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Street cars finally came to end of line

POSTED: March 21, 2010 1:00 a.m.

One of the most charming modes of transportation in Gainesville was the old street car, which actually began with horse-drawn trolleys in the 1870s.

With Gainesville a pioneer in development of electric power and the origins of today's Georgia Power Co., electric street cars came along in 1913.

The street cars ran from the railroad depot at the end of Main Street all the way to Chattahoochee Park (now the American Legion park) at the end of Riverside Drive. It also went by Gower Springs on what is now Green Street Circle and out Spring Street to New Holland.

An 1888 brochure hyping Gainesville's amenities, said of the street car system managed by Camp Brothers Livery Stable, "It is one of the institutions of Gainesville ... For a few cents a gentleman and his family can ride along Gainesville's handsomest streets out into the country and back, getting grand views of the distant mountains, and enjoy the trip, thrown as he is into the company of other pleasure seekers. ... Any summer afternoon may be seen prominent clergymen, lawyers, merchants and other visitors filling these democratic vehicles and enjoying together the delightful ride."

Excursions to Lake Warner on the Chattahoochee River were popular, and the cars must have been crowded especially on weekends.

An enlarged picture of one of the street cars with motorman Ernest Edwards greets you just inside the Hall County Library in Gainesville.

As more automobiles filled the dirt streets, demand grew for paving and less for street cars.

That resulted in Georgia Railway and Power Co., predecessor to today's Georgia Power, getting into a hassle with the city of Gainesville over the paving of some streets in the mid-1920s. The city wanted the power company to help pay for paving streets where its street cars ran. The power company countered that it should abandon the street car system anyway because it was losing money. In 1924, the company said street cars had been losing an average of $10,000 a year, despite carrying 1,000 passengers a day for 8 cents a head.

"Is the Georgia Railway and Power Co. to be permitted to block the progress of Gainesville, or are the people who have given this corporation its cordial support and cooperation going to exert every effort to have this company do its part toward the development of the city and bear its proportionate share of the street paving?" the Gainesville News asked in a front-page editorial.

While appreciating electric service, the News noted Gainesvillians had paid their dues through their loyalty as customers without protest to prices charged. But, they also had " ... put up with out-of-date street car equipment, poor schedules and torn-up streets along its lines ... without a murmur."

Another sore point, the power company had closed Chattahoochee Park.

The editorial pointed out that abandoning the street car system would isolate Riverside Military Academy and deny transportation to some 3,000 people at New Holland, another 1,500 at Gainesville Mill, as well as residents along Riverside Drive, West Broad Street and other areas. Downtown merchants especially would be adversely affected.

Mass meetings were held at the courthouse to rally support for maintaining the street cars and getting the street paving done. The president of the power company attended one to state his case.

The result of the meetings was to send a resolution to the city urging immediate paving of East Spring Street from Prior Street to the city limits at New Holland. It also asked that the work be done even if it meant using proceeds from a levy against and sale of the street car system.

Nearly a year later, however, the Gainesville News sounded a bit nostalgic as it reported the demise of the street cars under the headline "Won't Have to Dodge Street Cars Any More."

"The old street car bell has ceased ringing in Gainesville, perhaps forever and aye," the newspaper wrote April 8, 1925. The city sold the system for $8,200 to cover what the power company owed.

The city kept the rails and track inside its limits, to be sold or taken up as it desired. Some were left in the paved streets and remained visible on Washington Street as late as the 1950s.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on
gainesvilletimes.com.



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