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  • Writer's pictureHistoric Columbus

Trolley Lines to Electric Cars and Buses: Transportation in early 20th century Columbus

SOURCE: Transportation Progress Keeps Columbus Moving by Ralph Willingham. Bus Service Got Slow Start by Ralph Willingham. Special Sesquicentennial Supplement, Ledger-Enquirer, April 23, 1978.

 

In many American cities at the turn of the century, the growth of electricity, the spread of electric streetcars into outlying areas, and the development of suburban real estate were interrelated.

In Columbus, John Francis Flournoy, a native of Wynnton, united those three interests in 1887 when he bought the horse and steam powered Columbus Railroad Company and began converting streetcars to electric streetcars exclusively.


At the same time, he created Wildwood Park with its lake and amusements as a destination for streetcar riders and as a means of enhancing his real estate development. From the 1880s (East Highlands) through the 1920s (Wildwood Circle and Peacock Woods), Flournoy was the most important developer of Columbus subdivisions.


 

Transportation Progress Keeps Columbus Moving



"It's bad enough that machines are replacing us," the horses must have thought. "What's worse is that we have to help them do it."

That's how things worked on the electric car line between Columbus and Phenix City in 1895. The Columbus Railroad Co. had to lay tracks across bridges to connect the trolley lines because the bridges couldn't stand the weight of electric lines. Horses pulled cars across the bridges to connect the route.

Actually, machines had started getting in the horses' way soon after 1866, when the Columbus Railroad Co. was chartered. A little dummy engine drew freight cars around Columbus, connecting with all roads entering the city and delivering freight to and from the stores and mills.

There was also a dummy line for passengers called the "Belt Line." Two small engines, Wildwood and John Hill, ran on a seven-mile loop, burning coke instead of coal to eliminate smoke. During the week there was one passenger car, and two on Sunday, with a conductor for each car. The fare was 10 cents.

The route went down Broad Street past the old red brick Transfer Station, then on to Tenth Street, along Wynnton Road to the Wynnton School, past the Flournoy place, left across Seventeenth Street, north to Wildwood Park Station. It traveled where St. Elmo School now stands, back in a southwesterly direction, then due west through East Highlands and back into town via Fourth Avenue and Fourteenth Street to the Transfer Station.



The "Belt Line" was a favorite on Sunday afternoons. The passengers could get off at Wildwood Park for a few hours of boating and bathing in an artificial lake, or for a game in the baseball park. From 1909-1913, a "businessman's special" ran to the park every day during baseball season so businessmen and others could get to the game and back.

The electric trolley appeared in Columbus in 1890, operated by the North Highland Railroad Co. The line ran from the North Highland Casino down Second Avenue to Eleventh Street, where it made a sharp turn and ended at the old bell tower on Broadway.

After the Columbus Railroad Co. electrified its lines in 1890, it began operating most trolley lines in the city and eventually absorbed the North Highland line. The firm's first electric streetcar appeared on January 26, 1895.



By 1900 east-west trolley lines ran on Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Streets. Lines stretched to all suburban areas, and there was a car along Broadway every two minutes.

When the 14th Street steel bridge was completed in 1903, electric car tracks were laid to Phenix City and Girard.

Passengers on the electric cars sat in enclosed boxcars in the winter and open bench cars in the summer. The motorman had to brave rain, heat, or cold on the platform at the front of the car.

As machines took to the streets, the streets took to paving. The city completed a considerable paving effort in 1906, using a bitulithic (asphalt/ concrete) process that was "smooth but not slippery, firm enough but not so hard as to injure the foot of horses." according to a newspaper account. The paving was done from Tenth to Fourth Streets; Eleventh Street from Board Street to Second Avenue: Fourteenth and Thirteenth Streets from Broad to First; and Warren Street. Fourteenth Street was paved with brick.



By 1927 only two electric car lines remained in operation because buses were more versatile. The Columbus Transportation Co. was formed in September 1924 to furnish bus service between Columbus and Phenix City. The Georgia Power Co., which by now owned the streetcar lines, operated a street railway in Columbus until 1936 when the bus system took over completely.

Even before Columbus Transportation got going, Howard Bus Co. was in operation. It began with six buses in 1921, and today buses still traverse the route between Fort Benning and the Howard terminal at 1101 First Avenue. There are 20 runs a day, one every 45 minutes.

Columbus Transportation remained in private hands and its buses served the city steadily until 1967, when declining passenger numbers made it unprofitable. The city finally bought the firm for $285,000 that year. For its money, it got 52 buses, three cars, a shop, fixtures, the company's stock, and two pieces of land at Seventeenth Street and Second Avenue. The name changed to Columbus Transportation System, and more lately to METRA.


Bus Service Got Slow Start


Three bus lines juggled Columbus until one finally caught her.

Greyhound Lines started operations in Columbus in 1928, taking over from the old Blue Bird Lines.

T.S. Gosa of Columbus drove the first Greyhound bus into Columbus on a Sunday night, Oct. 5, 1928. He brought 25 passengers from Atlanta, leaving at 5:30 p.m. He had been scheduled to arrive at 10:30, but the bus crawled through the mud in two counties and arrived at 11:30. Gosa said the only paved roads were Newnan to Atlanta, 39 miles, and Hogansville to LaGrange, 12 miles.

In 1930, Greyhound had three 21-passenger Yellow Coaches running daily between Columbus and Atlanta. But Greyhound soon gave up the franchise to Hood Coach Lines because the roads between Columbus and LaGrange were poor.



Greyhound returned to Columbus in 1935, this time with four daily runs between Columbus and Atlanta and three from Columbus to Montgomery, using white buses that seated 25.

Greyhound had to sell tickets on the street corner in front of the Ralston Hotel in 1928 because it had no office. The business moved into the hotel the next year.

Buses capable of carrying 37 passengers began making five round trips a day to Atlanta in 1937. This expanded to 13 trips in 1941.

In 1948, Greyhound replaced all its buses with Diesel Silversides, boosting the service to 15 round trips daily to Atlanta and seven to Montgomery.

To ease traffic congestion on Broadway, Greyhound began using the Howard Bus Lines terminal at 319 Twelfth Street in 1951, letting Trailways bus lines take over the terminal Greyhound vacated at 1327 Broadway. Also using the Howard terminal by then were Atlantic Stages, East Alabama Coach Co., and Riley Bus.

Greyhound got its own $400,000 terminal at 818 Fourth Avenue in April 1957.

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