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Washington Streetcars Ferried Passengers Around the City

The Washington Common Council in 1887 adopted an ordinance giving Washington Street Railway—a private company owned by James C. Lavelle, Joseph J. Lacy, Joseph Wilson, John C. Billheimer, and John Downey—a franchise to erect and operate a passenger transportation system in Washington.

The company installed oak rails on Main and Walnut Streets to transport people in a wagon, pulled by a mule, from East 5th Street to the B & O Shops on the west side and back. The wagon wheels ran on the wooden rails and kept the mule from wandering all over the street. It cost five cents for a one-way trip.

One of Washington Street Railway’s two summer trolleys (ca. 1900-1910). The conductor and the other man are not identified.

In 1892 Ziba Graham purchased Washington Street Railway. He replaced the wooden rails with steel tracks and converted the system to an electric trolley operation. The electricity was supplied by a generating plant Mr. Graham owned in Washington.

The initial trolley route was from the Eastside Park to the B & O Shops and back. There was a trolley barn near the Eastside Park. In 1898 the tracks were extended west to the Odd Fellows Park adjacent to Oak Grove Cemetery.

One of Washington Street Railway’s two winter trolleys (ca. 1900-1910).  The conductor and passengers are not identified.

The company had four electric trolleys: two summer cars and two winter cars. The winter cars were enclosed with windows while the summer cars were open. Later three “safety cars” with air brakes were purchased.

The City of Washington bought the trolley system in 1923 and ran it as a municipal service. It was discontinued in 1935 due to a “continuing operating deficit.” The steel tracks were dismantled as part of a federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, the rails sold for salvage, and the proceeds used to repair the city streets.

A 1908 Pythagorean Lodge memorial service at Oak Grove Cemetery. In the background are Washington Street Railway trolleys.

After the operation shut down, Dr. Heilman C. Wadsworth and his wife, Elizabeth, purchased one of the safety cars—Streetcar No. 26—and moved it to their home on Bedford Road. It was placed on a foundation, a fireplace installed, and used as a guest cottage. A subsequent owner built a house around Streetcar 26 and the former trolley car became a living room. A 1976 fire destroyed the house and Streetcar 26.

This article was compiled by Bruce Smith, a member of the Daviess County Historian Team.

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