Monday, September 16, 2013

Streetcars in Amarillo

Streetcars in Amarillo

Electric streetcar lines were opened for transit by the Amarillo Street Railway System in Amarillo, January 1, 1908. The work was rushed to complete a deadline on that date and a huge crowd gathered to watch as cars were pushed into place on the main line. Free rides were provided and jubilant cheers from onlookers could be heard as the first cars slowly moved down the street.

The line was owned by the city but was organized by local grocery men H.A. & M.C. Nobles. At its height there were ten cars but usually six were in operation while others were in for maintenance and repairs.  In peak times when lots of people were in town, all were put into service.

In 1913, after experiencing heavy financial losses the Streetcar line was sold to the Henry L Doherty Co. of New York. In 1916 the Amarillo Street Railway Company was put into receivership. Up until then the citizens of Amarillo were unaware of the financial problems.

Many pleas were made to keep the cars running but the city declared that the issue was not up to them but to the federal court handling the case. A sheriff’s sale was scheduled for September 4, 1917.

On August 27, J.E. Lewis, a civil engineer from Dallas, appeared before the city commission and placed a bid for the streetcar company, saying he wanted to remove it from Amarillo and “convert it to junk.”

Evidently the offer was refused because on the date appointed for the sale, by authority of federal judge George Jack, the streetcar line was sold to G. Gordon Brownell of Westfield, New Jersey.

All through the court actions the cars had continued to run and citizens were relieved when after the sale they continued to make the rounds of Amarillo streets.

But on October 17, as per order of the Brownell Company, streetcar service was suspended. It was claimed that it was done without notice to the city commission or to the citizens of Amarillo. People were literally left standing waiting for the next car to come down the track.

The cars were locked in the barn with guards placed around the building. Fifteen men were out of work and many commuters left stranded.  On that Saturday morning a special meeting by the city commission was called. Guy W. Faller, who was an Amarillo resident employed by the Brownell Co., answered questions.

He explained he had received a telegram from the company on Friday night ordering him to discontinue the streetcar service at once.

The San Jacinto line was owned by a different company, Amarillo Traction, and was not affected.

Jitney (bus) service had not yet come to Amarillo and the city was hit hard. The Glenwood Addition, two miles from the business district, and the Santa Fe shops and roadhouse was left stranded. 

On November 3, the city wired the Brownell Co. offering $25,000 for the streetcar line but was turned down; Brownell said it was worth $150,000 in junk. The city took immediate steps, revoking the franchise of the streetcar company as a measure to prevent the removal of the tracks.

In August 1918, Mayor Lon D. Marrs, accompanied by several businessmen and attorney T.F. Turner, made a trip to New York to meet with company officials. Brownell offered to lease the streetcar line to the city for a yearly rental of 10% of the valuation of the property at $80,000. Three per cent of said rental would be for depreciation. He also suggested the matter be referred to the judgment of citizens of Amarillo.

On January 28, 1919 Mayor Marrs spoke to the city commission and a large delegation of citizens about improvement and extensions for the railcar line and said he thought Brownell’s offer was a fair one. 

Plans were completed and a contract drawn up by late March with hopes the lines would soon be again in operation. But…it was not to be. Brownell explaining the plans did not conform to the agreement reached the previous August.

The hang-up was that Brownell wanted the lines to Glenwood moved and put in a more prosperous part of town. After being called to address the commissioners meeting discussing the contract, M.C. Nobles said, “The people of Glenwood are not a wealthy body of people, but most of them have spent their money building homes out there because there was a street railway running in that addition. Moreover, we gave one-fourth of the Glenwood Addition to get the cars to run in said addition.”

It was moved and carried by all those present to reject the Brownell contract.
An editorial in The Amarillo Daily News of July 13, 1919 read: “The News feels that it voices the sentiment of the citizens of the city when it says the controversy has grown monotonous, and almost any reasonable action on the part of the city commission would be acceptable.”

An agreeable lease with Brownell was finally agreed upon in early 1920; Glenwood would remain on the line. After being idle for three years, streetcars began rolling on July 5 of that year. 

But, in June 1923, after three years of operating in the red, the new city mayor, Eugene S. Blasdel knew something had to be done and he, along with the city commission voted to shut the operation down.  However, a committee led by Amarillo banker W.H. Fuqua, asked the city to wait until after the Technological Committee visited Amarillo in August. They were searching for a suitable city in which to locate a college and Amarillo was on the list. The city agreed.

The streetcars were making their last run when the Technological Committee came to town. Everything was done to make a good impression and citizens were given free rides on the streetcars, which were running full blast. They were filled by happy people with great expectations. 

But it was not to be. Lubbock was chosen for the college and the streetcars stopped for good on September 1, 1923.

All properties, with the exception of real estate, were sold to A.W. Joiner in January 1924 and an exciting era in Amarillo’s history came to an end. 

Many tracks are still visible in downtown Amarillo. Take a Sunday afternoon when the traffic is light and explore what’s left of the Amarillo Street Railway System.

Monday, September 9, 2013


Lana Barnett at TPTR Roundup
Photo by: Jim Brokenbek

A great big “Happy Birthday” to Texas Plains Trail. Officially ten years old this month, the historic event was celebrated in August at Canadian with the annual Roundup. 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Texas Plains Trail, it is the largest of ten heritage tourism regions of the Texas Historical Commission's award-winning Heritage Trails initiative, founded in 1968 by Gov. John Connally to promote the historical, cultural, and natural resources of the Lone Star State.
Plains Trail received the designation In September of 2003 at Tulia. I was honored to be asked to speak on the ten-year history at Roundup. Below is a copy of the speech.

 It is my great privilege and honor to be here today. It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed since the Texas Historical Commission came from Austin to Tulia to present us with the designation so many individuals had been working toward for over a year.

In the beginning we really didn’t know what we were working toward, but that didn’t matter, we were in a competition…. and being Panhandle/South Plains/ West Texas people…..we wanted to win!!!

It all began in the spring of 2002 when I went to the post office to pick up the mail for the Tulia Chamber of Commerce where I worked. We were really busy at the time with practice for our annual melodrama and other projects we were working on. So on returning to the office I scanned the mail, handed the secretary what apparently seemed important and laid the other things in my box to get back to later.

A couple of days after that I took the time to look at the “JUNK” mail in my box. One little innocent looking postcard was from the Texas Historical Commission announcing a meeting in Amarillo the following day to see what interest was in the area for working on the Texas Plains Trail. Even though I had no clue what the Texas Plains Trail was, I called immediately to say that I would be there.

In that meeting at Amarillo, I learned about Texas Heritage Trails from Janie Headrick, coordinator of the Trails from THC. I learned it was an innovative initiative to bring heritage tourism to the already created ten scenic driving trails in our state; And to expand it beyond just a marked hiway to the entire region surrounding the trails.

The Texas Heritage Trails Program is based around 10 scenic driving trails created in 1968 by Gov. John Connally and the Texas Highway Department as a marketing tool. The trails were established in conjunction with the HemisFair, an international exposition commemorating the 250th anniversary of the founding of San Antonio. But…except for signage, not much was ever done with the trails. 

Then, in 1997, almost thirty years after the Trails had been created, the State Legislature charged the THC to create a statewide heritage tourism program. The THC responded with a program based on local, regional, and state partnerships, centered on the 10 scenic driving trails.

I also found out at the meeting in Amarillo the THC wasn’t going to just lay it in your lap, cut you a check and say “GET AFTER IT.” In order to be officially designated, and receive a grant for your operating budget, you had to work you tail off. You had to make a formal application demonstrating a broad knowledge of area attractions and also receive support from organizations and local government.
When the meeting in Amarillo concluded, I met with Janie and told her I wanted to have our first Plains Trail meeting in Tulia. She said it was a big undertaking, that I would need to invite people from all over a 52 county region. I said just tell me what I need to do. She said she’d get back to me. 

About two weeks later she called, we could have our organizational meeting in Tulia! My secretary Patsy Hooten and I jumped up and down like two little girls on the playground. We set up a meeting date that THC approved and began calling people. 

I got my friend Barbara Finch to decorate the meeting room in the Swisher Memorial Building with red white and blue and have Texas Flags everywhere. 

The big day finally came and people from all over began arriving. We had 99 people attend that meeting, a goodly amount for a program no one really understood at the time. 

After the initial meeting, we met each month in Tulia, and formed our board and committees. And it wasn’t done without a few arguments, one thing us West Texans are good at is arguing. The biggest obstacle, some thought, was our vast area, larger than many eastern states and by far, the largest Trail region. Some wanted it divided into two distinct regions, the Panhandle and the South Plains, but THC emphatically said no!

The large area didn’t really bother me, why who hasn’t driven two hundred miles to a football game? If we can travel that far for a ballgame, why not a meeting? I mean if we have different people working in all those areas toward a common goal, where’s the problem? Besides, I kind of like the fact that we are, by far, the largest Heritage Trail Region.

So…with THC saying we would not split and that we would remain together, we forged ahead, in competition with three other Trails vying to be named the next Heritage Trail. And we were determined.
Our first board included, in alphabetical order:

Phil Barefield, Quitaque
Lana Barnett, Tulia
Deborah Bigness, Lubbock
Judy Burlin, Clarendon
Wendy Carthel, Friona
Anne Christian, Claude
Seth Davidson, Miami
Linda Drake, Vega
Carolyn Jones Hardy, Floydada
Bobbye Hill, Wheeler
John Hope, Levelland
Lynn Hopkins, Borger  
Harry Bob Martin, Spur
Viola Moore, Panhandle
Marie Neff, Post
Hanaba Noack, Childress
Paula Nusz, Stratford
Janet Parnell, Canadian
Virginia Scott, Lipscomb
Verna Ann Wheeler, Crosbyton 

We each had a different job; mine was to gather “letters of support” from elected officials, tourist’s destinations, and business people. But I didn’t limit it to those three categories, I sought letters of support from everyone, and they came in by the bushel basket. Every day I went to the post office was like Christmas with gifts coming in from all over.

Others had the job of finding and documenting any historical location that could be considered for heritage tourism. Others were charged with getting letters of support from every county judge in the 52 county area. We went even farther, we got 53 letters of support, one coming from a county judge in a neighboring New Mexico county.

When everything was gathered and documented, Deborah Bigness had the privilege of putting it all together to be sent to Austin. THC advised us to put it in the mail, but after working so hard for over a year, we decided it should be hand delivered to the THC offices in Austin. I put it before my Tulia Chamber of Commerce board of directors who had been behind us 100 percent from the beginning,  they agreed, and allotted me $500. for a trip to Austin to hand deliver the grant proposal.

So…on an early Sunday morning in the spring of 2003, board member Judy Burlin, my secretary Patsy Hooten, my husband Dub and myself, left for Austin. Our first stop was in Lubbock where we met Deborah on the parking lot of the Buddy Holly Museum to pick up the grant she had masterfully put together. 

Early the next morning we were in the THC offices delivering the grant. The THC people were very nice, although stone-faced and non-committal about our chances against the other Trail proposals.   
We returned home and waited. The decision was to be made final in August. In late Summer I received a call from Janie, the next Trail would be the Texas Plains Trail and we would receive our designation in September…at Tulia!!! We were ecstatic. 

On that day our town rolled out the Red Carpet as people from the Texas Historical Commission came to town and people from all over the Plains Trail region gathered to accept the challenge. I’ll never forget what the THC representative said in his designation speech; “The Plains Trail has set a high standard for all other Trails to follow.”  

We stumbled and hit a few pot holes along the way but, in my opinion, the Plains Trail has become a very dominant factor for tourism in our area. I no longer serve as a board member, but I will always cherish the years I did serve on the board. I have made lasting friendships and been to and seen so many things I never would have otherwise. 

Four years later we began the Roundup. Again we didn’t really know where to start or what we needed to do. But the West Texas spirit & grit came through again and each year it continues to get better.
Each year new people come on board with new and fresh ideas. And that’s good, but I will always think that original board paved the way for future greatness. And although at first we were really ignorant as to what we were doing, we had enough vim & vigor & fight in us to take it on.

By 2005 all ten trails had been designated and that same year The Texas Heritage Trails Program received national recognition with the Preserve America Presidential Award. This award was given for exemplary accomplishment in the preservation and sustainable use of America's heritage assets, which has enhanced community life while honoring the nation's history. 
The following year, the program was awarded a Preserve America grant for developing the Heritage Tourism Guidebook and for providing heritage tourism training across the state.

This program is a wonderful success story for the Texas Historical Commission. BUT…. none of it would have happened without you, and me and hundreds of other Texans that dedicated their selves to the task of making it happen.

So, the next time you’re traveling down the highway and see the blue and white signs proclaiming “TEXAS PLAINS TRAIL,” please know that it represents a 52 county region that has a great and colorful heritage and is supremely rich with history. The people that live within the borders have been given a great endowment, the responsibility to keep it alive. 

Thank you so much for allowing me to represent the original Plains Trail board here today, and thank you all for supporting the Texas Plains Trail.”