<h1>Streetcars Come to Main Street</h1>
In Jacksonville’s early years of transitioning into a major city, streetcars were used as inducements by developers seeking to link their subdivisions with the core of the city. The streetcar line on Main Street was no exception. Its predecessor was a narrow gauge streetcar line initially known as the Pine Street Railway Company. Chartered by B. Upton in 1882, it started at Bay Street in downtown and terminated at present day 8th Street in Springfield.
In 1884, the line was leased to G.A. Backenstone, who developed a restaurant, dance hall and skating rink served by the fledging street railway. Soon, viewing the streetcar as a development tool, the railway was absorbed by S.B. Hubbard and Associates, the developers of Springfield. When Pine Street was renamed Main, the streetcar line was rebranded as the Main Street Railway.
In 1887, the Sub-Tropical Exposition was built along the streetcar line at First and Main Streets, in an effort to lure tourist to Florida. Towering 100 feet about Main Street and topped by towers and minarets, the enormous hall opened its doors to the public on January 12, 1888. While the attraction, which included an electrically-lit fountain and pond containing rare fish, a Seminole Indian camp, displays of Florida products and zoo, proved to be popular, it was no match for the city’s Yellow Fever epidemic of 1889. After its closure, it was demolished and replaced with a water reservoir that continues to occupy the site today.
<h1>The Most Beautiful Streetcar Line in the World</h1>
In 1893, the Main Street Railway introduced electric-powered streetcars to the city, with the first electric streetcar running from Bay Street, over Hogans Creek, to First and Main Streets. In 1901, it was acquired by Henry B Plant’s Plant System and regauged to match of track of Plant’s larger Jacksonville Street Railway. After the Great Fire of 1901, the Main Street Railway was consolidated with the Jacksonville Street Railway and the Jacksonville Electric Light Company to form a new 15-mile streetcar and utility company called the Jacksonville Electric Company.
In 1906, the Main Street Line was upgraded as a part of a $26,000 laundry list of improvements by the Jacksonville Electric Company. Improvements included double tracking and a new concrete bridge over Hogans Creek. Also referred to many as the “Most Beautiful Streetcar Line in the World”, the entire line was sodded over and landscaped with rows of palm trees, converting Main Street into true linear parkway.
The Main Street Railway looking north, just north of the Hogans Creek Bridge. Main Street was a multimodal street with dedicated right-of-way for pedestrians, cyclist, wagons, mass transit and shade trees. This is a context sensitive street design Jacksonville struggles to embrace a century later. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida.
On March 31, 1911, with the city taking over residential electric power production, the streetcar system was branded as the Jacksonville Traction Company. Although 13,828,904 passengers rode the system in 1912 and it had expanded to 59 miles of track by 1930, the era of streetcars on Main Street and Jacksonville would come to an abrupt end.
In 1932, the streetcar company was acquired by the Motor Transit Company for $335,000. In 1933, the company began replacing streetcars with buses, leading to the final regular streetcar service in the city, ceasing operations permanently on December 12, 1936. A century after the Jacksonville Electric Company’s double tracking of Main Street’s Hogans Creek Bridge, the time has come to replace the structure.
In celebration of its 100th birthday, a piece of early Jacksonville mass transit history has been unearthed.
<h1>Uncovering Streetcar History</h1>
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. A graduate of Florida A&M University, Ennis is a certified urban and transportation planner with 15 years of experience in the fields of architecture, planning and transportation. In addition, Ennis is a co-founder of Modern Cities, TransForm Jax, Atlanta-based HGI Investment Group and author of Reclaiming Jacksonville, Cohens: The Big Store and Images of Modern America: Jacksonville. Contact Ennis at email@example.com or follow on Twitter at @modern_cities.