A Streetcar Named Kentucky
COVINGTON — If you could piece together the random scraps of track that remain throughout the small towns of Northern Kentucky, you would find that the trolley system stitched together a patchwork of communities that grew along its path. As they rolled beyond city limits, the trolleys expanded and redefined the very nature of American life in the late 19th century.
While each mode of transportation in this country had its own unique impact on communities, there were specific changes that can be attributed to the trolley and streetcar.
"One of the things that they changed was they allowed us to go from walking cities to riding cities," says Janet Davidson, historian and curator for the Smithsonian Institute's "America on the Move Exhibit," a narrative of the country's transportation systems. "Most people think it was cars that brought about that change but it was really the trolleys."
Davidson points out that the trolley affected not only the geography of the community, but also the very dynamics of the lifestyles of its residents.
"People's jobs and lives became separate," Davidson says. She explains that initially people lived as close to their place of work as possible, which, more than likely, was in the city. With the increasing radials of communities that sprang up as a result of transportation, living away from work became an option, certainly for the wealthy, who increasingly came to appreciate the benefits of the country and could afford the land.
"The changes were dynamic in the mid-19th century," Davidson says.
Moving from Mules to Motors
As the last of the 225 mules that the Covington Railway Company and the Newport Railway Company relied upon to pull their trolley line were retired, suburbs grew in Northern Kentucky. The electric trolley, locally known as the Green Line, ambled along tracks and over trestles to bring more and more people, and with them, growth, to numerous small neighborhoods that emerged into their own viable cities.
Nine separate routes crisscrossed through Kenton and Campbell Counties.
The history of the trolley in Northern Kentucky shows one railway line segueing into another. The story goes like this:
The Covington Street Railway Company was nicknamed the White Line, as its cars were painted white, while Newport developed into two lines — the Blue Line, which ran to York Street, and the White Line, which traveled to Washington Street. By the 1870s, the Covington and Cincinnati Railway Company had formed and became known as the Yellow Line.
By 1876 the South Covington and Cincinnati Railway Company was chartered and later purchased the Covington and Cincinnati Street Railway Company. It changed its official color to green and hence the Green Line was born.
The Cincinnati and Newport Street Railway Company, the Newport and Cincinnati Street Railway and South Covington, and Cincinnati Street Railway Company merged to form the Cincinnati, Newport, and Covington Railway Company, maintaining the Green Line name.
The Green Line had 38 streetcars and 225 mules. In 1890 the Green Line began purchasing electric trolleys.
But progress invariably comes with a price. The rising cost of street maintenance, which was shared between the trolley companies and local cities, led to a desire to change routes, and eventually the Green Line was converted into buses.
In 1973 the Green Line Company was taken over by Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK).
But the Green Line was not to be laid to rest forever.
On July 5, 1950, the trolley car known as Kentucky, rolled to its final stop in Devou Park at the Behringer-Crawford Museum.
Kentucky was built in 1892, but in 1911 the company wanted a private car for company officials to use.
All of the regular passenger seats were removed from the car and decorative wicker seats were put in their place. Ornate ironwork curved along the platforms, gold and red curtains hung from the windows, and a deep burgundy rug covered the floor.
The parlor quickly evolved into the party car and could be chartered by the public for birthday parties and other celebrations.
The man instrumental in getting the car to Devou and having it refurbished was Earl Clark. Clark and a group of his contemporaries founded the Cincinnati Railway Society. John White, who later served as the curator of the transportation museum at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC was another member.
The Kentucky will return to the Behringer-Crawford Museum next year upon completion of the new addition. It will be a key feature in the Eva G. Farris Transportation Room.
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