Fine Rides: Kansas City’s Streetcars
Kansas City public transportation began in 1870 with Nehemiah Holmes and his Kansas City and Westport Horse Railway. The railway consisted of train cars pulled by horses along tracks set into the middle of the street. The route initially stretched from 4th and Main streets to 17th Street and Grand Avenue. Rides were smooth, fast, affordable, and popular with residents and visitors. The original horse railway soon gave way to a more cost-effective cable car system in the 1880s, itself later replaced by electric streetcars. By 1900 electric streetcars operated over 100 miles of track in the Kansas City area. The street railway system continued to grow in the early 20th century and eventually reached St. Joseph, Lawrence, and Leavenworth. Passengers used streetcars to commute to work and school, and to shop, socialize, and sightsee, though severe weather and traffic accidents occasionally caused delays. Ridership remained strong through World War II, but the increasing number of cars on city streets, suburban sprawl, and changing technology made it difficult to maintain both public interest and streetcar equipment. Buses were gradually phased in as replacements, and the last Kansas City streetcar ran on June 23, 1957, through the County Club Plaza. These images from the Missouri Valley Special Collections are a nostalgic, yet timely look back at our city’s initial modes of mass transportation as the community debates its role in our lives today.
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