Findlay street cars made debut back in 1887

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is another article on Findlay area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.


Last week’s article about the anniversary of the end of city street car service in Findlay in January 1932 brings to mind the early history of the city’s street cars.

It was on Dec. 26, 1887 that the first street cars began operation in Findlay. The cars were hauled by mules at the start. Findlay was in the midst of its gas and oil boom. It had been nearly two years since the great Karg gas well had “come in” along the banks of the Blanchard River, and Findlay had become the center of unbounded interest with new residents pouring in by the hundreds to share the good fortune of the discovery of natural gas.

The first mule car line ran between Lima Street on the south and Center Street on the north. Main Street was yet unpaved when the rails were laid for the mule-powered street cars.

A little later, the rails were extended to Howard Run on the north (Foulke Avenue) and to the Findlay, Fort Wayne and Western Railroad (Tangent Line) at Sixth Street, on the south. Eventually, the rails went on to Bigelow Hill and Chamberlain Hill on the north and south and then on to Mortimer on the north.

The scheduled time for the ride between the Tangent Line and Howard was 45 minutes in the mule days. Tiny, 12-foot cars were pulled by teams of mules. The cars operated on a 15-minute schedule. At the start only a single mule was used, but the load proved too heavy and the motive power was increased to two mules before long. Two round trips a day were the limit of the animals. It was too long and too heavy a drag for more than two trips per team a day. There were between 500 and 600 mules and some horses for the operation.

The care of the animals was a huge task and a considerable number of workers were employed just to feed and handle them. Their feed bill ran pretty high.

The cars were entered via a rear door. At the front was a rounded platform on which the driver stood. The animals were hitched to the front by means of a tongue, much the same as was used in case of a wagon. A hand brake aided in stopping cars. At the end of each line was a turntable for turning the cars around. It was just long enough for the 12-foot car. The mules were driven across the turntable and then they swung the cars around ready for the return trip.

The first franchise for street car operation in Findlay had been secured from city council by George B. Kerper, head of transportation enterprises in Cincinnati. He sent to Findlay to have charge of the business Charles F. Smith, who was only 24 years old. He continued to have charge of the street car system, and also the electric light business here, as well as an interurban line to Toledo, until his retirement in the early 1930s, when the Cincinnati interests sold their Findlay property.

The Kerper franchise evidently did not bar others from starting street car lines on streets other than Main. Other lines were opened on some thoroughfares by other individuals.

Absalom P. Byal, an early Findlay leader, opened a line to West Park, operating between Main Street and Lima Avenue. It terminated at Juno Hall, a one-time community center in West Park. In 1890, the Kerper interests bought out the Byal firm and also built a line out Center Street and Tiffin Avenue to the McKee School. Through cars were then run between West Park and the McKee School.

T. Carnahan built a street car which operated on East Sandusky Street, then out Blanchard Street and Blanchard Avenue. There were glass houses then on Blanchard Avenue. Mr. Carnahan and his brother W. R. Carnahan were in the dry goods business in Findlay, their store being located where the First National Bank (now Fifth Third Bank) stands today.

J.C. Laney developed a line running out Defiance Avenue and Howard Street to Broad Avenue, then across the Blanchard River to Maple Grove Cemetery.

The Carnahan and Laney lines were discontinued when the gas boom began to wane close to the turn of the century.

In June 1892, electricity replaced the mules and Findlay had one of the first electric car lines in all Ohio. The mule cars continued on the side streets for a few years after that, city electric cars never leaving Main Street.

The 26-pound rails of the mule car days were replaced by 75-pound rails and trolley wires erected when the electric cars arrived.


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