Thursday, January 27, 2011

Historic streetcar - an expose of sorts

Historic streetcar rail exposed on North Tryon Street. Photos by Mary Newsom

This posting is an excuse to share some photos that history enthusiasts and rail-lovers might enjoy. Pavement flaws in North Tryon Street uptown have exposed the reality that the city's old streetcar tracks are still down there. Here's a hat tip to Les Epperson of the city's Special Services division, which cares for some key parts of uptown. When I was interviewing him about sidewalks and snow removal (see last Saturday's op-ed, "City walkability goal hits an icy patch"), he mentioned that streetcar rails were visible where the pavement was worn, in the 500 block of North Tryon. I took a walk last week and sure enough, in front of the First United Methodist Church, I spotted them.
The rails aren't in very good condition – not surprising for metal that's been paved over multiple times. Epperson said not all the rails remain; some have been removed for various street projects.

For the record, Charlotte's last streetcar was put out to pasture in 1938. Streetcar No. 85 was the centerpiece of a "Good-bye To Trolleys" celebration at The Square on March 14, 1938. That car ended up being found in a Huntersville pasture in the 1980s, restored and then it ran for about 10 years, operated by the nonprofit Charlotte Trolley, on what are now the light rail tracks down South Boulevard. It was put out to pasture again – this time to the CATS light rail barn – and awaits its next mission.

Charlotte, like many other U.S. cities, hopes to bring back streetcar service, but its plans don't include North Tryon Street. Still, I like to imagine someone jackhammering up the asphalt on North Tryon and Car 85 running on those old rails again. In reality, of course, the condition of the rail (see close-ups below) and the missing rails make that impossible.


Bréanainn Séaghdha said...

Great find! I was just reading this morning about a sad tale of the Cincinnati Subway that was built and never used.

Although I doubt Charlotte has anything like that waiting to be uncovered, it is always nice to see the remnants of a day when US cities aspired to be the pinnacles of human endeavor and civilization.

Mary Newsom said...

Wow! That's a great little video. Thanks for the link. Cool. But sad. Imagine what another city could do with a pre-dug system of subway tunnels.

Anonymous said...

That is nothing you should check out Elizabeth Ave.

Anonymous said...

the rumor is that Charlotte trolley is looking at running from Wesley Heights / Five points to the Cedar Street yards (right behind BofA stadium) on the old Piedmont and Northern tracks.

It would be great to see, I bet they could even generate some revenue for Panthers game parking.

Michael said...

"The rails aren't in very good condition – not surprising for metal that's been paved over multiple times. Epperson said not all the rails remain; some have been removed for various street projects."

There's a reason for that.

"Charlotte, like many other U.S. cities, hopes to bring back streetcar service..."

Backwards to the future?

Anonymous said...

The old P&N is slowly being restored bit by bit from Ranlo to parallel with Franklin Blvd. behind Tony's Ice Cream into the Norfolk Southern in downtown Gastonia. New signals are installed at the Ranlo crossing.

J. Caldwell said...

Very enjoyable read after a long day. My family has a long history in Charlotte, and I always enjoy learning of the city's history.

David said...

It's nice to see those old rails. Aside from the colonial period, one of my most favorite parts of Charlotte history is seeing the streetcar in those old turn of the century photos.

Anonymous said...

One trolley used to run up Central avenue and then turned left onto The Plaza. The tracks ran down the middle of The Plaza where the really wide median is with the grass and the light posts. The tracks are still underneath the median running down the street. The trolley is the reason that road is so wide. The trolley turned right onto Mecklenburg Ave. and ended at the Charlotte country club.
I remember watching the city workers pull out the old rails on Central avenue in the late 80's when thy widened the road between Pecan and The Plaza. They were buried several feet deep.
My friend's grandfather was a conductor on the trolley.

Anonymous said...

About eighty years ago, at the fourth block of North Tryon at Seventh Street, my grandmother, while turning left onto Tryon, accidentally hooked her car onto the moving streetcar. Cars of the era, lacking power steering and brakes, multi-adjustable seats, or Hydra-matic, were much more difficult to drive, especially for a tiny woman like my grandmother. My grandmother blew her horn until she got the attention of the streetcar driver, and the car was unhooked from the streetcar. My grandmother’s terrified passengers told the story of the streetcar collision for many years afterward.

Anonymous said...

"nonprofit Charlotte Trolley"

Wow is that an understatement. Mary's band of urban warriors blew about $40,000,000 on that one.