POMEROY — In the early part of the 20th century, Meigs County shared one thing in common with larger, more affluent cities like San Francisco and St. Louis — the clang clang, clang of streetcars moving along a track.
The streetcars traveled on tracks which extended from the Hobson yards in lower Middleport up to Pomeroy and then on up the river through Minersville and Syracuse to Racine.
The Ohio River Electric Railway and Power Company began operating the streetcar line just before the turn of the 20th century and canceled its passenger service on June 26, 1929.
In the mid-1920s, streetcar travel began declining as more and more automobiles were on the road. That led to fewer passengers using the streetcar and resulted in financial difficulties for the company.
It was on Oct. 15 in 1899 that the first streetcar left Middleport bound for Racine, according to a research paper written by George Arnott many years ago for a history contest held by the Meigs County Historical Society. His grandfather, Glen Arnott, worked as a motorman on the streetcars from 1918 to 1925. His pay — 41 cents an hour.
For that initial run on Meigs County tracks, Hayes Roush of Minersville piloted the streetcar which was filled with officials of Middleport, Pomeroy and Racine and John Blair McMafee, president of the Railway and Power Co. Spectators were said to have lined the street to watch it pass by.
At first, the streetcars went only from Middleport to Racine, but then the lines were extended down to the Hobson Train Depot. They provided a vital service since roads weren’t the best, automobiles were few and far between and the horse-drawn wagons providing transportation from here to there were slow and inconvenient.
The dark yellow street cars had advertising on the sides and ran on a one hour and 20 minute schedule from the Hobson Train Depot, up Second Avenue in Middleport, through Pomeroy and up to Racine where they stopped at the Drake Hotel.
During the summer, open air cars were used and provided not just a means of transportation, but a leisurely ride along the Ohio River. For young couples of the day, a bag of popcorn and the ride to Racine and back on the streetcar constituted a big outing. For a real treat, affluent residents down river would take the street car to Racine, have lunch at the Cooper House, earlier known as the Drake Hotel, and ride back downriver.
Each car required a conductor and a motorman. The conductor sat on a high seat in the front and drove the street car. Then there were the money changers who collected fares. As for the cost of a ride, it varied as to how far a rider wanted to go, and ranged from 6 to 14 cents. For the coal miners and railroad workers, it was their way of traveling back and forth to their jobs. Most all of them purchased tokens for the week when they got their pay checks.
In addition to the regular daytime runs used by men working in the mines and on the railroad, there was a night run on what was known as an “owl car.” It ran between downtown Middleport and Hobson mainly for crews on the late night railroad trains and for nighttime bar patrons.
The men who worked on the cars many times wore “dusters” over their uniforms because the crowd of miners riding home on the streetcar were covered with coal dust. The streetcar was their way of getting back and forth to work. Among the motormen working on the streetcars in the early days were Wilbur Logan, Eddie Hoeflich, Herman Warner, Roy Kasper and Ernest Lallance.
Streetcars were not always without problems. They sometimes jumped the tracks or smashed into each other due to mixed up schedules. And sometimes it happened when the seats were full and some were hanging onto the sides of the car. When the cars got off the tracks, it was a major job to get them back on and the delays caused all kinds of problems especially for those who were on their way to work.
History tells us that as late as 1910 there were no improved roads in the Meigs County except for short spaces, like in the incorporated villages of Pomeroy and Middleport.
One can only imagine the everyday chaos on Middleport’s Second Avenue, on Main Street in Pomeroy and Third Street in Racine as the electric streetcars mingled with the horse-drawn buggies and a few “horseless carriages.”
But things began to change in the mid 1920s. Roads were being improved and the public was finding that automobiles were a more convenient way to travel. Street car patrons became fewer and fewer as the years went by and in 1929 the Ohio River Electric Railway and Power Company made the decision to shut down its passenger service.
In a visit with the late Margaret Bailey of Minersville, whose father, William L. Thomas, was a motorman on the streetcar, she told me that it was really nice to have your father working for the streetcar company. She said she was allowed to ride with him all day on Sunday and that he would let her flip the seats. Since the cars didn’t turn around, the seats had to be flipped to face in the other direction at the end of each run.
She described Pomeroy as being filled with stores when she was growing up and said that if someone wanted to get groceries or do other shopping, they just took the streetcar downtown. She said you could catch a ride about any place along the route.
My friend Kathleen Scott, who was born in 1905 and died in June at the age of 107, during a visit several months ago reminisced about growing up in Meigs County. She mentioned that she rode the streetcar to school. She said when she was in the eighth grade and had to go to Racine to take the eighth grade graduation test, the only way of getting there was on the streetcar.
She recalled the many times she took a street car from Minersville to Pomeroy while attending Pomeroy High School. To catch the street car to Pomeroy she had to walk over the hill from Forest Run where she lived to Minersville. The fare to Pomeroy was five cents.
Today all that remains of the street car industry in Meigs County is a boarded-up brick building on East Main Street located between Pomeroy Village Hall and and Mountaineer Metals. It was called the “barn.” At the end of the each’s day run, the street cars were taken there and parked inside until early the next morning when they were taken out to begin the day’s runs.
The discontinued street car service in Meigs County in 1929 marked the end of one era and the beginning of another in the field of transportation— an obsession with the automobile.