Transition to Electricity

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Transition to Electricity - 1891-1892

As Seen Through Newspaper Articles

         After several years of talking, planning, testing and dreaming (on the part of the patrons) Columbus Consolidated Street Railway Co. was ready to introduce electric streetcars to Columbus. The first line, High Street, would have electric streetcars operating south of Columbus Union Depot in July of 1891. High Street north of the depot and the other lines would be converted from horsecar to electric streetcar over the coming months with Oak Street being the last conversion in 1892.
         In order to a make the big change happen Consolidated had to build a power house, build sub-stations to boost the line voltage, build an electrical distribution system, place the hundreds of power poles, string the overhead trolley wire, rebuild some of the old horse car tracks, replace the burnt out North High car house/stables at Chittenden Avenue with the North High car house at Arcadia Avenue, build the Rose Avenue car shops, solve the problem of the High Street Tunnel under the depot tracks, purchase the electric streetcars – 40 motor cars and 12 trailers to start with, and obtain all the necessary permissions. We shouldn’t leave out the need to train the employees and familiarize the public with those newfangled electric street cars. It was a monumental and expensive job.
         It has been said that newspapers write the first draft of history. It is not straight line history but rather includes false starts, trial balloons, and sometimes poor reporting. And yet a sense of what the issues were and how the drama eventually played out can be gleaned from those newspaper articles. We are turning to those Nineteenth Century articles to learn how all this “went down”.
         There were five players in this drama – of course the “Consolidated”, the city represented by the Board of Public Works and occasionally City Council, the steam railroads wherever the streetcars crossed their tracks, the property owners that would have poles and 600 volt trolley wire hung in front of their homes or businesses and the long suffering passengers eager to have those horses put out to pasture once and for all.
         As you read this account it will help to know that the 1876 horsecar tunnel under the High Street depot tracks did not have the necessary height for the larger electric streetcars. There was considerable tension between the players before it was agreed to allow the Consolidated Co. to construct a temporary trestle over the depot tracks for their streetcars. That trestle would be short lived, about 13 months, at which time a permanent steel and stone viaduct was built to carry High Street as well as the streetcars over the tracks. This was the first construction step taken toward replacing Columbus’s Union Depot #2 with #3.
         There was a major kerfuffle when the new viaduct was partially constructed and the temporary trestle was in the way stopping progress on the viaduct. The Consolidated Co. refused to take the tempy trestle down because it would block the streetcar line. This was finally resolved when a detour using Chestnut Street to Fourth Street to Goodale Street and back to High Street was built.
         In 1892 a new and larger streetcar system would emerge. Several new east-west streetcar lines east of High Street would be built providing a streetcar within a short walking distance for most Columbus residents. The electric service was faster and more frequent compared to the horsecar days. Columbus took another step on its way to being a sophisticated City.