an AskMe named Desire
March 18, 2013 10:25 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to read about the extensive streetcar networks that serviced most US cities in the late 19th / early 20th century. Any recommendations?

This could be nonfiction expressly about US streetcars. This could also be well-researched fiction, or nonfiction ostensibly on a separate topic, that relates what it was like to have the streetcars as part of the urban fabric or of one's life. I'm not looking for writings that are chiefly about the demise of the streetcar and the shift into automobile predominance, though if that's just one part of a text that otherwise satisfies what I'm looking for, go for it.

Thanks in advance!
posted by threeants to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You may be interested in the Baltimore Streetcar Museum. The "Streetcar Memories" page on their site has several (mostly very short) pieces sent in by regular folks. Perhaps they could point you to some further reading.
posted by zoinks at 10:44 PM on March 18, 2013

There is a streetcar museum in downtown Oakland, California next to the triangle. (Frank Ogawa Plaza). The concierge there was so emphatic that there would never be a revival of the steetcar system in a place that so obviously needs it, that I left disgusted.
posted by telstar at 12:17 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

There was recently a thread on the forums where maps showing the extent of streetcar systems were shared.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:24 AM on March 19, 2013

Seashore Trolley Museum can probably point you in the right direction. They also have a rather extensive library.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 3:42 AM on March 19, 2013

Some of the map ephemera in the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection show mind-boggling street car networks. Kansas City's ones were enormous.
posted by scruss at 5:04 AM on March 19, 2013

Any disucssion on Streetcars from this era wouldn't be complete without Notes On The Collection Of Transfers by William J. Sidis.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 5:20 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's a Philadelphia-centric page about trolleys. Some of the trolley tracks are still in use by SEPTA here today.
posted by inturnaround at 5:24 AM on March 19, 2013

UrbanRail.Net has an email list. That guy has a couple of books that cover the US, but I can't tell how much time he devotes to systems no longer in use, if any. This isn't quite what you want, but, for example, if you wanted a picture of every U-Bahn station and platform, his U-Bahn book is where you'd go.

Poking around UrbanRail has led me to the US Streetcar Systems website. He is missing Minneapolis, but you can find the old route map on Wikipedia (which is interesting mostly if you live in Minneapolis--you can pick out all the major bus routes as streetcar lines).
posted by hoyland at 6:09 AM on March 19, 2013

If you want to check out a fiction that's really very good at describing what happened, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, is a very good place to start.

If you want to see a system that's still together, SF Muni is the way to go. The busses are electric and run on a series of grids all over town. On Market Street they're running some of the old-time trollies, and of course there are the Cable Cars.

Here is the Wikipedia Article about the old Key System in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The bottom of the San Francisco Bay Bridge was exclusively for Trolley traffic back in the day.

Oh! And totally research the Trolley Parks. I would do this with a trip to Kennywood.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:21 AM on March 19, 2013

Mike Davis's book City of Quartz is about more than just streetcars, but the streetcar section is a very good overview of what happened to LA's streetcars. The actual content duplicates what you can learn by watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit though.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:47 AM on March 19, 2013

This semi-recent 99% Invisible episode deals with the L.A. streetcars mentioned several times above.
posted by RabbleRabble at 7:49 AM on March 19, 2013

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