The Vagabond - History of streetcars in the Gadsden area Part II

February 26, 2016 chris
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Last week the Vagabond discussed the early streetcars in the Gadsden area, the first ones being drawn by horse and later ones by steam locomotion dummies. We continue this week to the electrified streetcars. The story continues…

As stipulated, Captain Elliott had agreed to extend a line to Noccalula Falls on Lookout Mountain. In 1891, the Hollingsworth estate granted the Gadsden & Attalla Union Railway a right-of-way via Chalybeate Springs, which cleared the way for the undertaking of the line. A contract was awarded to the Martin & Frank Company of Jacksonville, and the line was soon underway.

The line, which opened mid-August of 1891, operated westward along the existing Gadsden to Attalla tracks as far as a point near the old Dwight baseball park. From there, the line climbed north up Lookout Mountain along the gorges of Black Creek to the falls. At that point a pavilion was built, which was the scene of countless dances, picnics and political gatherings, as well as a mecca for excursionists from many nearby cities and towns as far away as Birmingham and Chattanooga.

The much talked of hotel planned by the Gadsden Land & Improvement Company had not yet materialized due to hard times when the line was built, and Noccalula Falls remained the terminus for the steam dummy on Lookout Mountain.

It is reputed that on one occasion only, a steam dummy operated into East Gadsden. It seems that a large fair was being held on the east side of the river, and arrangements were made for the steam dummy to use the L&N Railroad bridge already in existence at that early date.

Although electric cars would not enter the Gadsden picture until June of l89l, as Capt. Elliott was poised to assume control of the steam dummy line as early as late March of 1890, a petition was being circulated in Gadsden soon to be presented to the city council by eastern businessmen for the building of an electric street railway operation. Although nothing ever came of the proposition, the company was seeking a franchise to run a line down Chestnut Street from Second Street to Forrest Cemetery, and on Fourth Street from what is today Montgomery Avenue to the city limits in North Gadsden.

In November of 1898, the Gadsden City Council announced that it had granted a franchise to the Alabama Light & Power Company to build an electric power plant just off Twelfth Street directly behind the offices of the Elliott Car Works.

It was announced at that time that Capt. Elliott was desirous of electrifying his Gadsden & Attalla Union Railway, and to this end had signed a contract with the new power company to supply him with the necessary 600 volts D.C. current.

The cost of Alabama Light & Power Company’s plant was $25,000, and Captain Elliott said he would spend $10,000 in making the conversion from steam to electricity. He announced that he had already bought 750 poles to begin stringing of trolley wire and hoped to have the line in operation by January of 1899 the next year.

The line to be electrified was the Gadsden to Attalla route, and the company requested permission at the November 1898 city council meeting to abandon sections of the roundabout original horsecar and steam dummy route. The company proposed the removal of the tracks on Fifth Street from Broad to Walnut to Eleventh to Forrest Avenue. Instead, the company wanted a more direct right-of-way via Broad Street between Fifth and Ninth streets. Its request was readily agreed upon and granted.

Bart Curry, one of the original steam dummy engineers on the Noccalula Falls line, became master mechanic on the newly electrified line. He helped build Gadsden’s first electric car by electrifying and installing motors in one of the old dummy cars.

The route could not be seen to completion by the anticipated January l899 date, but instead service commenced in June of that year.

A short time later in about l900, the electric street railway is said to have been purchased by W.H. Weller, C.S. Ward and others who had previously purchased the Queen City Electric Company, and who for years had furnished electric lights for the city.

At that time, Alabama City passed an ordinance requiring all streetcars to be equipped with fenders to prevent anyone from being killed if run over by a streetcar. It seemed that a child had been struck and killed by a trolley, and this incident had prompted the city to take this action. Gadsden followed suit with Alabama City, but the street railway said it could not afford to undertake such preventive action.

With pressure continuing to mount by the city fathers, the company demonstrated its position by shutting down the streetcar system for several weeks in protest until finally the issue was settled.

In 1905, the E.T. Schuler family, who had bought the Gulf States Steel Plant (later Republic Steel), secured control of the street railway. About this time, it is believed that the name of the company was changed to the Alabama City, Gadsden & Attalla Railway Company. Sometime in the l920’s, the line was sold to the Alabama Power Company, which operated the system until the demise of service in 1934.

Exact dates are lacking, but sometime after the turn of the century three additional car lines were built and electrified in Gadsden, listed and described as follows:

Cansler Avenue Route: via Broad, Forrest, Twelfth and Cansler to the Steel Plant

Walnut Street Route: South on Fifth to Walnut to about Twelfth Street. 

Ewing Avenue Route:  North Gadsden Route: via Fourth past the Tennessee, Alabama & Georgia Railway depot, out Ewing to about Winston Street.

In 1912, a new company that was separate from the existing street railway came into existence in the City of Gadsden. As previously mentioned, in the 1890’s a majestic hotel had been proposed on the top of Lookout Mountain. Sometime thereafter, the project was brought to completion. The Panic of 1895 occurred just after the hotel was finished, and it remained a white elephant from then on.

Some years afterward, the building was sold to a Mrs. Jones, who moved the Huntsville Female College to Gadsden. On the school’s failure after quite a splurge, some Virginia parties attempted to establish a female college in the structure, but that project failed as well.

The property eventually was secured by one Louis Hart, who made the hotel one of the finest hostelries in the South. To enhance the desirability of the Bellevue Hotel, Mr. Hart undertook the building of an electric car line that he named the Gadsden, Bellevue, & Lookout Mountain Railroad Company to directly serve his hotel.

On June 6, 1912, Gadsden’s newest electric line was in operation. Sad is the fact, however, that by the time Mr. Hart brought his car line to completion, the hotel met its end in a devastating fire.

The line operated via the Sauquoit Road (North Eighth Street) up Lookout Mountain past the hotel site to famed Noccalula Falls. With its open summer trolleys and its scenic mountain route, this line became Gadsden’s favorite line for pleasure seekers. Its exact routing was from downtown Gadsden via Broad Street from Sixth, to Seventh, to Henry, to Tuscaloosa, to Hillyer Street, through Bretwood, Highland Avenue and up to Bellevue, past the hotel to the station at Noccalula Falls.

In 1907, a most ambitious project was unveiled for an electric railroad to be built across Sand Mountain. Plans called for the organization of the Sand Mountain Electric Company to connect Gadsden and Scottsboro with an electrically operated railroad and to obtain power from Short Creek on Sand Mountain.

The charter granted the company the privilege of building a standard gauge railroad between the two cities via Alabama City, Boaz and Albertville and to generate power with hydroelectric power. The company was authorized to begin business with a capital investment of $50,000.

The incorporators behind the project were Edgar O. McCord, a leading Gadsden lawyer; Dr. Bert McCord, a prominent Gadsden physician; Leon McCord, who later became a circuit judge and a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals; G.M.E. Mann, a Boaz hotel keeper; and Rena B. McCord, J.B. Roberts, W.E. Snead and the Albertville Realty Company.

Several problems confronted the planned operation, including how to bridge the Tennessee River and how to climb Sand Mountain and get down on the other side. Whatever the difficulty might have been, the company failed to finalize its plans, and the project remained but a dream by its organizers.

On Tuesday, Jan. 23, 1934, the inevitable occurred in Gadsden when the last streetcar operated in the city over the Cansler Avenue line from the Republic Steel plant. At 11:45 p.m., the final car arrived at Fourth and Broad streets, where a photographer-awaited it and its crew. A final picture was made at the sad but historic occasion.

Interestingly enough, the last car had been transferred from the Alabama Power Company’s Muscle Shoals Division when streetcar service was terminated there at Tuscumbia, Sheffield and Florence and it had been the last car to make a run in those tricities.

On that last streetcar run were motorman Hoyt Morgan and his son Joe, policeman C.E. Dunn, Chris Macris and Paul Bradley. The former manager of the Sterchi Brothers Furniture Company in Gadsden, Mr. Bradley was the last “seven cent” fare and planned it that way after waiting for the car to leave Re-public Steel heading for Gadsden and the car barn on Gardiner Street.

At 5 a.m. on the next morning, Wednesday, Jan. 24, l954, Crescent Motors, Inc., which had been operating the local bus system in Anniston since the demise of the local trolley service, began operating five buses in and about Gadsden. The company had been granted a 25-year franchise by the Gadsden City Council on the Friday before on Jan. 19.

By agreement, Alabama Power Company immediately began to take up the tracks or to bury the rails in asphalt. Today, only fond memories remain of there having ever existed a horsecar line, steam dummy lines and electric trolley operation in the Gadsden-Attalla area.

Visit the Etowah Historical Society and Heritage Museum located at 2829 West Meighan Boulevard in Gadsden. Museum and office hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Also visit www.EtowahHistory.com.