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Streetcars of Macon

Streetcar at Cherry and Third streets in downtown Macon.

Streetcar at Cherry and Third streets in downtown Macon.

A Difficult Beginning

Chartered in 1868, the Macon Street Railroad Company opened a line from the business district to the Georgia State Fairgrounds (now Central City Park) in 1871. A line from Cherry Street to Tattnall Square and Mercer University was also constructed the same year. After a period of financial and legal difficulties, in 1875 the company came under the ownership of Mary J. Hill, who abandoned it after two or three years. Most of the track was then removed.

Horse car in front of Wesleyan Female College. (From: Advertisement in John Campbell Butler, Historical Record of Macon and Central Georgia, 1879. Online at Google Books.)

In 1881 or shortly thereafter, the company laid tracks on Hawthorne Street from the Central of Georgia Railroad to a Bibb Manufacturing Company plant between First and Second streets, for the purpose of delivering coal. After a complaint by an adjoining property owner, the courts ruled in 1884 against the company, deciding that its charter authorized it to serve the public in general, but not a private enterprise exclusively.

Despite this shaky start, a few business leaders and investors saw potential for a well-conceived street railway system in the city. The next stage began with the December 24, 1884 incorporation of the Macon City & Suburban Street Railroad Company.

A panoramic map of Macon prepared in 1887 by Henry Wellge indicates rails on several miles of city streets. Whether all of these were constructed by the Macon City & Suburban or by it along with other companies is not clear. Additionally, it is possible that some of the indicated lines may have been planned but not built.

Wellge's 1887 map. Online at Library of Congress here.

The spine of the city's streetcar system, according to the map, was Fourth Street (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.). Along this thoroughfare was the Union Depot and Brown's Hotel at Fourth and Plum streets, the Findlay Iron Works at Fourth and Oglethorpe, and a concentration of business establishments between Pine and Mulberry streets.

Equally important was a loop off Fourth Street. It ran from Fourth up Mulberry to Cotton Avenue, which it followed up to Poplar Street, continuing uphill on Washington Street, then turning left on College Street. The route proceeded southwest on that street continuing on to Johnston and Sparks streets (later renamed as College Street) and to Mercer University. After turning southeast onto Elm Street, it crossed a bridge over the Central of Georgia railroad, continued on Elm to Telfair, where it turned left. A right turn on Hawthorne Street took the cars back to Fourth Street behind the Findlay Iron Works.

A route also ran southwest on Fourth several blocks beyond the iron works, as well as northeast on Fourth to Ocmulgee Street (now Riverside Drive). A branch off Fourth at Walnut lead to Central City Park. Before reaching the park, however, this route branched at Walnut and Fifth, where cars followed Fifth to East Macon via a covered bridge over the Ocmulgee River.

Horsecar on Fourth Street crossing over Cherry Street.
From Wellge map of Macon, 1887.

Steam Dummies and Electrification

Three years after the Macon City & Suburban's arrival, two others entered the scene: the Metropolitan Street Railway Company of Macon, incorporated on October 22, 1887, and the Central City Street Railroad Company, incorporated on October 24, 1887.

By 1888, the Central City Street Railroad had constructed a line from the new Federal Building at Third and Mulberry northwest to Vineville. Pulled by what was billed as a "noiseless" steam dummy, the cars traveled along Vineville Avenue, with a branch to Huguenin Heights.

A steam dummy. Their manufacturers preferred to call them enclosed motors.

An 1888 issue of Street Railway Journal listed two streetcar companies operating in Macon (the Metropolitan was not included). The Central City Street Railway Company was reported to be a 4-mile system with 3 motors and 7 cars. The Macon City & Suburban Street Railroad was listed as a 12-mile operation with 90 horses and 26 cars.

The late 1880s and early 1890s were especially unsettling for street railway companies due to the rapid advance of electrical traction technology. Electric-powered streetcar systems quickly proved to be successful, and soon gained the favor of the public, who saw horse-drawn cars as slow and outmoded and steam dummies as noisy and smoky machines unsuitable for city streets and neighborhoods. The new systems, however, required a substantial capital investment in electrical equipment, along with the need to produce or purchase power and distribute it to the rail lines.

For Macon, as was the case in many cities, the transition often involved a change of ownership. For example, the July 6, 1889 issue of The Electric World reported that "The Macon City & Suburban Street Railroad will, if sold to St. Louis parties, now negotiating, be operated by steam dummies or electric motors." The October 1889 issue of Electric Power noted that the "Macon Street Railway" had been sold to businessman George F. Work, who would "shortly adopt electricity as the motive power. After having paid a visit to Nashville, Tenn., and inspecting the electric railroad there, the board of Aldermen have become believers in that form of traction."

In its June 7, 1890 issue, The Electrical World reported on Work's plans:

Macon, Ga. – Mr. George F. Work, the well known Philadelphia capitalist, who owns about two-thirds of the electric light and street railway interests of this city, intends to make improvements in these properties to meet the public demand. There are only four motors on the Macon electric line, and some time since he gave an order for four new motors; but the increase of travel has caused the order to be increased to twelve. The line will be extended over the route originally mapped out when Mr. Work purchased the road, and the cars will soon be running over the dummy route to Vineville. A new fifty-horse dynamo has been ordered, and an order will be given at once for a new 200 h.p. engine to furnish electricity for the increased mileage.

The July 30, 1890 edition of The Electrical Engineer noted that about September 26, 1889 the Macon City & Suburban had contracted with the Thomson-Houston Electric Company "to furnish electrical appliances for its equipment." Thomson-Houston was one of the leading providers of street railway "systems," consisting of electric motors, propulsion apparatus, and related technologies.

Advertisement in Western Electrician, January 4, 1890.

A list of electric railways in the June 1890 issue of Electric Power indicated that the Macon City & Suburban had commenced operation electrically on December 25, 1889 on 8 miles of track using 8 motor cars employing the Thomson-Houston system.

Macon citizens quickly embraced the new system. "The City & Suburban Street Railway carried 53,930 passengers in January, 97,970 in June and 116,240 in August" reported The November 1890 issue of Electric Power. "Four new thirty h.p. motors are being negotiated for, which will pull tow [two] cars over any grade on the electric line in Macon or its suburbs."

Poors 1890 manual reported the Macon City & Suburban to have 12 miles of main line built at 5-ft gauge with 91 mules, 3 horses, 20 cars, and 3 other vehicles. Whipples 1890 report for the MC&S differed, listing it as operating 10 miles of standard-gauge main line with 60 mules and 30 cars. It noted that 4 miles of track were electric. These 1890 publications may have been reporting 1889 information.

For the Central City Street Railway Company, Poors 1890 manual reported it to have 5 miles of track with 9 cars and 3 motors.

In 1892, the Macon City & Suburban had 15 miles of horse-drawn and electric railway with 28 cars, according to the Manual of Statistics for 1893.

 

Men posing in front of several Macon streetcars.

Signs on the streetcars in this 1892 photo appear to read "Macon & Suburban." (From James Ira Deese Miller, A Guide Into the South, Macon: 1911. Online at Google Books).

 

Receivership

The quick growth of 1890 did not guarantee the financial health of Macon's streetcar companies, as both the Central City Street Railway and the Macon City & Suburban entered receivership and were sold at public outcry on May 14, 1892.

The June 1892 edition of the Street Railway Journal reported that the "Macon street car system was sold at auction May 14, to the Thomson-Houston Electric Co., of Boston. The system includes about nine miles of equipped line. The price paid was $200,000. Improvements will be inaugurated at once." Thomson-Houston reorganized the system the same year, renaming it the Macon Consolidated Street Railroad Company.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Street Railway, which had been organized five years earlier, reported 5.7 miles of track with 5 electric cars. (Manual of Statistics 1893). Its tracks began at the intersection of Fourth and Cherry, proceeding on Cherry to Cotton Avenue, on Cotton to Forsyth Street, on Forsyth to Monroe Street, on Monroe to Chestnut Street, on Chestnut to Adams Street, on Adams to Hazel Street, on Hazel to Lawton Avenue, on Lawton to Bellevue Avenue, and on Bellevue into the Bellevue neighborhood.

The Macon & Indian Springs

In its June 11, 1892 issue, Western Electrician reported, "The Macon Ga., & Indian Springs Railway company, which intends to build an electric railroad from Macon to Indian Springs, a distance of about thirty miles, has applied for a franchise to lay tracks on certain streets in Macon. The preliminary survey between Macon and Indian Springs has been made, and work is expected to begin shortly."

After securing a charter on July 29, 1893, the road opened the same year, traveling on certain Macon streets but not even close to Indian Springs. The 1894 Street Railway Journal reported the company to have slightly over 6 miles of track, with 4 motor cars and 8 trailing cars. Its equipment included Lamokin cars and Ball engines.

For the Consolidated Street Railway Company, the Street Railway Journal reported 25 miles of track with 31 motor cars and 16 trailing cars.

 

Macon streetcar on Mulberry Street near county courthouse

Streetcar on Mulberry Street. The mansard-roofed building is the county courthouse. The white-columned Woodruff House is barely visible to the left of the church steeple.

Four years later, there was little change in mileage. A February 1898 report in American Street Railway Investments listed the Macon and Indian Spring as a 7-mile operation with 8 motor cars, and 6 trailing cars. The cars were noted as Lamokin and American.

That same year the Macon Consolidated Street Railway had 25.75 miles of track with 30 motor cars, according to an April 1898 report in American Street Railway Investments.

On November 8, 1898, the Macon and Indian Spring Electric Street Railway Company changed its name to Macon Electric Light and Railway Company. A few months earlier, it had purchased the electric plant formerly owned by the Macon Gas Light and Water Company.

Streetcars on Mulberry Street at Third Street. The William Wadley monument stands on the right.

Poors 1899 manual reported the Macon Consolidated to have 25.75 miles of track with 30 motor cars. For the Macon Electric Light and Railway, the listing showed 6.75 miles of track with 10 motor cars, 4 trailing cars, and 1 flat car.

In 1902, Poors indicated that the Macon Consolidated Street Railroad "controls and operates the Metropolitan Street Ry." The report gave the length of track as 20.5 miles and the number of cars as 30. It also noted that the company had a power station.

For the Macon Electric Light and Railway, Poors 1902 listed 7 miles of track, 9 motor cars, and 5 trail cars.

Streetcar on Cotton Avenue.

Consolidation

The Macon Railway & Light Company was chartered on October 23, 1902. According to the McGraw Electric Railway Manual of 1908, it was "a consolidation of the Macon Consolidated Street Railroad, Macon Electric Light and Railway Company, the Metropolitan Railway Company, the North & South Macon Railway Company, and the electric lighting plants of the city of Macon."

The 1908 Electric Railway Directory reported Macon Railway & Light to have 30 miles of track and 57 cars. Its power station and repair shops were located on Ocmulgee Street (today's Riverside Drive).

Convertible Cars

In the decades before air conditioning, a breeze through a streetcar's open windows brought a measure of relief on hot summer days. Even better was riding on a car with completely open sides to maximize the amount of air flowing through the car. Many street railway companies maintained a number of "open cars" for warm-weather travel, employing them especially on routes to parks and amusement centers.

For transit systems that questioned the value of keeping separate fleets of open and closed cars, the J. G. Brill Company built a convertible car. Featuring side panels and windows that could be lifted into a roof storage area, the cars could be quickly adapted to changes in the weather.

From: Street Railway Review, March 20, 1903.

According to a 1903 article in Street Railway Review, Macon ordered 10 of the cars, planning to use them on a line to "a popular point on the Ocmulgee River, where the company has laid out a park."

A September 14, 1907 article in the Street Railway Journal reported on a purchase of more new cars:

Travel on the Macon Railway & Light Company has been unusually brisk this summer, with the result that new equipment had to be purchased. Since its arrival, however, a marked improvement has been noticeable in the service, especially on lines reaching Crumps, North Highland and Ocmulgee Park.

The new equipment, numbering ten cars in all, is composed of both double and single-truck Brill semi-convertibles, and the larger cars have proved especially valuable in handling the crowds going to coming from the amusement parks mentioned, while the window system employed on these cars is particularly well adapted to this class of travel...the new equipment swells the total number of cars operated to sixty-seven.

Brill streetcar built for Macon Railway & LIght Company, ca. 1907

A Brill single-truck car purchased by MR&L. (Street Railway Journal, 1907)

Macon Railway & Light Company streetcar, ca. 1907

Double-truck Brill car purchased by MR&L. (Street Railway Journal, 1907)

Interior of Brill-built Macon streetcar

Interior of Brill-built Macon streetcar. (Street Railway Journal, 1907)

Georgia Light, Power & Railways

In 1911, Macon's street railways began a transition to new ownership, when the Georgia Light, Power & Railways was established. It was described as a "voluntary association formed under the laws of Massachusetts in Sept., 1911, to acquire securities of companies owning or operating public utilities, power plants or transmission lines in Georgia. Now owns entire outstanding common stock, $887,700, of the Macon Railway & Light Company (and other utility companies)." (McGraw Electric Railway Manual: 1914).

For 1914 McGraw reported Macon Railway & Light Company as operating 37 miles of track with 62 motor and other cars, 12 of which were of the pay-as-you-enter type.

Workers moving rails for Vineville Avenue paving project, circa 1914.
(From: Electric Railway Journal, October 3, 1914, pages 623-5).

In the fall of 1928, Macon Railway & Light Company was consolidated into Georgia Power Company, becoming part of its Macon Division. Streetcars continued to run until 1933-34, when they were replaced by buses. On May 31, 1949, Georgia Power sold its bus properties to the Bibb Transit Company.

Macon's Streetcar Parks

Most cities with streetcar systems also had so-called streetcar parks with a variety of amusements and recreational opportunities. Usually owned by the street railway companies, these parks were intended to increase ridership during non-commuting times, such as weekends or warm-weather evenings.

Macon had Crumps Park, off Vineville Avenue and the Central of Georgia Railroad, about three miles from City Hall. Its site today is bounded by Ridge Avenue, Ingleside Avenue, and Vista Circle. A casino, picnic pavilion, roller coaster, shooting gallery, alligator pond, deer park, band stand, and a fishing pond were among the attractions (see 1908 Sanborn map).

Crumps was not the only park, however. Other recreational destinations included North Highland Park, Ocmulgee Park, Rice's Mills Park, and Central City Park.

A double-truck streetcar at Crumps Park in Macon sometime before 1912.

A Remnant of the Streetcar System

On the east side of Riverside Drive at Franklin Street, next to Rose Hill Cemetery, stands what remains of the maintenance shops and power station of the Macon Railway & Light Company. Built between 1895 and 1908, the car barns, repair shops, and power plant were extensively altered over the years. Fortunately, enough of the original character of the 1915 substation remained that it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

The three-story brick building, at 1015 Riverside Drive, has been known in recent years as the Briar Rose Building and as The Power Station.

Former power station and maintenance shop of the Macon Railway & Light Company at 1015 Riverside Drive.

See Also:

Photo of Macon streetcar at newdavesrailpix.com.


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