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.

1 comment:

  1. Love this post! I still don't understand why they wouldn't work. Were they too expensive to maintain?