LIMA — At 11:25 on a Saturday night in October 1937 motorman John Bishop prepared to guide Lima City Street Railway car 70 on its final run of the evening — the final run by rail for all time on the West Market Street route.
With a call of “All aboard, last trip out West Market Street by rail,” Bishop guided the street car out of the Public Square, The Lima News reported Oct. 3, 1937. “The event,” the newspaper added, “was the final physical gesture before abandonment of the electric line, which was to be replaced Sunday by a modern bus route.”
More buses were to come. On May 11, 1939, the News reported the receipt of “14 new buses built by Superior Body Co. for Lima’s new motor transportation system.” Two days later, the remaining cars of the Lima City Street Railway left the car barn on West Grand Avenue on their final runs, ending more than six decades of trolley transportation in Lima.
Horse-drawn street cars appeared on Lima’s streets in 1878, making a memorable entrance described by the Allen County Democrat on Aug. 8, 1878. The first trolley, the newspaper wrote, was preceded by a man on horseback, waving his hat, “who informed the excited crowd on the corner that the ‘street cars had come!’”
“It was even so, for in a few minutes they made their appearance, coming down Main street, loaded down with small boys hanging on the back steps, and (George) Jameson and two or three stockholders on the front steps, looking as proud and happy as a boy with a new red wagon.”
“Lima’s horsecar promoters laid rail from the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago Railroad depot (known more familiarly as the Pennsylvania depot) on Tanner Street (later Central Avenue) to the Public Square,” Jack Keenan wrote in a 1992 issue of the historical society’s Allen County Reporter. “Here the tracks connected with an east-west route on Market Street that ran between Cole Street and the Ottawa River bridge.”
Prominent investors in the street railroad were leading Lima businessman Benjamin C. Faurot and Dr. Samuel A. Baxter Jr., who lived on the corner of Charles and West Market streets. The doctor, Keenan wrote, “flagged the horsecar traveling toward the Square by hanging his coat in the window.”
Although Baxter no doubt found the horsecar service convenient, it failed to generate much of a following among everyone else. “It struggled on for several years, offering spotty service, until 1886, when Benjamin Faurot concluded that Lima would benefit more from the newly invented, speedier and more reliable electric streetcar,” Keenan wrote.
So, the track used by the horse-drawn street cars was pulled up and new rails for an expanded, city-wide, electrified system put down. On July 4, 1887, author Harry Christiansen wrote in his 1971 book “Ohio Trolley Trails,” “The first electric car in use west of the Allegheny Mountains made its first run in a driving rain storm. It was an amazing sight in those days to see something on the streets not pulled by an animal.”
The company, according to Keenan, “bought six little cars,” which were housed in a small car barn on East Spring Street between South Union and South Main streets. “The street railway company still owned the horsecar stable at Cole and West Market streets where Faurot probably decided to mothball his venerable horse-drawn four-wheelers.” The Cole and Market barn would eventually house the fleet of street cars.
Charles Fisher was an employee of the street railway from 1889 to 1923. On Oct. 14, 1953, when he was 92 years old, Fisher reminisced about working for the railway in a News article.
“Things were different in Lima in those days, with no buildings on the south bottoms along Hawg Crick and with horses traveling the mud streets amid the clang of oil well drilling and pumping activities, Fisher recalled.”
In 1892, the tiny trolley cars of 1887 were replaced with cars with controls at both ends. “These cars, which would hold about 30 persons — ‘if you stuffed them in’ — had a conductor (or ‘trolley boy’) who earned 5 cents an hour, and the $9-a-week motorman,” Fisher told the News. Until about 1895, when a city ordinance mandated the vestibule be enclosed, Fisher and his fellow motormen “stood in a vestibule at the end of the car, with no protection from the elements, except a canopy overhead.”
Despite the long hours, low pay and working conditions, Fisher told the News, “If I were young, I’d probably do it again.”
In the early days of the electric street car, Lima residents weren’t so sure they would do it again. “As generators sometimes faltered and the trolley cars ran late or not at all,” Keenan wrote, “the citizens mounted a strident, vocal critique of the very same institution they had so proudly welcomed a few years earlier.” Lima was suffering the consequences of being a pioneer in “a technology understood by very few,” Keenan noted.
Dissatisfaction occasionally went beyond talk. On July 19, 1889, the Lima Daily Times reported vandals had entered the Market Street car barn and attempted to destroy the travelers (overhead power collectors) on a streetcar. “When the men went to run out the car this morning, they could do nothing with it,” the Times reported.
In the early 1890s, with new cars and new track, dissatisfaction lessened. The Lima street railway also got the first in a string of new owners in 1893. It would change hands again in 1896, when it went into receivership, 1899, 1904, 1907, 1909 and 1923.
Nineteen twenty-three also was the last year for the trolley boys, who were hired, according to Keenan, “to collect fares, spot riders waiting at the car stops along Market and Main streets, and to warn the driver of impending hazards.”
In January 1895, the car barn at Market and Cole streets burned along with much of the company’s rolling stock. Although the car barn was lost, the streetcar company added a unique transfer station in the Public Square that year, turning an octagonal bandstand into, in Keenan’s words, “a comfortable, enclosed waiting station.”
The destroyed car barn was hurriedly replaced by a new one at the corner of South Main and Water streets, bordering the Ottawa River. In 1906, a larger, brick car barn was erected on the south side of the 100 block of West Grand Avenue.
By the 1930s, the Lima street railway covered 12 miles and, Keenan wrote, “played a monumental role in the economic and social growth of Lima. The trolley lines nurtured the Lima suburbs and tied together the business, industrial and residential areas of a fast-growing municipality. They were the piston that drove the city. They deserve to be remembered.”
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.