Electric Avenue: For 32 Years the Little Road to Big D

Sure, it’s the Chisholm Trail mural at Sundance Square Plaza. But there is a building behind that mural. And there is some history behind that building. A century ago the building (c. 1902) was headquarters of Northern Texas Traction Company, which operated the interurban line between Fort Worth and Dallas from 1902 until 1934.

interurban handley trial run 1902As a Fort Worth news story in 1902 the building of the interurban was overshadowed only by the building of the packing plants. Every development as the interurban tracks were laid was reported in local newspapers. In February enough of the system was in place to make a trial run from Fort Worth to Handley, where the line’s generating plant was located at Lake Erie. The motorized car averaged a breakneck twenty-eight miles per hour, making the six-mile trip out in thirteen minutes but requiring three additional minutes for the return trip because of “a brisk wind blowing against the car.”

interurban steam up

By early June the system was almost completed. The steam engines that turned the electric generators at the Handley power plant were fired up successfully.

Sanborn map of 1930 shows the Handley power plant. Note the pipe labeled “suction to lake” in upper left.

When the interurban opened in 1902 initially there would be fifteen passenger stations along the track between Fort Worth and Dallas, and the trip would take ninety-five minutes. Cars would leave both cities on the hour beginning at 6 a.m.

interurban 6-19-02 registerThe interurban officially opened on June 18, 1902 with a ceremony at the NTTC’s generating plant in Handley. Paul Waples was master of ceremonies. (Fourteen years later he would be struck and killed by an interurban car.) Clip is from the June 18 Fort Worth Register.

Northern Texas Traction Company ran electric trains on tracks alongside present-day Lancaster Avenue and U.S. 80 between Fort Worth and Dallas. Today car no. 25 (built in 1913) of NTTC’s Crimson Limited express service cools its cowcatcher at the Intermodal Transportation Center downtown. 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 fare was seven cents (see inset).

interurban loganThis interurban “special” was loading passengers on Belknap Street downtown. In the background on the left is the 1883 county jail, which was replaced by the Criminal Justice Building in 1918. The building to the right is the Natatorium laundry. (Postcard from Barbara Love Logan.)

interurban brownAn interurban car marked “Dallas” turns the corner from Main onto Lancaster. The building on the right is the 1886 Joseph H. Brown building, which was demolished in 1958 to make way for the I-30 overhead. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Library.)

The tracks are gone now, but this little iron bridge in the East Side’s Sycamore Park (1907) was built in 1912 when the Fort Worth Southern Traction Company opened an interurban line between Fort Worth and Cleburne. The Cleburne track branched off the track to Dallas just east of Riverside Drive. By the time the Cleburne line closed in 1931, eight million passengers had clattered over the little iron bridge.

cleburne 1925 Rogers bridgeThe Cleburne line had stations in Poly. (Map detail from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

interurban car 25 stopsThe Fort Worth-Dallas line had stations in Poly and Meadowbrook. (Map detail from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

The East Side neighborhood named after Stop 6 on the interurban line (at today’s Rand Street) was outside the city limits in 1919 when the Star-Telegram reported Stop 6 news in a column. The Stop 6 neighborhood today is bounded by Rosedale Street on the north, Berry Street on the south, Loop 820 on the east, and Miller Street on the west.

The next time you eat at the Dixie House on East Lancaster, if you want a little history for dessert, just southwest of the parking lot is a narrow concrete overpass that carried Handley Road (now “Old Handley Road”) over the depressed interurban track near Lake Erie. The interurban track then passed under the T&P tracks via a tunnel Top photo views the overpass from the T&P tracks. Bottom photo views the tunnel under the T&P tracks from the Handley Road overpass. A trickle of water flows through what is left of the tunnel toward the power plant in the distance.

old handley road underpassThe interurban track veered southeast off the Dallas Pike (Lancaster Avenue), passed under Handley Road and the T&P tracks, and then proceeded to Northern Texas Traction Company’s Lake Erie trolley park and then east to Dallas again along the pike. Old Handley Road begins at Lancaster near Erie Street in downtown Handley. The road once ran west parallel to the T&P tracks to Tierney Road. Although now split by the east Loop, Old Handley Road still exists. Erie Street runs south toward Erie Lake (absorbed by Lake Arlington in 1957). On the map and aerial photo, the yellow line indicates the path of the interurban track. The blue line indicates where Loop 820 is today. (Map detail from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

NTT ~ Camp Bowie ~ 19171211In 1917 Northern Texas Traction invited the Sammies of Camp Bowie to take a ride to Dallas or Cleburne or go ride out to Lake Erie. (From Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

streetcar interurban car 25 29 dmn ad streetcar interurban car 25 1926 dmnThese ads are from the 1925 and 1929 Dallas Morning News.

NTT Carbaarn ~ TCU Yearbooks 193011Fort Worth’s interurban car barn was on East Lancaster where the T is headquartered today. (From Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

NTTC dallas open 9-1-16 dmnIn 1916 Dallas built a new Interurban Building on Jackson Street. Clip is from the September 1 Dallas Morning News.

Some photos taken at the Interurban Building in Dallas:

NTTC building todayNTTC logoNTTC building photoNTTC map

The interurban closed in 1934, the victim of changing times. More people were buying automobiles. Bus lines were competing, providing passengers with an alternative to the interurban.

interurban bus 1934One such competitor was Texas Motorcoaches, which was ready to provide increased service between Fort Worth and Dallas to the interurban’s seventeen hundred daily riders. And who owned Texas Motorcoaches? Northern Texas Traction Company! Yes, its bus line was competing with its interurban line.

interurban last day 12-24-34 dmninterurban 12-25-34After thirty-two years of providing mass transit to Fort Worth and Dallas, on Christmas Eve 1934 the interurban made its last run. Clips are from the December 24 and December 25 Dallas Morning News.

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