RCHS Facebook Posts from October 2019 – Transportation in Ramsey County
Explore history with these snippets from past Facebook posts from the RCHS page.
Posts, event announcements, etc. have been edited for clarity and relevance.
Saint Paul and Ramsey County have been shaped by transportation. Here are just some of our most popular modes of transportation, as well as some of the ones that failed to live up to their promises. The transportation stories of Saint Paul and Ramsey County includes a variety of streetcars, arriving by rail at Union Depot or driving on early highways—because transportation is something we all have in common, and yet we each experience it differently in our daily lives.
In 1857, William Markoe built a balloon named the Minnesota. His first flight carried him and a companion past Hastings, where they landed with a crash into a fence, frightening farmers nearby. A second flight from the Third Annual Territorial Fair in St. Paul to White Bear Lake ended in Anoka County after three attempted landings in which the crew battled winds and accidentally lost a member who jumped out briefly to secure the balloon before it sailed away without him. Remaining crew then tried and failed to avoid entangling in trees. Farm hands once again came to the rescue.
In 1872, the Minnesota legislature mandated a state road to connect St. Paul and White Bear Lake. Ramsey County surveyed a route using existing township roads. The “new” road was constructed by men from New Canada township who were required to work two days each year on roads. They could work additional days at $2 a day, or $3.50 if they provided a horse-drawn scraper. Bridges or culverts were constructed of wooden timbers. The township received $1,080 for this road. Ramsey County maintained the road until 1920 when it became Minnesota Highway 1. In 1926, it was renamed U.S. Highway 61.
Information and photograph courtesy of Maplewood Historical Society.
When Eugene Debs, the leader of the American Railway Union (ARU) arrived in Saint Paul in April of 1894, the city was a major railroad transportation hub and the headquarters of the Great Northern Railroad, owned by James J. Hill. Thousands of railroad workers were employed in Saint Paul, and were united by the ARU in one labor union in 1893. When Debs arrived soon after that in April 1894 to organize a labor protest against the railroads, the owners quickly chose arbitration rather than suffer through a general strike. The success of this labor movement in Saint Paul led to the nationwide Pullman Strike beginning soon after in May 1894.
One of our forgotten, and most unsuccessful, railways is the St. Paul Southern Electric Railway. Planned to connect Saint Paul and Rochester, this little railway never got past the first leg to Hastings. An electric railway, the Southern was inaugurated with great fanfare in November 1915. But problems with electrical lines, inconvenient connections to Saint Paul and other issues delayed service, and it immediately began losing money. Maintenance bills, salaries and interest on loans exceeded income almost immediately. But even though the little railroad and its shareholders kept chugging away, by 1928 it was out of business. Read more about the St. Paul Electric Railway @ http://bit.ly/2lpC5yF.
Saint Paul became a railroad town in the 1860s, when rail quickly eclipsed steamboats as a method of transportation, taking goods out and bringing immigrants in. By the end of the century, a huge number of railroads linked Saint Paul to Chicago and points East. Over 8 million passengers went through the Union Depot in Saint Paul in 1889. About 268 trains arrived and departed every day to transport these passengers. In 1913, there were 10 million estimated passengers, on 73,373 trains, or about 201 a day – equivalent to about 1 passenger (not freight) train every 6 minutes!
Postcard showing the freight yards and Union Depot from the RCHS Collection.
In 1920, for a nickel fare, the 1,100 streetcars of the Twin City Rapid Transit Company carried 238 million riders on a 500-mile system that stretched from Lake Minnetonka to the St. Croix River. With over 4,000 workers it was among the largest employers in the Twin Cities; turning a profit for its shareholders, and regarded as among the finest street railway systems in the transit industry.
Image: Postcard, “Twin Cities ‘Sight Seer’ Car at Indian Mounds Park, St. Paul, Minn.” RCHS Collection.
The Saint Paul Street Railway opened on July 15th, 1872 with 6 horsecars and thirty horses. By 1888, just before the advent of electric streetcars, the system had grown to 159 horsecars and 54 miles of track. Horsecar drivers were expected to work 12-16 hours a day, handle and tend to the horses, keep the cars clean, and collect fares, all while standing on an open platform at the front of the car, in all kinds of weather – for about $35 a month.
Image: “Andrew Irber drives a St. Paul City Railway horsecar along Greenbriar between Jenks and Case Streets in 1880.” From Joe Irber, Minnesota Transportation Museum Collection.
Saint Paul’s brief experiment with cable cars lasted less than ten years, beginning about 1888, and costing millions. But the cable cars weren’t suited to our northern climate — the service was continually stopping, often due to ice buildup on the cars’ overhead lines, or snow and ice in between the rails on the streets, causing jams and breakages. It took until about 1947 for the debts to be paid off for these failed attempts!
On Feb. 22, 1890, the first electric streetcar line made its way from downtown Saint Paul along Grand Avenue, with Archbishop John Ireland in the seat of honor at the front of the first car. The original horsecar and cable car lines began to be electrified in Minneapolis and St. Paul in 1889. By 1910 it was possible to ride a streetcar from Stillwater to the big amusement park owned by the Twin City Rapid Transit Company on Big Island in Lake Minnetonka. Thousands visited that park and another one owned by TCRTC on White Bear Lake.
Image: Como-Harriet streetcar running under a small bridge 498 along with two uniformed street car employees.
Streetcars seem to us now to be romantic relics of a bygone era, but streetcars actually survived in St. Paul well into the 20th Century – the last streetcars weren’t erased from St. Paul until 1954! In 1920, the height of the Twin City Rapid Transit Company, streetcar ridership hit a peak of 238 million. Only 75,000 automobiles were licensed that year. By 1940 the future was cast, with 220,000 autos, and streetcar ridership was down to half of the 1920 total.
Image: Color postcard labelled “Roberts [sic.] Street, St. Paul, Minn.” Date 1908. From the RCHS Collection.
St. Paul Street car and bus system, 1947, photo from the Minnesota Transportation Museum.
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