When the bell in the court house tower tolls the hour of midnight next Tuesday, city street car services in Marietta will pass into history and finis will be written for an industry that has been a part of the Pioneer City for almost 35 years. It won't be a happy occasion for a lot of Mariettans for, inevitable though it may be that local street car service is moving out of the picture in many cities, it won't seem the same to realize that it is one of the things of life that definitely is gone.
Car service came to Marietta in 1896 and the Marietta Electric Company brought it. Local capitalists sponsored the undertaking and the company held a West Virginia charter. Those men may not have been "capitalists" in the accepted sense of modern times, but they were of the go-getter type and what they may have lacked in capital they made up in energy and in ability to carry on in an undertaking that was epochal in the community life of the city.
The Marietta Electric Company, organized in 1895, had an authorized capital of $30,000. That wouldn't indicate much of an enterprise today, but it was sufficient then to meet the needs of the occasion, and the men who swung the deal and organized the company were A. L. Gracey, J. S. H. Torner, W. H. H. Jett, D. T. McEvoy, J. S. Simpson, I. O. Alcorn, John Kaiser, Nelson Moore, and H. W. Craig. But three of them are living today. They are Jett, Kaiser, and Moore. The first two are residents of Marietta and the other survivor lives at Evanson, Illinois.
With the organization of the company and the granting of franchise rights on the part of the city, the men back of the movement purchased real estate on Second Street, now covered by buildings at Nos. 307, 309, and 311. There they built their power house and car barns and there for a few years the new enterprise was centered.
Install Gas Engines
Gas engine generators were installed at the start and were given a thorough trial. They proved inadequate and were replaced by a steam plant.
The first tracks built by the company extended from the corner of Front and Greene streets up Front and Putnam to Second, thence to Montgomery and on around by Montgomery and Fifth Streets to the corner of Fifth and Putnam Streets.
The second extension was along Putnam Street, completing what ever since has been known as the "hill loop."
At about the same time the first Greene Street extension was built and it carried out Greene and down Fourth past the old Catholic Church to the corner of Fourth and Hart streets. Opposition developed on the part of some members of the Catholic Church. They believed that the noise of street cars would interfere with church services. D. T. McAvoy, however, was a member of the church and it was through him that the late Rev. Father F. M. Woesman became interested in the traction company and the protest was removed.
By the time that these extensions had been completed, the company was getting well organized. It has earned its right to live and the company began branching out. A franchise for the Norwood Loop was secured and the line was carried out Hart, Sixth, Wayne, and Pike streets, and up Acme Street to meet the projection being built out Greene Street through the center of Norwood.
$150,000 Bond Issue
A bond issue of $150,000 was authorized by the company and the bonds were issued in two lots of $75,000 each. It is recalled that the first bonds sold outside of Marietta were placed by the late Henry C. Lord with a New England syndicate located in New Hampshire. Gradually the stock and bonds of the enterprise found market and further financial troubles were avoided.
The early days of street car operation in Marietta were not without their trials and tribulations. There were "knockers" against the enterprise and almost continually there was opposition in the City Council. So outspoken was this feeling in those days that the original company was required to post a bond that it was sincere in its purpose and would carry out the provisions of its franchise. Only rarely from that time has there been a council that has not been unfriendly at least in some degree.
With the building of the Norwood loop the power plant and car barns in that section of the city were built. The Second Street plant was sold, a business block front was added and it passed to other uses.
The West Side extension was built some years after the original company was organized. The line was carried out Putnam Avenue from the bridge and down Franklin Street to Virginia Street. It then was planned to circle down toward Mile Run and go to Harmar Hill by way of Pearl Street extension. That plan was abandoned, however, and rails and other material that had been strung for the line were moved elsewhere.
Another extension undertaken at about that time carried the company into Duck Creek Valley toward the bridge east of Norwood. That was designed to serve the steel mill center then being created there. When the mill failed, however, car service was abandoned and later the track was removed.
Used By Inter-Urban
The Second Street spur leading from Montgomery Street to the county fair grounds was a later improvement and was the beginning of the inter-urban extension later built to Rathbone, Devol's Dam, Lowell and Beverly and finally abandoned in recent years.
During the early years of the company in Marietta, the car lines made money. Dividends were paid promptly and each years aw an increase in earnings. Strange as it now may seem, the lighting and power end of the business developed slowly and for a number of years the earnings from the street cars covered the deficit in the light and power branches. In recent years the thing has been completely reversed and light and power earnings have been used to cover regular monthly deficits created by operation of the cars.
In 1905 the Marietta Electric Company was merged with the Parkersburg company and the enterprise headed by the late C. H. Shattuck and his associates became the Parkersburg, Marietta & Interurban Company. The Parkersburg group acquired three-fourths of the holdings in the Marietta company and the price paid for the stock gave local investors a nice return on their holdings.
That company built the interurban line between Marietta and Parkersburg, W. VA., and concluded the deal with Beman G. Dawes and his associates whereby they built the tracks on the Marietta-Williamstown bridge.
After several years of operation under direction of Shattuck and associates, the property passed into the hands of the Kanawha Traction & Electric Company which acquired a number of West Virginia properties. Later those holdings were taken over by the Monongahela Valley Traction Company and finally, some years later, the whole thing was absorbed by the West Penn interests centering in Pittsburgh and it continues to operate as the Monongahela-West Penn Public Service Company with headquarters at Fairmont, W. Va.
Many amusing incidents occurred during the early life of these electric enterprises in Marietta, and a number of older Marietta residents were among the early operators of the cars on Marietta streets.
The original company purchased its rolling stock from the Barney & Smith Car Company at Dayton. They were unloaded on Second Street near the present B. & O. depot and were dragged up to Putnam and Second streets where they were placed in service.
Used Summer Cars
After the Shattuck group acquired the property a number of used cars of open or summer type were purchased in Brooklyn, N. Y. They proved popular in Marietta and many persons now of middle-age will recall the days when they operated and young folks used them for pleasure riding. Then it was possible to ride around both loops for a nickel and if one were so disposed, he could transfer to the West Side line and take in the sights over in the old Harmar section of the city.
During the first few years of car service in Marietta, when the property was purely a local enterprise, the management was genuinely accommodating, and it will be recalled that in that now distant period it engaged in what might be termed a "jitney business." Any person desiring to go home late at night after the "owl" car had run had but to call up the car barns and for a fee of three dollars a special car would be sent out to deliver the belated traveler at his doorstep.
Car Parties Common
Not only did the socially-inclined young folks make a practice of riding the open or summer type cars, but "traction parties" were common and many an enterprising host or hostess would charter a street car and take the whole party, refreshments, decorations and all. Charges were reasonable for such a service and many availed themselves of that novel medium of entertainment.
The advent of the automobile here as elsewhere spelled doom for the street car enterprise and each recurring year has seen the margin of profit for traction owners dwindle. At last the deadline was passed and then the reports began showing red ink. Losses continued to mount. Operating costs were crowded down and down. Modern methods were applied and a determined effort was made to "make ends meet." It was a losing proposition, however, and now the inevitable has come.
The last car will pass the court house next Tuesday just before the hour of midnight.
- L. N. Harness