Wednesday, September 28, 9707

Tampa's Streetcar History

Steam-powered streetcar, crica 1880s. TBHC collection
By 1885, Tampa had two telegraph lines and a steam-powered street railway system which carried passengers between Tampa and Ybor City.

In 1893, Tampa Street Railway and Power Company converted its steam-powered streetcar system to electric, which sparked a rate war with Tampa’s other streetcar service, Consumers Electric Light and Power Company.  Consumers temporarily lowered its fares from $.05 to $.02, driving the smaller company out of business.  The power company then took over Tampa Street Railway's business, making Consumers the sole supplier of Tampa's electricity.  Later, with the acquisition of the Tampa and Palmetto Beach Railway Company line (which ran from 7th Avenue and 22nd Street to DeSoto Park), Consumers was the only company providing electric transportation in Tampa.

circa 1940s streetcar map. TBHC collection
When Tampa Electric Company took control of Consumers Electric Light and Power in 1899, the streetcar line consisted of 21.5 miles of track, which carried passengers between Ballast Point, DeSoto Park, Ybor City, and West Tampa -- all for a nickel.

Among the most popular streetcars was the "Birney Car", named for the Stone and Webster engineer, Charles O. Birney, who designed it.  Of the 2,000 or so Birneys built between 1914 and the late 1920s, fewer than 30 survive in museums around the world.
Birney Car. TBHC Collection

TECO #163, is a single-truck (four wheeled) Birney.  When the TECO service ended in 1946, the car was sold as a vacation cottage and rested in a backyard in Sulphur Springs, until donated by its owner, Ms. Jeanne MacNeill Mydelski late in 1991.  Tampa Tank and Welding Company hauled the car to a building where it underwent extensive restoration.  The permanent carbarn for the historic Birney is in the old Florida Brewing Company building on Fifth Avenue in Ybor City.
TBHC collection

By the late 1930s, the streetcar was no longer in use in many cities and by the end of World War II, Tampa and St. Petersburg were the only Florida cities with streetcars.  On August 4, 1946, at 2:15 A.M., the last Tampa Electric Birney car retired to its carbarn.  Decades later, the overhead wires were down and the rails paved over. -- Rodney Kite-Powell, Saunders Foundation Curator of History.


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