THE ROCK HILL STREET RAILWAY
“In the late nineteenth century, a group of progressive Rock Hill residents began visualizing a new form of transportation within the city limits to complement the existing railroads that traveled to and from the city. This new transportation system would be a street railway, utilizing small street cars that would carry passengers between the business and residential sections of town. The desire for a street railway did not originate in isolation, however; it was part of a popular movement in the 1880s to “modernize” Rock Hill through the introduction of public utilities like electrical power, city water, telephone service, paved streets, (continued below)
The Yorkville Enquirer of June 17, 1891 reported, “The street railway to Oakland is nearing completion. Two of the cars have already arrived. The dummy and the other cars are expected daily.”
The Rock Hill Records reported on Oct. 1, 1911 – “It was reported by the Chester Reporter newspaper, that Clerk of Court, J.E. Cornwell is recording the charter of the Carolina Traction Company, the corporation of which J.M. Cherry of Rock Hill, and W.S. Lee and George Stephens of Charlotte, are the incorporates, and which has receive a commission from the Sec. of State to build a trolley line in Landsford, Lewisville and Rossville Townships of Chester Co., in addition to the main lines in and around Rock Hill and Charlotte. This is taken to mean that the company intends to take up operations in Chester County shortly. Work has already begun on the line in Rock Hill and judging from the progress, cars will be running in a few months.”
The Rock Hill Record of Feb. 15, 1912 reported – “One of the Edison storage battery cars for the Carolina Traction Co., to be used in Rock Hill reached here Tuesday morning. Sec. of the company is James S. White.”
The Rock Hill Record on Feb. 26, 1912 stated – “The new trolley cars are not yet running on a regular schedule for the Carolina Traction Company. There are three miles of track completed. The tracks start at the shed above Winthrop College, down Oakland Ave., Railroad Ave., through the business center and out East Main Street to a point opposite the Highland Park Mill.”
and concrete sidewalks. The development of the street railway was also directly connected with the development of Oakland Avenue and the expansion of the city to the west and north, with many of the same business and civic leaders talking an active role in both the utility construction and residential expansion. In 1887, the Rock Hill Light and Power Company was organized by James Milton (J. M.) Cherry, William Lyle (W. L.) Roddey, R. T. Fewell, William Blackburn (W. B.) Wilson II, and Ed Fewell. These were many of the same men who had successfully brought textile manufacturing to Rock Hill at the beginning of the decade, and they were anxious to see the city become an industrial and economic hub. Their new enterprise was incorporated in 1889 as the Rock Hill Water Supply, Electric Light & Street Railway (RHWSEL & SR) Company, and it successfully brought electric lights to Rock Hill in 1890 and city water in 1900. Residential development on the north and west sides of Rock Hill’s two existing railroads began in September 1890, when the Rock Hill Land and Town Site Company received its charter. This development was inspired by the city of Oakland, California, and was called, appropriately, Oakland Park. With W. B. Wilson as president, R. T. Fewell as vice president, J. M. Cherry as secretary, and W. L. Roddey as treasurer, the directors of the Land and Town Site Company were essentially the same group of individuals as the directors of the light and power company. The development of a street railway was essential to their plans for introducing public utilities to Rock Hill, while simultaneously providing cheap transportation to and from their new residential section. In January 1891, these investors obtained permission from the Rock Hill council to run street cars through the town. The original proposal called for the line to run west down Main Street from the Rock Hill Graded School to Depot Street (which later became Railroad Avenue and then Trade Street), where it would cross the Charlotte, Columbia & Augusta (CC&A) Railroad and continue to Ebenezerville. It would then turn southwest and again intersect Main Street in the heart of the “new town” that had just been laid off by the Land and Town Site Company, “opening up the way for purchasers to immediately occupy the many splendid lots to be obtained there,” as the Rock Hill Herald enthusiastically described it. The total distance for the planned run was about two miles. The street railway portion of the RHWSEL & SR began operation later that year. It was referred to publicly as the “Rock Hill street railway,” the “city street railway,” or simply as the “street railway.” Most of the traffic was between downtown Rock Hill and the rapidly developing Oakland Park, so much so that in 1895 William J. Cherry wrote in A Hand-Book of the City of Rock Hill: “ ‘Going out to Oakland’ is a popular expression in Rock Hill, and the city is becoming so fond of drifting in that direction that the City Street Railway, which extends through and connects Oakland with the business section, is destined before long to reap a rich harvest. In fact, the Street Railway is a product of Oakland and has had the same promoters.” The line never quite attained the full route envisioned in 1891, but it did ultimately run down Main Street and up Railroad (later Trade) Street to Oakland Avenue, finally ending at Lancaster Street (now Eden Terrace). The original street car was powered by a steam engine, but the engine proved to be under powered and was soon replaced by horses and mules. A report prepared by the US Department of Commerce and Labor in 1902 showed that the RHWSEL & SR Co. owned four enclosed passenger cars operating over 1.31 miles of standard gauge (4 feet, 8 Vi inches wide) railroad track. Capital stock had been authorized at $100,000, but by the time the report was published only $7,000 of stock had actually been issued, indicating that the street railway was not very profitable and that investment was slow in coming…….” (Information courtesy of and from: YCGHS – The Quarterly Magazine, March 09 – Author M.C. Scoggins)
Rock Hill Herald, May 4, 1977
Article by Russell Davis (This is a synopsis of the article)
Recent excavations related to the construction of the Town Center Mall revealed a number of wooden crossties under Main Street that remain from the Rock Hill Electric Railway. The route of the trolley ran from what is now Courtney Electric Company on East Main Street west on Main Street to Dave Lyle Boulevard (then named Trade Street), north on Trade Street to Oakland Avenue, left on Oakland across the Overhead Bridge, along Oakland Avenue to Cherry Road, and left on Cherry Road to what is now the York County Fairgrounds.
The trolley operated from the 1890s to the early 1900s. The trolley was originally powered by a steam engine called “Dummy.” When the trolley was fully loaded with passengers, the engine often was unable to climb the incline at the Oakland Avenue Bridge. Gentlemen riders were forced to get out and push. The steam engine was eventually discarded and the trolley was pulled by two mules named “Lec” and “Tric” so that it became Rock Hill’s “Lectric Railway.” Later, storage batteries were employed for power. The trolley was discontinued in 1918 or 1919, and it is possible that World War I created a shortage of lead needed for the batteries. In the spring of 1942, the steel rails were dug up to help in the war effort for World War II.
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