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INTERURBAN BOOM AND BUST

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In 1887 'at the courthouse door' the assets of the Citizen's Street Railroad (CSR) were sold to John Bass, Steven Bond and Frank DeHaas Robinson who reorganized the company as the Fort Wayne Street Railroad. That same year C.L. Centlivre entered the street railroad business. Since his brewery was outside the city limits, he had to get permission from the County Commissioners to lay a track down Spy Run Avenue from the St. Mary's River to his beer garden. He was not permitted to connect his tracks into the city system until the following year.

Besides financial, pollution (manure) and political problems, there were also problems in public relations. A scathing editorial in the February 13, 1889 Fort Wayne Sentinel noted: 'No sooner did the snow begin to fall this noon than the street car employees began to scatter salt broad cast on Calhoun Street. This is the way sleighing is destroyed on the main thoroughfare and businessmen cut off from their trade. How long will the authorities permit this outrage?'

The company suffered another devastating blow on December 22, 1890 when fire swept through the large stables at the East Barns. Fifty-nine horses perished in the holocaust before help arrived. The stables were a total loss. It wasn't the coup de grace; to the Fort Wayne Street Railroad, but the invention of electricity made it clear that mule and horse-drawn street cars were no longer cost effective and that they were on their way out. Thomas Alva Edison threw the switch on his Pearl Street generating station in 1882, and the race was on to apply the new animal-less source of energy to trolley transportation. Two experimental electric locomotives were displayed independently by Leo Daft and Charles J. VanDepoele, at the Chicago fair in 1883.

Although initially plagued with problems, the mild success of these systems sparked inventor's minds everywhere to come up with the right combination of electric power and rolling stock for a viable streetcar system. A young Naval Academy graduate named Frank J. Sprague, upon his release from the Navy in 1883, became an assistant to Edison. He developed a reliable 500-volt DC motor and a successful method of coupling it with a cogwheel on the axel of a rail car. By 1888 Sprague had one of his electric trolley systems in operation in Richmond, Virginia. Indianapolis, Indiana had its first electric trolleys operating by 1892. Huge mortgages were necessary to finance the purchase of equipment and expand the trolley's rail system.

Although the sheer novelty of the new transit mode increased rider-ship initially, the pressure was always on to increase revenues. One revenue producing promotion that became a big fad in the 1890s was the 'trolley party.' George Bradley said in his book, Fort Wayne and Wabash Valley Trolleys, 'Trolleys became interesting and glamorous when an evening dinner party for local dignitaries was climaxed by a thirty-mile, three-hour ride through the city on a special party car. The total cost of the excursion on the party car was $5.00, a price almost any group could afford.' Bradley quoted a newspaper article stating, 'Trolley Parties have become all the rage and half a score such parties take place each evening making a full-tour of all city lines.'

Another deliberately created source of trolley revenue was amusement parks located just far enough away from the city limits that its prospective customers had to ride the trolley to reach it. Broadripple Park in Indianapolis, IN, Matter Park in Marion, IN were also developed to increase revenues, but the two most dazzling in the state were Boyd Park located between Peru and Wabash, IN and Robinson Park north of Fort Wayne. Both were billed as centers of mirth and amusement and were served by what ultimately became the Fort Wayne and Wabash Valley Traction company. To be continued...

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