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Streetcars in Rome

Streetcars on Broad Street in downtown Rome.

Electric streetcars on Broad Street, in the heart of downtown Rome.

Although efforts to build a street railway in Rome began as early as 1870, it was in 1885 that the Rome Street Railroad Company really got things rolling in this northwest Georgia city.

Besides the usual horse and mule powered cars of the pre-electric days, Rome had steam dummies, said to be the first such vehicles used in Georgia. Built by locomotive builder Baldwin, among others, dummies were steam engines disguised to look like the passenger cars that they pulled. Poors 1890 Manual reported that the Rome Street Railroad owned 3 dummies, along with 20 horses, to pull its 10 cars.

An 1888 publication by the Rome Tribune described the operation:

"Only Baldwin's best motors and Brill's best cars were used, and the equipment was of the finest. These steam trains have been in use here more than twelve months — a part of the time in operation on the main thoroughfares of the city — and they have given eminent satisfaction. Nothing does more to advertise a city of enterprise than the operation of well-equipped dummy trains on its principal streets, and the company, realizing this, will extend its lines into every portion of the city wherever practicable."

Poors noted that the street railway was a standard-gauge line of six miles with 20, 30, and 40 pound rail.

A steam dummy.

Another streetcar line in town, chartered in October of 1888, was the North and South Street Railroad. Its standard-gauge main line of 2.5 miles used a light 20-pound rail on which traveled 3 cars powered by 14 horses and mules.

This mid-1890s illustration includes what appears to be a streetcar on the Etowah River bridge.
From: Floyd County, Ga. [Map]. Floyd County Commissioners of Roads and Revenues, c1895. Complete map is online at Library of Congress here.

After a bond default the Rome Street Railroad was sold July 5, 1894 and reorganized in October under the name of the City Electric Railway of Rome. The North and South Street Railroad was also folded into the City Electric Railway that year. By 1899 the new company was operating 9 motor cars and 3 trailing cars on 6.5 miles of track. Its power station housed four engines powering not only the streetcars but also providing electricity to the Rome Lighting Company.

A photograph of a City Electric Railway double-truck streetcar is online here at Georgia's Virtual Vault.

The City Electric Railway was replaced by the Rome Railway & Light Company in 1906. The latter company, incorporated on December 28th of that year, reported in 1908 operating 9.5 miles of electrified track using 60-pound rail and 15 motor cars. The cars were constructed by Lamokin, Brill, and the company's own shops.

A single-truck streetcar on the East Rome line.

As was the case in many cities, the streetcar venture in Rome had begun operations with horses and mules, had converted to electric power in the early 1890s, and had expanded into providing electric power for lighting and other uses. Like numerous others, it had extended its rails to outlying areas, in Rome's case to the mill town of Lindale which lay to the south of the city.

Rome also had a company-owned recreational park and amusement center to generate ridership at times other than the business day. De Soto Park, previously known as Mobley Park, featured a lake, boathouse, clubhouse, casino, and, according to an old postcard, a monkey house. Purchased by the City Electric Railway in the mid-1890s, it is now the site of Darlington School.

By 1914 the system had grown to 12 miles of track with 17 motor cars. Gross income for 1913 was $194,423. Because one-way fares were only a nickel, that figure represented a strong patronage of the streetcars among the city's 13,000 people.

From Broad Street in downtown Rome, tracks ran in four directions: southeast on Second Avenue and across the Etowah River to East Rome; southwest across that river to Myrtle Hill Cemetery then south to DeSoto Park and Lindale; northeast to Forrestville (North Rome); and northwest across the Oostanaula on Fifth Avenue to West Rome.

Three Rome Street Railroad cars and the Opera House in a winter scene.

In 1926 the Rome Railway and Light Company came under the control of the Southeastern Power and Light Company, which consolidated it into a new Georgia Power Company. At the time, street railways had long stopped expanding while automobile ownership was increasing rapidly. Within a few years Rome's streetcars would be replaced by buses and automobiles, a circumstance repeated across the nation.

In his Fifty Years Ago Today in Rome column in the Rome News-Tribune issue for March 14, 1982, Roger Aycock noted this March 1932 report:

"On Tuesday, the Lindale News column reported that the last of the old street car tracks had been removed from the end of the line at Lindale to the Howell's Store at East Main Street and South Broad in Rome. 'Some crossties remain on the streets,' the article concluded, 'but will not be removed until the paving of the street is completed from DeSoto Park to Howell's Store. Lindale patrons are now served much better by buses, and once the paving is done will enjoy a 20-minute schedule from Lindale to Rome.'"

1917 map of Lindale line (120K)

(The two black-and-white photos above and the 1888 Tribune excerpt are from George M. Battey, Jr. A History of Rome and Floyd County. Atlanta: Webb & Vary, 1922. Online at Internet Archive.)


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