. Dyer, purchased the 10 miles of Augusta & Summerville track and began building a modern electric railway system in the fast-growing city. Dyer had been able to secure financing for the enterprise through the Jarvis-Conklin syndicate of Kansas City, where he had earlier worked as a broker and real estate agent.

The A&S RR president at the time was Patrick Walsh, a politician and newspaperman who was one of Augusta's leading citizens. Born in Ireland in 1840, he became an advocate of the "New South" in the mold of Henry Grady and a tireless promoter of Augusta. A statue of Walsh stands in Barrett Plaza in front of the former Union Depot site.

Electric Power Arrives

The conversion from horses to electric power took place quickly. By 1892 the Augusta Railway Company had 49 cars, but only a single horse. Its companions had been replaced by a power station providing electricity to 22 miles of standard-gauge cars street rail line serving two million passengers per year.

The car fleet consisted of 35 motor cars using Edison and Thomson-Houston technology. For peak demand 11 non-powered trailing cars were available; these were usually pulled by the motor cars as 2-car trains. Most or all of the cars had been purchased from the J. G. Brill Co. of Philadelphia and the John Stephenson Co. of New York, two of the nation's leading carbuilders.

The hub of the city's streetcar operations was the Confederate Monument on Broad Street. From Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

A streetcar waits at the monument. (The diagonal line behind the bicycle rider is a flaw in the image.) Note: Heavily cropped photo. Complete photo is online here at Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The appurtenances of the electric city are clearly evident in this photo.
Note: Heavily cropped image. Complete photo is online here at Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
.

In the winter only about 18 of the cars were typically in operation, but during the warmer months more were added, including open-sided cars which were favored for traveling to various recreational spots. On hot breezeless days some would ride just to enjoy a bit of moving air. The five-cent fare allowed one to travel five miles on the longest line, while free transfers at three points opened up other possible trips.

A motorman operated the cars, assisted by a conductor who collected fares. They were generally paid 14 cents per hour. To save labor expense, the company sometimes also hired 14-to-16 year-old boys as conductors on the less-used lines, paying them "fifty cents and upward" per day.

The power station stood on the north side of the Augusta Canal at Fifteenth and Greene Streets. Here water from the canal flowed through a short penstock to two horizontal turbines of 350 horsepower each. An auxiliary turbine running from the main turbine shell produced an additional 150 hp, giving a total of 800. A system of belts transferred this mechanical power to the electric generators.

In addition to powering streetcars, the station also provided electricity for 300 arc lights, 1800 incandescent lights, and several stationary motors. For situations when the hydro system was unavailable, three steam boilers and an 800-hp Corliss engine was used. (For details regarding this station, see this document by the Historic American Engineering Record at the Library of Congress.)

On the same site as the power station was a car barn and a repair shop. A short run of tracks connected these facilities to the Broad Street line which was only two blocks north.

Augusta Railway power station and car barn at Fifteenth & Greene. The men are standing on the approach to the Augusta Canal bridge.
From Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
.

Consolidation and a Company Name Change

In 1896 the Augusta Railway Company was consolidated with the Augusta Light Company and the local Thomson-Houston Company to form the new Augusta Railway & Electric Company. Daniel B. Dyer remained president.

For 1898 the AR&E reported having 27 miles of track on 15.5 miles of streets. It operated 42 motor cars and 18 trailing cars, along with five other vehicles and two horses.

Across the River to SC

Augusta's street railway system expanded into South Carolina in 1897 when the first trolley crossed over the river at Thirteenth Street. The immediate goal was a connection to a new speculative community called North Augusta. Promoted by James U. Jackson, a former president of the Augusta Southern Railroad, North Augusta was laid out on the bluffs above the river, just to the west of the older and nearly dead town of Hamburg. Designed as a suburban residential and resort community, it was carefully planned to preserve green space along streams and hillsides while still providing ample sites for construction of homes and businesses.

The short South Carolina extension served for a time, but Jackson was working on much more ambitious plans for the railway and the area. A specialized standard-gauge electric railroad running on mostly private right of way rather than on city streets was his goal. The "interurban" would run up the Horse Creek valley, through the cotton mill towns of Graniteville, Langley, and Warrenville, to Aiken, a winter colony for wealthy northeners, and potentially beyond. At North Augusta, it would link to a luxurious 300-hundred room hotel to be called the Hampton Terrace.

The idea for an Augusta-Aiken electric road had begun some years earlier. In 1893 Major W.T. Gary of Augusta had sought legislative approval of a charter for such an enterprise, but the time was not yet right. The first interurbans were just then being built, and even electric street railways were only about five years old (the first truly successful example was built in Richmond, Va, in 1887-88).

Augusta and Aiken's interurban became a reality at its opening on September 9, 1902, while the hotel was completed the following year.

An early Augusta-Aiken interurban car. (From: Elks, Augusta Lodge No. 205. Augusta, Ga., the Coming City of the South. Augusta: Augusta Chronicle, ca. 1904. Online at Internet Archive here.)

The Hampton Terrace Hotel in North Augusta. Note: Heavily cropped photo. Complete photo is online here at Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Consolidation of Jackson's Enterprises

Jackson purchased the Augusta Railway & Electric Company from Dyer in 1902 and soon began to coordinate it with his other ventures. On January 3, 1903, he established a new holding company, the Augusta-Aiken Railway and Electric Company, which would consolidate the in-town and interurban railways as well as the electric power and land development operations. It subsumed the Augusta Railway & Electric Company, the Augusta & Aiken Railway Company, the North Augusta Electric & Improvement Company, the North Augusta Land Company, and the North Augusta Hotel Company. Jackson became president of the new holding company.

By 1908 the intown streetcar operation (the Augusta Railway & Electric Company) was reporting 30 miles of track with 85 cars. The interurban operation (the Augusta & Aiken Railway Company) reported 25 miles of track with 14 cars and a power station near Clearwater, SC. The cars were manufactured by Laconia and J.G. Brill. Eleven cars were of the double-truck type powered by four motors.

J.G. White Enters the Scene

In 1910 the street railway and light and power properties of Augusta were purchased by the J. G. White interests of New York. Through some legal maneuvering, reorganizing, and company name changing emerged the Augusta-Aiken Railway and Electric Corporation in April of the following year. Among the holdings by this corporation was majority stock ownership, control, and operation of the Georgia-Carolina Power Company.

In December 1912, excavation began for a new concrete dam and hydroelectric power plant on the Savannah River about nine miles upstream from Augusta. Completed in 1914, it was built by the J.G. White Engineering Company for the Georgia-Carolina Power Company. Meanwhile, the J.G. White Management Company, an operating or consulting manager of public utilities and railroad properties in several states and nations, assumed management of the street railway system.

In Augusta, as in many other cities, the demand for electricity was growing. For a time, street railway companies produced their own electric power for their streetcars while selling excess production for lights and nearby motors. But the future was in producing power for the masses. Thus, the electric power industry would gradually supercede the electric streetcar industry.

For 1914 the Augusta-Aiken Railway and Electric Corporation reported owning 42 motor cars, 17 trailing cars, and 30 cars of other types. These 89 electric vehicles operated on 55 miles of track.

Most of the city's streetcar routes were double-tracked, including those in residential neighborhoods such as this one on Broad Street.

Parks and Recreation along the Lines

Many of the nation's streetcar systems had recreational parks anchoring the end of a route, and Augusta was no exception. Lake View Park, on the south and east side of Lake Olmstead, lay at the western terminus of the Broad Street route. Now known as Julian Smith Park, it was popular for picnics and boating, including boat races. Other popular amusement and picnic stops included the German-themed Scheutzen Platz in Summerville and Piney Dell, a park near the company's car barn and power house between Belvedere and Clearwater on the interurban line. Scheutzen Platz, owned by the German Society of Augusta, featured a beer garden, shooting gallery, and clubhouse. In 1917 during World War I, it was sold and the present Tubman School was built on the site.

Acquisition by Big Electric and the End of the City's Streetcar Days

In 1928 Southeastern Power & Light Company acquired the Augusta-Aiken Railway & Electric Company and the Georgia-Carolina Power Company. Their various properties were quickly merged into SP&L subsidiaries Georgia Power Company and South Carolina Power Company.

By this time electric power production had become much more profitable than street railways and interurbans. In the early decades of street railway investment, the automobile was not a threat because it was rare and affordable to only a few, but by the end of the 1920s automobile ownership had grown nearly threefold. The result was declining revenues for the streetcars and disinterest on the part of the power companies to keep investing in them.

On July 8, 1929, the interurban made its last run. Intown operations hung on until December 29, 1937, when Augusta's streetcars were replaced by buses.

Today

Few reminders of the city's streetcar system exist today. Broad Street and Central Avenue still have medians where the cars once ran, and intersections at Central and Monte Sano, Central at Druid Park, and Druid Park at Laney-Walker still have turn lanes with the gentle curves preferred for streetcars. (As only one corner at each intersection has such a curve, it becomes clear where the streetcars made the turns.) The most tangible survivor is a restored single-truck streetcar at the Augusta Museum of History.

Maps:

1904 map.

Map of intown streetcar routes relative to today's streets.

More photos:

Online at Georgia Archives are photographs of various streetcars on Broad Street, including a horsecar around 1880, three electric streetcars in 1910, and another electric streetcar in the 1930s. There's also an early electric in Summerville.

Streetcar at Augusta Museum of History.


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