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Streetcars of Brunswick
and St. Simons Island

A streetcar on Newcastle Street in downtown Brunswick. (From: Brunswick, Ga., Indelible Photographs, 1892. Online at Internet Archive here).

The Brunswick Street Railroad Company was incorporated in 1883, and its first section of track opened on July 1, 1887. By 1890 it was operating 4 miles of standard-gauge track with another 3 miles under construction. The company, headed by president C. P. Goodyear, owned 6 cars and 25 horses.

Poors 1892 manual reported it as a 7.5-mile line in Brunswick, along with a 1.5 mile St. Simons Beach line, with 70 mules, 13 cars, and 2 steamboats. "The steamboats constitute the St. Simon's Steamboat line, running between Brunswick and St. Simon's Island, and carrying the United States mail; one is a large sidewheel boat, the other a small propeller. Receiver appointed early in 1892," noted the manual.

The 1893 issue of the Manual of Statistics listed the Brunswick Street Railroad as a 9-mile operation using mules to pull 15 cars. One and a half miles of the street railway were on St. Simons Island, with 2 steamboats connecting it to the lines in Brunswick. W. H. Berrie was identified as the receiver.

On St. Simons the mule-powered line began at the dock on the south end of the island, then proceeded along Railroad Avenue to the Hotel St. Simons. Built in 1888 by the Brunswick Company, the hotel stood facing the ocean on or close to present-day Massengale Park. Railroad Avenue was parallel to the shoreline, generally on the present path of Beachview Drive.

In her book, Georgia's Land of the Golden Isles, Burnette Vanstory mentions a St. Simons trolley drawn first by a pair of donkeys, but then replaced by "a little steam engine that went puffing along showering sparks indiscriminately upon the stiff-brimmed straw hats of gentlemen passengers and the ruffled parasols of the ladies." The late 1880s was certainly the time of "steam dummies," small locomotives often disguised to look like passenger cars. The complaints about smoke and cinders spoiling the fine attire of riders also ring true. Many reports from the time cite these objections to steam-powered vehicles on streetcar lines.

A horse-car passes by Brunswick's Oglethorpe Hotel. The artist chose to have the vehicle pulled by prancing horses rather than plodding mules.
(From: South (timetables). East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railway System, January 1890. Online at Internet Archive here.)

After operating for five years with an annual loss of three to five thousand dollars, the railroad was sold at public outcry on April 2, 1893. The purchasers, William O. Allison, A. H. Lane, and Alfred J. Crovatt, announced that they would convert it into a dummy line and ultimately into an electric line. Plans included constructing a continuous belt line around the city, with a spur to the baseball park, according to the Street Railway Journal of September, 1893.

In a lawsuit (Kreitzer v. Crovatt, Ga. Supreme Court, Aug. 20, 1894) involving the asset values of the sale, C. P. Goodyear, former president of the railroad company, testified that its property consisted of about seven and a half miles of rail laid in the city of Brunswick, and about one and a half miles of track rail laid on St. Simons Island; 14 cars; 40 mules; 2 steamboats (the Pope Catlin and Egmont); a depot lot, and a depot building. Goodyear believed that the assets were worth far more than the $10,000 received from the sale.

A. J. Crovatt, one of the purchasers, responded that in his opinion the rails were greatly worn, the depot building was almost value-less, the mules were inferior Texas mules, and the cars were second class. There was no mention of a steam engine by either party.

The Brunswick Street Railroad was gone within a few years. In its 1898 edition, American Street Railway Investments reported that the company "has been dissolved and the rails removed." Closely associated with the street railway was the Brunswick Company, which also failed. Its property was sold under foreclosure on January 4, 1897.

The Hotel St. Simons, which had been constructed by the Brunswick Company, burned on December 13, 1898. In the same month, a successor enterprise, the Brunswick Dock and City Improvement Company was incorporated.

While Brunswick's original streetcar system was, to some extent, focused on hotels and tourist patronage, its second version, the City & Suburban Railway, which opened September 18, 1909, was centered around a combination of street railway and electric light enterprises. This was typical for the times; most other cities of substantial size had similar business arrangements.

An active investor was Frank D. M. Strachan, a shipping magnate who is said to have been the city's first millionaire. Reports from the period indicate his involvement:

"The Mutual Light & Water Co.'s plant has been turned over to F. D. M. Strachan and associates. He is president of the new company which is to build a street railway and a new light plant." (Daily Bulletin of the Manufacturers Record, 1907).

"Surveys for lines of City and Suburban Railway Company have been completed, and construction work will begin in a short time -- F. D. M. Strachan." (Municipal Journal & Public Works, 1908).

"The City and Suburban Railway Company will soon begin active work on its electric car line under the franchise granted F. D. M. Strachan and his associates several months ago; the work of making the necessary surveys of the line has been completed and the City Engineer has been furnished with a copy of the proposed route of the line; under the terms of the franchise granted by Council, the company has until January 1, 1909 in which to complete the line or in which to have at least four miles in active operation." (Municipal Journal & Public Works, 1908).

"The Terminal and Railway Securities Company now owns the Mutual Light and Water Company and the City and Suburban Railway Company. The details of consolidation were arranged, it is said, by F. D. M. Strachan, Albert Fendig, and others. The Brunswick Terminal and Railway Securities Company is the successor of the Brunswick City Dock and Improvement Company and has a capital stock of $10,000,000. It is reported that this company is not to be simply a holding one but that it will take an active part in the development and upbuilding of Brunswick and the vicinity; that it will co-operate in the construction of the proposed Georgia Coast & Piedmont Railway Company's line from Darien to Brunswick, Ga." (Electrical Review, January 29, 1910).

The Brunswick Terminal and Railway Securities Company "owns 3,600 city lots in Brunswick, Ga., and approximately 3,220 acres, located within a radius of four miles of the center of the city, and 530 acres on St. Simon's Island, facing the Atlantic Ocean. The company further holds on St. Simon's Island 350 acres lying west of East Beach Island; also three large tracts of land on Back River -- in all, 1,426 acres, with deep water frontage suitable for docks and factories; also large tract of land on Turtle River. The company's income is derived from the building of houses and docks and selling or leasing same. In September, 1909, the company acquired by exchange of $2,000,000 of its new stock, the entire capital stock ($86,750) of the Mutual Light and Water Co., which in turn owns all the capital stock ($50,000) of the City and Suburban Railway Co. (Poors 1913 Manual of Industrials.)

Real estate development was another venture often closely connected to street railway enterprises. In Brunswick, Strachan was not only involved in residential development, but also in improvement of port facilities, as might be expected for a man who had made his early money in shipping.

With the 1910 incorporation of the St. Simons Railway Company, the old Brunswick and St. Simons combined system made a return. The 1.5-mile standard-gauge line featured 2 gasoline motor cars and 2 other cars running from Ocean Pier to the New Hotel St. Simons.

On the mainland, the City and Suburban Railway was a 7-mile line with 6 motor and 4 other cars, according to the 1914 issue of McGraw Electric Railway Manual. The next year Poors Manual of Public Utilities listed the City and Suburban Railway as a 9.5-mile line with 11 passenger cars (7 closed and 4 open) of which 7 had electric equipment.

Brunswick streetcar crossing Union Street. View is south from post office.

Expansion continued, apparently, for another couple of years, as indicated in this report from the Electric Railway Journal issue of December 15, 1917:
"In order to afford accommodations to the many people who are to be employed at the large shipbuilding plant of the United States Maritime Corporation, the City & Suburban Railway has decided to extend the car line to that plant, which will also include the plants of the Glynn Canning Company, and place the line within a short distance of the large sawmill settlement of the Savannah River Lumber Company."

Contraction soon replaced expansion, however. In a list of electric railways that had been dismantled and sold as junk, the Federal Electric Railways Commission included 1.7 miles of the St. Simons Railroad, indicating that the abandonment took place in 1918.

The Brunswick operation may also have been in a shaky financial situation. According to the September 27, 1919 issue of Electric Railway Journal, the City & Suburban had applied to the State Railroad Commission for an increase in fare from 5 cents to 7 cents. Three months later, in its December 20, 1919 issue, the Journal reported that the City & Suburban had entered receivership.

A year and a half later, the end appeared to be imminent when Judge Evans of the U. S. District Court authorized the receivers to discontinue operations July 31. "The road which has been in receivership for some time was offered for sale on July 5 but no bids were received. Another date for the sale will be set aside by the Court and it is expected the system will be sold for junk." (Commercial and Financial Chronicle, July 30, 1921).

An attempt to keep the cars rolling apparently came with a reorganization of the company and the appointment of a new manager, as reported in a 1922 issue of Electric Traction:

Mr. O. C. Johannesen has become superintendent of the Brunswick & Interurban Railway Company, the name of the reorganized City & Suburban Railway Company operating the lines in Brunswick, Ga. The other officers of the new company are G. S. Smith, president, and Hugh Burford, manager. Mr. Johannesen entered the service of the old company as a motorman. After three months he was promoted to starter and in August 1915, he was appointed assistant superintendent. In 1916, he was appointed superintendent, the position he held at the time of the reorganization.

In 1923, Transit Journal indicated that Oscar Johannesen had resigned from the Brunswick & Interurban. Although the B&I was listed in the 1925 Census of Electrical Industries, the company apparently did not last through the decade, as no subsequent mention of it could be found.

An indication of the extent to which automobiles had replaced streetcars and steamboats in the area was the July 11, 1924 opening of the Brunswick and St. Simons Highway. Visitors no longer needed to transfer from streetcar to boat back to streetcar; if they had an auto, they needed no other form of transit. And thanks to the Ford Model T and the relatively inexpensive vehicles that followed it, many more could come to visit Brunswick and the Golden Isles.

See also:

The Streetcar Days of Glynn County and The Hotel St. Simons,
by Tyler E. Bagwell at jekyllislandhistory.com.

Photo of Brunswick streetcar at newdavesrailpix.com.


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