Wednesday, August 22, 2007

From Horse-car to Bus: Public Transportation in Youngstown

Mass transit has had an important role in the history of Youngstown. Since the 1870s, there has almost steadily been some form of mass transportation in the city. The first horse-car, a streetcar pulled by horse on tracks laid throughout city streets, made its debut May 5, 1875. The route stretched from Jefferson Street in Brier Hill to East Federal Street downtown. The horse-car line was operated by the Youngstown Street Railroad Company, which charged a fare of less than six cents per ride.

An electric streetcar operated by Mahoning Valley Electric Railway,
established in 1894 to run from Youngstown through Girard to Niles.

Electric streetcars took the place of horse-cars in the 1890s. The newly formed Youngstown Street Railway Company, the product of a merger between two horse-car companies in Youngstown, was given permission by the city to build a new electric streetcar line. The new line expanded upon the original horse-car service, including routes from Brier Hill to Haselton, Elm Street to Broadway, and Mahoning Avenue to Belle Vista. The first run of the new electric car took place April 29, 1891. The car was powered by two 15-horsepower electric motors that took electricity from wires above the street.

Streetcars share the road with automobiles and pedestrians
on Market Street near the Mahoning County Courthouse, 1920.

Other railway companies soon emerged to expand service throughout Youngstown and outlying towns. The Mahoning Valley Railway Company, the product of yet another merger, formed subsidiaries like the Mahoning Valley Southeastern Railway which extended lines through East Youngstown (now Campbell) and Struthers in 1899, and Lowellville in 1900. Youngstown’s steel industry was growing, and rail lines provided steel workers with convenient transportation to and from the mills.

Streetcars were used for more than just work transportation. The Youngstown Park & Falls Street Railway received the franchise for a nearly 5-mile route that connected Central Square downtown to an amusement park near Lanterman’s Falls in Mill Creek Park. Service to Terminal Park (later Idora Park) began on May 30, 1899, and was situated on a loop that became the most-traveled line in Youngstown, much to the chagrin of the competing Mahoning Valley Railway Company.

Buses of the Youngstown Municipal
Railway Service line Market Street in 1930.

By 1906, all of the competing railway companies save one merged under the umbrella of the Mahoning & Shenango Railway & Light Company. The Youngstown & Southern Railway Company, whose route went from Front Street out of Youngstown to Columbiana and Leetonia, was not a part of the merger. In 1918, after complaints of poor railway service within the city, Youngstown officials decided to separate city service from all other local railway service. They wanted a company that would solely operate lines within Youngstown. The Mahoning & Shenango (known as Penn-Ohio by 1920) created the Youngstown Municipal Railway Company in order to bid on the franchise, and agreed to keep its city operation from the rest of the rail system.

A moneychanger used by Youngstown Municipal Railway
driver Ken Matteson, along with a 1947 bus pass and fare tokens

In 1922, Youngstown Municipal Railway Service introduced bus service to the city. Buses were a deluxe alternative to streetcar travel. With comfortable, leather seats in stark contrast to the wood and rattan of streetcars, buses became the preferred mode of transportation. Buses were not limited by tracks, offering versatility not available with streetcars. On March 23, 1923, the Williamson Avenue streetcar line was abandoned – the first of many – in favor of faster bus service to downtown.

Buses run next to streetcar lines as passengers
wait to board on West Federal Street, looking east.

West Federal Street in front of Lustig's Shoe Store, 1951.

Streetcar lines steadily gave way to buses, and the Youngstown Municipal Railway Company became the Youngstown Transit Company in 1957, reflecting the change. But by the 1950s, the popularity of the automobile threatened to make mass transit in Youngstown extinct. With income steadily falling, Youngstown Transit in 1970 turned operations over to the Mahoning Valley Regional Mass Transit Authority, which sought government funding for public transportation. The Mass Transit Authority gave way to the Western Reserve Transit Authority in 1971, and WRTA continues to provide transit services to Youngstown and outlying communities.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Entering the Blogosphere

This is the first entry in a blog that will be maintained by the staff of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society(MVHS) in Youngstown, Ohio. The Youngstown blog movement, a platform for citizens working toward positive change in our region, has had the residual effect of creating a renewed sense of community and local pride. We are excited to see citizens the Mahoning Valley take an active interest in community revitalization! As historians, we are passionate about preserving our heritage and learning from the past in order to thrive in the present and into the future.

This blog will share the stories of the rich history of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley. It will highlight some of the fascinating objects, held within the MVHS collection, that illustrate the lives and times of people who have lived in the Mahoning Valley from prehistory to the present. It will inform about happenings of historical and community interest. It will invite you to exhibits and events held at the MVHS-operated Arms Family Museum of Local History or MVHS Archival Library. It will, we hope, inspire you to love the history and heritage of the Mahoning Valley.

Thanks for visiting!
Mahoning Valley History