September 16, 2018

The Story Behind Prescott's Street Cars UPDATED!

"Today, May 19, 1903," the newspaper proclaimed, "will mark the beginning of a new era in the industrial progress of the city of Prescott." That day saw "the beginning of work on the first electric street railway in northern Arizona, and Prescott now takes her place among the up to date cities of the west."

It was this level of excitement that announced the mundane arrival of the first railroad ties for the Prescott and Mt. Union Railway Company.

The name of the new company stated its optimism. Ultimately the electric, metropolitan trolley company would never get anywhere near the mining fields around Mt. Union. Still, the idea that it might brought in investment capital from several mining men, including Joseph Mayer.

Running electric railcars in-town was one thing, but extending past Prescott would violate the franchising rights of the mighty Santa Fe RR, which brought objection. Although the electric railway kept "Mount Union" in its name, plans to extend beyond city limits were quickly dropped.

The founding and early history of Mayer, Arizona is inseparable from the biography of the man who founded the town--Joseph Mayer.

The job required more than simply laying rails, however. The Prescott Electric Company "installed a lot of new machinery which greatly increas(ed) their capacity." The new railway would immediately become one of the electric company's biggest customers.

"It is the intention of the company to lay the first track from the west end of Gurley street straight east on Gurley to Virginia Avenue," connecting residences to the Courthouse Plaza. "A line later was built extending from about...the Smoki Museum, running east around the Citizen's Cemetery; it crossed a gulch on a trestle, then entered Whipple about where the old Sheldon gate was located." After that, a north-south line would run from the depot south on Cortez to Gurley street with unfulfilled hopes of extending it "to the southern limits of the city."

Construction of the streetcar tracks on Gurley St.

"The (first) car for Prescott's street railroad arrived on May 26, (1904) and on being unloaded from the train, six horses were attached to it and it was drawn up Cortez St. to Gurley where it was placed on the rails, the current turned on and the car was run back and forth on the track for a couple of hours during the evening."

"Everything worked perfectly satisfactorily," the paper reported. "The car climbed the grades of the hills without any apparent trouble."

A year following the first arrival of railroad ties, on Saturday, May 28th, 1904, a small section of line from the plaza to west Prescott via Gurley was in operation. "This announcement may come as a surprise to many pessimists who have been saying that the talk of building a street car system in Prescott is all bluff," the newspaper asserted.

Service ran from 7 am to 11 pm and the fare was a nickel. However this small spur would hardly generate the traffic necessary to bring any hope of making the railway profitable.

Everyone knew that it was the potential traffic from Ft. Whipple that might generate the necessary revenue. "It was a notable event in the history of Prescott's progress and advancement (November 15th, 1905,) when the first street car to Fort Whipple made its initial run," the paper proclaimed.

"(There) were a number of representative citizens, who will remember the date as marking an epoch in the advancement of the city, and one that will prove a factor in its growth through stimulating suburban development."

"It was exactly 2 pm when the car...left the Burke corner. The run was made to the end of the line in 8 minutes, one stop being made for a couple of ladies who boarded the car at Mt. Vernon St., who were surprised to find that they had unwittingly become a part of an event of historical nature."

"The new road was in excellent shape and the car glided smoothly over the 40 pound rails," the paper noted. "The construction had been performed in a workmanlike manner. Cars will leave the west end of Gurley St. on the even hours and half hours and leave Whipple barracks every 15 and 45 minutes after the hour."

"It may be interesting to many to know that the extension (to Ft. Whipple) is only a few feet short of a mile. In building it, 105 poles and 2200 pounds of 00 copper wire were used," the paper said.

From this point, "most of the (railway's) patrons were school children from Whipple. A special book of tickets in the early days was $1 for 25 rides." Another popular run was the last one leaving the plaza and Whiskey Row at 11 pm. This inevitably included a carload of inebriated soldiers unable to traverse the short hike back to the fort.

Soon another car was needed. "The second car for the Prescott and Mt. Union reached this city yesterday from St. Louis and was immediately placed in commission," the paper said. "It is known as Car No. 2. It's a convertible car, being so constructed that it can easily be changed from a summer car to a winter car, and is equipped with all the conveniences of either. Besides being operated by electricity, it is heated and lighted with it also..."

"Travelling men who have inspected it pronounce it to be as up to date as anything of its kind to be found in operation on any metropolitan railroad anywhere, and certainly superior to any hitherto seen in Arizona. An adjustable vestibule at either end affords the operator protection from the inclemency of the weather during rainy or snowy seasons. The car is 30 feet in length and will seat 28 passengers."

"It was said that (Car No. 2) was an old horse-drawn car made over into a trolley car. They were both single truck cars and when enough people stood on one end, the other end would come up! Only one car was used, except when traffic was heavy." 
Note: Upon reading this article, Gene Caywood, President of Old Pueblo Trolley, Tucson and historian of all the trolly systems in Arizona, contacted the author to separate fact from the lore that this author found in his research at Sharlot Hall Museum. Caymen writes:
Car 2 was definitely not rebuilt from a horsecar.  It was constructed new by the American Car Co. in St. Louis.  It was in production by October 5, 1905 and was completed and photographed on January 4, 1906. Interestingly, after the arrival of car 2, car 1 was totally rehabbed and the open platforms were enclosed, an action that no doubt was greatly appreciated by the motormen during winter months...
Things did not always run smoothly on the railway. "The DC generator (used to power the streetcars) was belt-driven and quite often the belt would fly off when both cars were started at the same time. It would take from 5-10 minutes to get the power going again."

A barn was built on Cortez street near the Santa Fe depot to house the streetcars. This location later became the site for the Arizona Mining Supply Co. (Although this is widely believed and confirmed by sources in the Sharlot Hall Museum Archives, it turns out to be lore. Mr. Caymen provided a Sanborne Fire map showing the car-barn located in the middle of the block on Cortez between Sheldon and Willis.)

Some have surmised that the fall of the streetcar line was due to the rise of the automobile. However, it was the fate of Fort Whipple that was inextricably interlaced with the fate of Prescott's streetcars. At the turn of the following decade, when Ft. Whipple's garrison was sent to the Mexican border to assure the violence there would not cross over into Arizona, the railway was temporarily shut down.

The true story of the first chautauqua ever held in Prescott, AZ in 1912. Also included is a brief description of the chautauqua movement.

It reopened in the summer of 1912. This corresponded with both the return of the soldiers and Prescott's first Chautauqua celebration. However, when Fort Whipple was decommissioned and it started its transformation into a hospital / medical center, the soldiers and their children were transferred elsewhere; and the line, which never made a good profit, was doomed.

Car No. 1, the larger of the two, was sold to Douglas, AZ. It has been written that Car No. 2 was sold for scrap and junked in 1917. However, this researcher found one source that insisted that only the generator and wire was scrapped and the body of the car was sold to an unknown museum. If that were true and the car could be located and acquired, it would certainly make a beautiful and beloved centerpiece for the Sharlot Hall Museum transportation exhibit! When comparing notes with Mr. Caymen, it was found that there is much contradiction among sources as to what happened to the cars. However, Mr. Cayman points out:
Car 1 was not the larger of the two cars.  While both cars had 7 main passenger windows, car 2 was longer because it also had a narrow passenger window at each end of the 7 main windows. Regarding the statement that the body was sold to an unknown museum that statement is I think clearly false.  I don’t believe many museums were in the business of collecting large artifacts in 1917, and the first trolley museum in the world to my knowledge was the Seashore Trolley Museum in Maine established in 1939.
A historian is only good as his sources and clearly the information currently found at the Sharlot Hall Museum Archives needs to be updated. Many thanks to Gene Caymen for his excellent research! The information he provided will be offered to the SHM Archives so that a future historian/researcher won't make the same mistakes! Additionally, this author will work with Mr. Caymen to try to solve the mysteries that still remain.

When once accused of "flip-flopping," Abraham Lincoln said: "I'd rather be right part of the time than wrong all of the time!"

(Caymen updates, October 24, 2018)


Tourist Tip:
Description of the Fort Whipple Museum in Prescott, AZ. It details the entire history of the fort featuring artifacts that were found there.

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Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner, 5/20/1903;  Pg. 1, Cols. 1-2.

"The History of Prescott Electric Company Steam Plant" Pp. 9-10: 'Street Car History of Prescott.' from Sharlot Hall Museum Archives Vertical Folder: Streetcars.

"Birth of Auto Killed Prescott Street-Car" by Lou Bach. Undated newspaper article from Sharlot Hall Museum Archives Vertical Folder: Streetcars.

Arizona Journal-Miner, 1/23/1906; Pg. 1, Col. 2.

"Rise and Fall of Prescott's Street Cars" by Claudette Simpson: Newspaper article (1/23/1981?) Sharlot Hall Museum Archives, Vertical Folder: Streetcars. (Note: Some of the years cited in this article contain typographical errors.)

1 comment:

  1. It is great to see such a piece of helpful information and thanks for sharing it.
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