Fort Worth

Electric Avenue: Trolleys once provided a way from Fort Worth to Dallas and Cleburne

This building in Sundance Square Plaza was once the Fort Worth headquarters of Northern Texas Traction Co., which operated the interurban, the electric trolley service between Fort Worth and Dallas.
This building in Sundance Square Plaza was once the Fort Worth headquarters of Northern Texas Traction Co., which operated the interurban, the electric trolley service between Fort Worth and Dallas. Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The Chisholm Trail mural at Sundance Square Plaza has a building behind it, of course. And that building has some history behind it.

It was the Fort Worth headquarters of Northern Texas Traction Co., which operated the interurban, the electric trolley service between Fort Worth and Dallas.

In 1902 the company laid track from downtown east to Dallas alongside present-day Lancaster Avenue and U.S. 80, built a generating plant at Handley and impounded a creek there to make Lake Erie. The lake provided water for the generators.

The interurban officially opened on June 18, 1902 with a ceremony at the generating plant.

In 1903, the Northern Texas Traction Co. gave Lake Erie a second function: amusement park. The Northern Texas Traction Co., like the early streetcar companies, used an amusement park on its line to increase ridership. Lake Erie park featured a pavilion, skating rink, auditorium and rides (slip-the-slide, shoot-the-chutes). It was a popular destination for barbecues, picnics, boat excursions, moving pictures, fireworks and dancing.

The interurban’s motto was “Speed with safety.” There was more safety than speed in the beginning: In 1905 interurban cars were plodding along at 20 mph. But by 1923 cars were zooming along at up to 65 mph.

The interurban line had stops in Poly and Meadowbrook. For example, the College Hill stop was near Texas Woman’s College (Texas Wesleyan University today). The Tandy Lake stop was named for the nearby lake. The stops also were numbered. The Sagamore Hill stop was also known as “Stop 6.” The East Side neighborhood is named for that stop.

In 1912, Fort Worth Southern Traction Co. opened an interurban line between Fort Worth and Cleburne. The Cleburne track branched off the Northern Texas Traction Co. track to Dallas just east of Riverside Drive. The Cleburne line had stops in Poly, Burleson and Joshua. The building that housed the Burleson stop still stands.

For special events — baseball and football games, the state fair, the stock show, races at Arlington Downs — the interurban lines ran extra trains and advertised in the newspaper.

In 1925, the Northern Texas Traction Co. added its Crimson Limited express service. Crimson Limited trains did not stop at the local stops between Fort Worth and Dallas. The cars offered parlor chairs, “plenty of ice water” and “special conveniences for the ladies.” (Today restored car No. 25 of the Crimson Limited service cools its cowcatcher at Fort Worth Central Station downtown.)

The Northern Texas Traction Co. eventually would take over Fort Worth’s intercity streetcar system. And eventually several interurban companies would serve north Texas, making possible — with Dallas as the hub — trolley travel from Waco to Denison, from Fort Worth to Corsicana.

But the interurban was the victim of changing times. More people were buying automobiles. Bus lines were competing, providing passengers with an alternative to the interurban.

The Cleburne interurban line closed in 1931. And on Christmas Eve 1934, after 32 years, the Fort Worth-Dallas interurban made its final run.

End of the line. Everybody off.

Mike Nichols blogs about Fort Worth history at www.hometownbyhandlebar.com.

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