Spokane's first streetcar takes its inaugural trip from downtown to Browne's Addition on April 15, 1888.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 1/29/2007
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8087

On April 15, 1888, Spokane enters the streetcar age as the city’s first horse-drawn streetcar rumbles down Riverside Avenue toward a new development called Browne’s Addition. The streetcar becomes the first form of mass transit in the city, as well as a marketing tool to convince homebuyers to purchase lots outside of walking distance from downtown. Within two years, many other streetcar lines will spring up, including cable cars, steam-powered streetcars, and electric trolleys. Within six years, all of the city’s streetcars will convert to electricity. The electric trolley age will last until 1936, when the city’s last trolley route switches to buses.

Great Enthusiasm

On the appointed day, citizens lined the sidewalks as the Spokane Street Railway took its first passengers on that mile-long run. "The car itself was gaily festooned with the American flag," wrote an observer. "Photographs were taken ... . There was great enthusiasm all long the line" (Morning Review).

It was only the second streetcar line in the territory (the first being in Seattle), and it was powered by "cayuse," that is, by a team of horses. A. J. Ross built the line specifically in order to sell lots in Browne’s Addition, a new development of houses and mansions on the city’s western edge.  A reliable streetcar line was deemed necessary not only to transport homeowners to their downtown shops and offices, but also to transport maids and house servants to their jobs in the new mansions being built by the city’s mining and timber barons.

The Spokane Street Railway was an immediate hit. It paid for itself within eight months, at a nickel a fare. In 1891, the horses were retired and replaced with more efficient electric trolley cars. With five years, dozens of trolley routes snaked into every corner of the growing city. In 1910, Spokane's trolley lines logged 24 million rides. Yet trolleys began to decline in popularity with the coming of the automobile, and in 1936, the last streetcar rolled through Spokane. Buses had taken over.

Sources: Chas. V. Mutschler, Clyde L. Parent, and Wilmer H. Siegert, Spokane's Street Railways: An Illustrated History (Spokane: Inland Empire Railway Historical Society, 1986); "Rolling On," Morning Review, April 15, 1888.

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