As America grew, so did the need to have suitable transportation to get from here to there. In Portsmouth that need was as much a difficulty as it was anywhere else. The businesses in the west end of town were slowly but surely expanding east. Walking was getting more of a burden, especially after a day of shopping at the stores on Second Street. The shopping was a dandy, but then you had to lug it all home – which turned into a chore. Of course if you were fortunate enough to own a horse and buggy, you were set and the problem solved. But for many that was not the case. So the advent of public transportation began to take shape.
As it was with the country, the size of Portsmouth began to expand in the 19th century; it no longer became practical for many city residents to travel on foot. A number of businesses, often licensed by the city, began to emerge to meet the needs of the people. In 1873, Portsmouth introduced a system known as the trolley, as it was known in other American cities. Names varied from omnibus which was a small carriage that could carry up to fifteen people, while horse trolleys were larger carriages that were pulled along iron tracks by horse.
As noted in the Elmer Swords book – On March 24, 1873 – “The Portsmouth Street Railroad Company began constructing the first street railway in the city. Tracks were laid along the route which began at the public landing at Front and Market streets; then north on Market to Second street; east on Second Street to Chillicothe Street; north on Chillicothe to Ninth Street; east on Ninth Street to Offnere to the entrance of Greenlawn cemetery. The Street cars were pulled along the tracks by horses. The car-barns were first located at 621 Second Street, but were later moved to Tenth and Offnere Streets. The line remained in service for 18 years with the last horse car being used on July 21, 1891.”
The horse and buggy were still a main mode of transportation and from time to time, accidents would occur. Such as the one that I found in the newspaper dated – May 13, 1895. “Portsmouth, OH. – Street Car Wreck, Street Car Smashes a Buggy” Sunday afternoon about six o’clock a street car in charge of Motorman – [sic] Mr. Haupt collided with a carriage at the corner of Eighth and Chillicothe streets but beyond a smashed double tree no damage was done. Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Fezzle the occupants of the carriage were dumped out but not injured. Mr. Fezzel drove out Eighth Street onto Chillicothe Street directly in front of the car, not seeing it. The street car men were not to blame.
After the heyday of the horse drawn cars, electric became a power source and whoa and behold – the Electric Trolley in Portsmouth was born. I am sure that the track that was already laid was used and more added to it so as to reach farther parts of the county. So progress marched on and distances to businesses in Portsmouth shortened; as transportation began to be more accessible.
The headlines of December 7, 1903 – on the front page of the “Times,” read – “THE WORK IS BEING RUSHED and Cars Will Run to Sciotoville By Sunday – Haste Being Made To Accommodate Christmas Shoppers In The Suburbs.”
As the old saying goes, “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” – the invention that was to turn transportation upside down was coming – yep, you got it – The Automobile! Today we can get from here to there in a matter of minutes – we came a long way since “Back In the Day.”
Bob Boldman is a local historian. He can be reached by email: [email protected]