Street Railway - CSPM

Street Railway

Clang, clang, clang went the Colorado Springs and Manitou Street Railway in 1887. This first horse-drawn trolley system was replaced by the Colorado Springs Rapid Transit Railway in 1890, which ran the first electric trolley to Manitou that October. In 1900, 44 electric trolleys travelled to outlying “suburbs” like Knob Hill and Cheyenne Cañon. In 1901, Winfield Scott Stratton purchased, consolidated, and invested over two million dollars upgrading the streetcar system. Ridership peaked in the 1910s, and the last trolley ran in April 1932.

– From the CSPM Curator of History

As Colorado Springs became more settled and the railroads, mills, coal mines, and other industries required labor, distances across the city became too great to walk to and from work. Some means of public transport became necessary. The owners of the Colorado Midland Railroad started the first horse-drawn trolley line, the Colorado Springs & Manitou Street Railway, in November, 1887, with a line that by 1888 ran from the Santa Fe depot on Pikes Peak Avenue west to 28th Street in Colorado City, along Colorado Avenue. Another route ran a line along Tejon Street. The company incorporated as the El Paso Rapid Transit Company in 1889, after which lines were electrified and extended to Manitou Springs and other destinations, including Roswell and the Broadmoor. There was even a short-lived line to the base of Palmer Park, but by 1892 lack of travel shut that down and the eastern extension ended in Knob Hill.

The trolley lines suffered neglect, but in 1901, Winfield Scott Stratton bought the company and used his considerable fortunes from Cripple Creek to reinvigorate the city trolley system through what became the Colorado Springs and Interurban Railway Company. He spent over $2 million to create one of the best transit systems in the country. Lines were greatly extended, including a popular route to Stratton Park at the entrance to Cheyenne Canyon where bands played in the pavilion on weekends. This line also provided access to the Boulevard Park baseball stadium in Ivywild, home of the Millionaires team, and “Bathhouse John” Coughlin’s zoo and amusement park along Cheyenne Creek. Prospect Lake, Evergreen Cemetery, and eastern neighborhoods were connected, a new power plant was built on Sierra Madre Street, and 29 luxury trolley cars were built in the shops on Tejon and Moreno between 1905 and 1911. At the height of the trolley’s success, the line served nearly all parts of the city to create mixed use, walkable neighborhoods and easy access to nearby schools, grocery stores, parks, and other services. Eventually the trolley company could not compete with changing technologies. Busses began competing with trolleys in 1926; they proved more flexible to plan and open routes and cheaper to operate. All trolley operations ceased by April, 1932. The Colorado Springs Bus Company began operations the next month. Most tracks were torn up as the automobile became the dominant form of transport in America.

Generously Submitted by Dr. John Harner, Professor of Geography & Environmental Studies, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

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