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Ask Rufus: Columbus streetcars revisited

 

The “opening-day” ceremonies of the electric-powered streetcar service in Columbus on May 22, 1906, at Main and Market Streets. There were speeches and music provided by a brass band under the direction of Louis Divelbiss. People identified in the photograph include; Mayor J.T. Gunter. Percy Maer, B.A. Weaver, Mrs J.W. Steens, Mrs J.H. Stevens, J.L. Walker, G.T. Heard, and Leopold Marx.

The “opening-day” ceremonies of the electric-powered streetcar service in Columbus on May 22, 1906, at Main and Market Streets. There were speeches and music provided by a brass band under the direction of Louis Divelbiss. People identified in the photograph include; Mayor J.T. Gunter. Percy Maer, B.A. Weaver, Mrs J.W. Steens, Mrs J.H. Stevens, J.L. Walker, G.T. Heard, and Leopold Marx. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

Rufus Ward

 

One day last week, Keith Heard and his father dropped by for a visit and the discussion turned to Keith's great, great uncle, G.T. Heard, who with Judge Leopold Marx, constructed the Columbus street car line in 1906. Though Sam Kaye and I had written a column several years ago on the streetcars, Keith had some information I had not seen and I had come across some additional information as well. This new information warranted revisiting the Columbus streetcars. 

 

On May 19, 1906, the Columbus Traction and Light Co., was incorporated by G.T. Heard and Leopold Marx and ,on May 26 of that year, a ceremony was held on Main Street between Fourth and Fifth streets to kick off the service. The line extended from downtown to the M & O Railroad Depot (just east of the old Marble Works on South Side), out Military Road to the Cedars (at Wheeler Roofing) and to Lake Park (Propst Park). 

 

There were two sets of cars, one set was open for summer and the other enclosed for winter. The Military line used only enclosed cars. The one-way distance for all three routes was a little more than four miles and the fare was five cents. The cars would travel at a speed set by city ordinance at no more than 12 miles-per-hour to insure public safety. 

 

The Columbus Railway Light and Power Co., was incorporated on June 17, 1907 by Charles F. Sherrod, William Baldwin and Walter Weaver. This company took over operation of the "Street Railroad" until service was curtailed around 1919 and was finally officially dissolved Dec. 10, 1928. The end of the line for the company appears to have been due to the increased ownership and popularity of automobiles. Although service ended in 1922, the company was not dissolved until 1928. 

 

Several stories and accounts discussing the Columbus streetcars are found in the book, "I Remember When" by Pauline Brandon. The book contains fascinating interviews and first-person accounts of old Columbus and may be purchased at the S.D. Lee Home. In the book are interviews with Jake Marx and Mary Ita Hardy recalling the old streetcars..  

 

Jake Marx, the nephew of Leopold Marx, remembered, "The car line began at the M & O railway station and ran uptown, then divided into the Military Road line and the Lake Park line. At Lake Park (now Propst Park), the owners of the car lines had a dance pavilion built, with Mr. Arthur Stansel as constructor. The circular floor was 45-feet in diameter and around the floor were benches to accommodate on-lookers. Outside, an open porch surrounded the pavilion. There was no admission charge to the pavilion; it was an investment in the street car business." 

 

Mary Ita Sherman Hardy recalled that the "street car served 'The Cedars' well at the time of my marriage. My father chartered the line for the evening, and my mother had white slip-covers made for the seats to protect the evening gowns of guests attending the reception." Mary Ita and T Bailey Hardy (my great uncle) were married in 1914 at St Paul's Episcopal Church downtown on College Street. The Cedars, the Sherman Home, was at the end of the streetcar line on Military Road. 

 

I remember them talking and laughing about the wedding guest traveling from the church to the house on streetcars. The cars were all decorated with the white seat covers and white lace-paper doilies. In my grandmother's papers I found a printed "notice" from the wedding. My grandfather liked a good joke and this notice looked like his handiwork. Copies had apparently been given to the people in the wedding party who were riding on the streetcar (and probably anyone else he saw). It stated:,"Notice: This is 'Chubby' (Mary Ita's nickname which I don't think she cared for) and her darling 'Hubby' On their honey-moon. Stranger be kind, sit far behind and Give them room to 'spoon'". 

 

Dr. Richard George remembered hearing about some school children around 1912 greasing the tracks on the hill at Military behind First Baptist Church. The streetcar was speeding, as it was behind schedule, when it hit the grease and derailed. Fortunately no one was on board but the conductor and he was not injured. There are other stories of the hill on Main Street between 7th and 8th streets being greased by kids and the conductor carrying a bag of sand to put on the track for traction when that would occur. 

 

The grassy median down Main Street from 6th Street to the old C & G depot is a remnant of the old streetcar track bed and recalls a day when automobiles were few and far between.

 

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at rufushistory@aol.com.

 

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