Sunday, March 1, 2015

Street Railways in Nashville

Researched and Compiled 
by Debie Oeser Cox
February, 2015

This is a compilation of text, from several published sources, which provide historical information about  Nashville Street Railway Companies, of the past.  The first streetcar company was the South Nashville Street Railroad, which began running mule drawn cars in March of 1866.  The first electric streetcar ran on April, 30, 1889 and was owned by the Nashville Railway and Cumberland Electric Light & Power Company. The last street car to operate in Nashville was owned by Nashville Coach Company, and ran in Nashville on February 2, 1941.  From the beginning, Nashville's street railway companies were privately owned. There were many different companies, some running only a few miles. There were also, two interurban railways.  The Nashville-Gallatin Interurban ran between Nashville and Gallatin, Tennessee. The Nashville-Franklin Interurban carried passenger between Nashville and Franklin, Tennessee.

It was not until September 12, 1973, that the Nashville Transit Company (NTA) was purchased by the Metro Nashville Government. Metro, soon after, changed the name to Metro Transit Authority (MTA).  Contrary to what many Nashvillians have been led to believe about the location of the so called Trolley Barns, streetcars and later buses were garaged in the Nashville Transit car barns, near the court house between 3rd and 4th Avenues.  The car barns were demolished in the mid 1950's for the construction of James Robertson Parkway. Streetcars had been discontinued more than a decade before the car barns were demolished.  Metro purchased an old warehouse on 1st Avenue South to garage the buses at that time.  I don't remember the streetcars, but heard many stories about them.  My mother, when she rode the bus, called the money she used to pay for her ride, "carfare."  I have never heard a native Nashvillian, who lived in the era of streetcars, use the term trolley.  It would be interesting to me, to learn, if this is also the experience of others.

The buildings on Rolling Mill Hill that have been advertised as "Trolly Barns" were not built for, nor were they ever used for streetcars. This is an urban myth of sorts, apparently began by the developers of the Rolling Mill Hill property, in an effort to make the area more attractive to investors.

The massive roof of the car barns can be seen in the photo below, one block northwest of the old courthouse and public square.  James Robertson Parkway runs through this area today.  Streetcars were slow, and as traffic increased caused safety concerns.  This system would not be practical for use today, other than, as a tourist attraction, and for transporting people in a limited area.  In the 21st century, Nashville commuters would benefit from a rapid transit light rail system or a bus rapid transit system.

Photo from Walter Williams Collection Metro Nashville Archives
This plat covers the same the area, that is shown in the photo above  - 1908 Hopkins Atlas of Nashville

Photo source McGraw Electrical Collection, University of Texas

Inaugural run of the first electric streetcar in Nashville, April 30, 1889 - Photo TSLA
View of Church Street - TSLA

Streetcar on Buchanan Street, North Nashville - TSLA
Nashville City Government giving permission for addition track to be laid along city streets.
Side view of Nashville streetcar #11. 1930 - TSLA
Meridian Street Line in Northeast Nashville

Charlotte Avenue Streetcar, 1930 - TSLA

Some of the street railway companies in business around 1900.
Streetcar at the end of the line in Glendale Park. Shows conductor Robert O. Ray - TSLA


Sources in brackets, are listed below, following the text.  Most of these sources are free online books found at Google Books .  Some are histories of the City of Nashville (long before consolidation) and are interesting to read.  Others are trade books, also interesting, and often containing information on transit in other cities and states


Street Railways.
One fact that makes the recent growth of Nashville a certainty is, that several lines of Street Railway have been constructed within the last few years, and all since the close of the war. Year by year, this system of travel is coming more and more in favor, and their facilities are of almost incalculable advantage to a city, since they enable business people, and persons of limited means, to engage in their pursuits in the center of the City, and at the same time enjoy the pleasures of a suburban life.

The South Nashville Street Railroad.—The South Nashville Street Railroad, running out Cherry and College streets, from Cedar to Franklin, was the pioneer Street Railway of the City. It was commenced in 1865 and finished in 1866, at a cost of $17,000 per mile. The entire length of the road, including the Fairfield and Maple Street branches, is four and a half miles. During the year, ending September 1st, 1869, this road transported 400,006 passengers, and its receipts amounted to $29,070.83. The company now owns 43 head of horses, and 8 cars, 5 of which are run regularly. It employs, regularly, 19 persons, including managers, clerks, drivers and hostlers. The actual wealth of the company is estimated at $110,000. It is controlled by the following Board of Directors: Thos. Chadwell, Jos. Vaulx, Thos. S. Marr, S. L. Demoville, R. A. Barnes, A. H. Hurley and J. D. Cross. Thos. Chadwell, President, R. A. Barnes, Secretary and Treasurer. This road does an unusal good business in the way of transporting passengers to and from the Nashville & Decatur Depot.

The North Nashville Street Railroad, or, as it is more rightfully termed, the McGavock & Mt. Vernon Street Railroad, is the second in age, having been built during the year 1867. The total length of the road is 2£ miles and 400 feet, and it runs north from the Public Square, via. College street, to Jefferson street; thence west to Summer street; thence north to the vicinity of St. Cecilia's Academy. At the junction of Summer and Monroe streets, a branch road runs out the latter thoroughfare past Ash Barracks, and terminates near Rumerkorf's Gardens.
The total cost of building this Road, and of stocking it, was $55,972. This total amount of Capital stock is 56,200, of which $54,925 is paid up. The total number of passengers carried over the road in 1868, was 135,327, and in 1869 was 175,917; showing the handsome increase of 40,560 in twelve months. Dr. T. J. Harding is the secretary and Treasurer of this Road, and to his energy and perseverance can be attributed much of its success.
Church And Spruce Street Railroad.—The youngest of our Street Railroad enterprises is that known as the Church and Spruce Street Road, extending from the junction of Church and Cherry streets, out Church to Spruce street; thence to vicinity of the city limits. A branch road is being built, and is to be complete by June 1st, 1870, extending out Broad street to West Carroll, and stopping in the immediate vicinity of the Penitentiary, on Church street. The entire length of the road will then be about two and a half miles, and it will have cost about $45,000 or $50,000. From various causes, but mainly on account, we presume, of the sparsely settled portion of the City, at its original terminus, this road has failed to pay as well as was anticipated by the projectors. In December 1869, its sale, with the entire effects was made to Thos. Chadwell, President, for the sum of $12,000, the company having lost probably $40,000 in their bargain. The entire road is now owned and controlled by Mr. Chadwell, who has employed J. F. Miller as Superintendent. The road now owns four cars and twenty four head of stock.

 [Source "Nashville and Her Trade, 1870." Charles E. Robert] 


[source Poor’s Directory of Railway Officials and 
Manual of American Street Railways, 1890]

Nashville Street Cars
The first street car company to operate in Nashville was the South Nashville Street Railway Co.   First chartered March 19, 1860 the service was halted when Nashville was taken over by the United States Army during the Civil War in early 1862 and was resumed in June 1865.  The route was south along Cherry St (4th Ave. So.) to Chestnut, east along Chestnut to College St. (3rd Ave. So.), north along College St. (3rd Ave. So.) to Cedar (Charlotte Ave.) and the Public Square.

[Source Tennessean 3/3/1974 There was a Time When Mule Pulled Streetcars, Joe Hatcher]

Citizens Rapid Transit Co. was a regularly chartered street car company, operation electric street cars upon Cedar Street, in the city of Nashville, and upon the Charlotte Pike to West Nashville, by one continuous line. 

[source Reports,Supreme Court of Tennessee Middle Division, 1897  ]


Street Railway Directory

No. 15, Fatherland and Fatherland and Shelby Lines.

No. 15, Fatherland and Fatherland and Shelby-Leaves transfer station, goes south on 4th Avenue to Deaderick Street, east on Deaderick Street to Public Square, east on Public Square to Bridge Avenue, east on Bridge Avenue to South 2d Street, south on 2d Street to Fatherland Street, east on Fatherland Street to Shelby Park.

          Fatherland and Shelby car goes over the same route to 11th Street, thence south on 11th street to Shelby Avenue to Shelby Park and return.

          Public and Semi-public Point son Route-Public Square, City Hall, Market House, Court House, Woodland Street Bridge, East Side Flats, Shelby park.
No. 16, Woodland and Gallatin-Gallatin and Inglewood-Woodland, and Woodland and Porter Road.  

          No. 16, Woodland and Gallatin-Gallatin and Inglewood-Woodland, and Woodland and Porter Road- Leaves transfer station, goes south on 4th Avenue to Deaderick Street, east on Deaderick Street to Public Square, east on Public Square to Bridge Avenue, east on Bridge Avenue to Woodland Street, east on Woodland Street to 11th Street, north on 11th Street to Gallatin Road, north on Gallatin Road to Warner Farm and return.

          Woodland and Porter Road over the same route to 11th Street, continuing east on Woodland Street to 16th Street, thence north on 16th Street to Eastland Avenue, thence east on Eastland Avenue to Porter Road, north on Porter Road to Lewisburg and Northern Ry. and return.

Public and Semi-public Points on Route - Public Square, City Hall, Market House, Court House, Pioneer Springs, Masonic Widows and Orphans Home at end of Gallatin Inglewood Line.

[source 1916 Nashville Directory] 

*Metro Nashville Archives has a 1928 map that shows street car routes.  The routes are the same as the 1916 routes.


Some Street Railway Companies that filed Charters of Incorporation, Davidson County, Tennessee

Nashville and Crocker Springs Rapid Transit Railway  
Belmont Street Railway               
City and Suburban Railway               
City Electric Railway Company              
East and North Nashville Street Railroad Company     
East Nashville Electric Railway    
Gallatin Pike Railway Company   
High Street Electric Railway                   
High Street Mount Olivet and Upper Island Railway Company          
Lischey Avenue and National Cemetery Railway Company    
Madison and Goodlettsville Railroad Company  
Main Street and Gallatin Pike Street Railroad                        
Main Street and Lischey Avenue Street Railroad Company              
Mansfield and University Street Railroad Company               
Maplewood Electric Railway Company   
McGavock and Mount Vernon Horse Railway Company        
Nashville and Edgefield Street Railroad Company       
Nashville Street Jitney Company 
Nashville Street Railway    
Nashville Vanderbilt and Bellmont Street Railway Company
North Nashville Street Car Company      
Peoples Street Railway Company
Peoples Street Railway Company Of Nashville 
Public Square and Mount Olivet Street Car Company  
Suburban Street Railway   
Summer Street, North Nashville and Buena Vista Pike Street Railroad         
Summer Street and West Nashville Street Railway Company
Summer Street Cable Railway     
Summer Street Railway Company
West Nashville Dummy Line and Street Railroad

[source Davidson County Register of Deeds, Charter Books.] 


  History of Nashville, Tenn, 1890

The street railway system of Nashville is now very complete. The first street railroad company incorporated in the city was the South Nashville, March 19, 1860, Isaac Paul, C. K. Winston, Herman Cox, F. O. Hurt, M. C. Cotton, Leroy Armstrong, D. F. Wilkin, Ira P. Jones, and J. B. Lindsley being the incorporators. The purpose of this company was to construct a street railroad from Church Street along Market, College, or Cherry Street to the southern boundary of the corporation, or the State Fair Grounds. The capital of the company was authorized to be $100,000, and to be increased to $300,000. Nothing was done under this first charter, and it was renewed June 9, 1865. The first President of this company was Anson Nelson, who held the office in 1865. He was followed by F. O. Hurt in 1866; Daniel Hughes, in 1867; Thomas Chadwell, from 1868 to 1874; N. Baxter, 1874 t0 1878; W. M. Duncan, 1878 to 1889; Dr. William Morrow, 1889. The Secretaries and Treasurers have been Leroy Armstrong, 1864 to 1866; John Trenbath, 1866; Joseph S. Robinson, 1867; R. A. Barnes, 1868; F. C. Maury, 1873; T. W. Wrenne, 1874 to 1877; J. L. Wrenne, 1877 to 1879; C. L. Fuller, 1879 to 1889; F. M. Morrow, 1889. The railroad of this company was constructed soon after the close of the war, south on Cherry Street to Chestnut Street, and back on College Street to Cedar Street. 

The next street railroad company incorporated was the McGavock and Mount Vernon Horse Railroad Company, February 29, 1860, the incorporators being D. T. McGavock, S. D. Morgan, John M. Watson, M. W. Wetmore, F. R. Cheatham, George R. Maney, Eugene Underwood, J. H. Buddeke, Robert Gardner, A. J. McWhirter, John Hugh Smith, John B. Johnson, W. F. Cooper, their associates and successors. They were incorporated for the purpose of constructing a street railroad from the post-office or such other place as the Directors should agree upon in the city of Nashville to the Mount Vernon Garden in the northern suburbs of the city, and had the privilege of extending it three miles from the northern boundary of the city, and of having one or more branches connecting with the main stem. The authorized capital stock was $100,000, and the privilege was granted of increasing it to $300,000. The war prevented the construction of this road also, and the charter was renewed June 9, 1865. July 6, 1866, Judge James Whitworth was elected President of this company; and Felix R. Cheatham, Secretary. Messrs. Whitworth, Laetenberger, and McFarland were appointed a committee to go North to secure funds for the building of the road, leaving here Monday, July 30. The road commenced at the post-office, ran down Cherry to Cedar Street, thence to College Street, thence to Line, on Line to Cherry, on Cherry north to Monroe, on Monroe west to Clay, and on Clay to St. Cecilia Academy. Work was soon afterward begun, some $56,000 having been subscribed previous to the trip of the committee to the North. James C. Warner succeeded Judge Whitworth as President, and was followed by C. L. Stearns in 1880 and 1881. John P. White became President in 1882, and held the office until the consolidation of all the street railroad companies in the early part of 1890. D. Deaderick succeeded Mr. Cheatham as Secretary, and held the position until 1883, when he became Superintendent and H. B. Stubblefield became Secretary and Treasurer.

The Nashville and Edgefield Street Railroad Company was incorporated May 23, 1866, Joseph Nash, W. B. A. Ramsey, A. V. S. Lindsley, Nicholas Hobson, Michael Vaughn, J. M. Williams, J. P. Dillon, E. Trewitt, Charles H. Irvin, George B. Hibbard, William M. Ashley, John N. Brooks, and their associates being named as the incorporators. They were authorized to construct and operate a street railroad from the site of the suspension bridge or any bridge that might be erected over the Cumberland River to any point in Davidson County north of said river. The full amount of stock needed to build this road was subscribed by July 17, 1871, and a complement of officers had been elected. Woodland Street was selected upon which to build the road. The officers have been as follows: President: James C. Warner, 1878 to 1882; J. S. Bransford, 1883 and 1884; John P. White, 1885; J. H. Yarbrough, 1886 and 1887; W. C. Dibrell, 1888; and William Morrow, 1889. Secretary: A. V. S. Lindsley, 1878 to 1888; Percy Kinnaird, 1883 and 1884. Treasurer: John P. White, 1879 to 1881. Secretary and Treasurer: H. B. Stubblefield, 1885 and 1886; W. T. Smith, 1887 and 1888; F. M. Morrow, 1889. Superintendent: D. Deaderick, 1882; J. T. Voss, 1883 and 1884; D. Deaderick, 1885 and 1886; T. R. Donahue, 1887 to 1889.

The Church and Spruce Street Railroad Company was incorporated May 25, 1866, Orville H. Ewing, A. J. Duncan, William T. Berry, R. T. Kirkpatrick, William H. Murfree, J. W. Paramore, James R. Willet, or any three of them, their associates and successors being named as the incorporators. The purpose of the company was to construct a street railroad along Church Street from where the post-office was then located to Spruce Street, and thence along Spruce Street and the Franklin turnpike to the first toll-gate on said turnpike. The capital stock was fixed at $100,000, the privilege being given to increase it to $300,000. The company was authorized to use either horse-power or steam, provided the dummy engines used should not give off either steam or smoke in such manner as to annoy persons or animals. R. C. Foster, 4th, was President of this company for some years after the re-organization, and was succeeded by S. L. Demoville in 1877 and 1878. J. Sax, H. Vaughn, and John P. White have since been Presidents of this company. F. W. Tealey and H. B. Stubblefield have been Secretaries; and S. R. Hardy, Superintendent of the company.

The Fatherland Street Railroad Company was incorporated March 7, 1881, the incorporators being William C. Dibrell, Andrew J. Caldwell, H. W. Buttorff, J. M. Sharpe, John S. Bransford, Andrew Allison, and Percy Kinnaird. They were authorized to construct a street railroad commencing at a point on the south-west corner of the public square near the intersection of the square and College Street, running thence along the south side of the square, across the suspension bridge, along Bridge Avenue to Woodland Street, along Second Street to Fatherland Street, along Fatherland Street across Tenth Street, and along the natural extension of Fatherland Street and ending at a point about five hundred feet beyond or north-east of the intersection of Fatherland and Tenth Streets. This company was also authorized to use horse-power or steam, but was required in the charter to use a tram rail only, of such description as to obviate the danger of injury to wheels or axles of vehicles. The first officers of the company were: J. S. Bransford, President; Percy Kinnaird, Secretary; George Dibrell, Treasurer; and J. T. Voss, Superintendent. J. P. White became President in 1885. Volney James became Treasurer in 1883, and H. B. Stubblefield in 1885. Percy Kinnaird became Secretary and Treasurer in 1884; and D. Deaderick, Superintendent in 1885.

The Line Street and Watkins Park Street Railroad Company was incorporated June 24, 1881. The incorporators were John P. White, H. B. Stubblefield, C. R. Handly, Robert Farquharson, and G. J. Stubblefield. The purpose of the company was to construct a street railroad from the west side of the public square to Cedar Street, along Cedar Street to Cherry Street, along Cherry Street to Line Street, along Line Street to the corporation line, and along the natural extension of Line Street to or near the stock-yards. The first Board of Directors was to consist of the five or more of the incorporators who should apply for and obtain the charter, and the same privileges as to horse-power or a dummy steam-engine was granted as in other cases. The officers of this company during 1881 and 1882 were: J. P. White, President; H. B. Stubblefield, Secretary and Treasurer; and D. Deaderick, Superintendent.
Besides these, other street railroad companies have been incorporated, and all consolidated into one, as narrated below. These were the Main Street and Gallatin Turnpike Street Railroad Company, the Main Street and Lischey Avenue Street Railroad Company, the Summer Street and West Nashville Street Railroad Company, and the Nashville and Fair Grounds Street Railroad Company.

The Nashville and Edgefield Street Railroad Company acquired the Nashville and North Edgefield street railroad, the Fatherland Street railroad, the Main Street and Gallatin Turnpike street railroad, and the Main Street and Lischey Avenue street railroad in 1889. The McGavock and Mount Vernon Street Railroad Company acquired the Line Street and Watkins Park street railroad, the Church and Spruce Street railroad, the Summer Street and West Nashville street railroad, and the Nashville and Fair Grounds street railroad.

The McGavock and Mount Vernon Horse Railroad Company introduced electricity upon its roads in February, 1888. They equipped what is called the Broadway or Vanderbilt line with six cars, which innovation proved so satisfactory that by 1889 they had equipped their entire system, about seventeen miles in length, including Broadway, Spruce, McNairy, Church and Cedar, Line, North Cherry, Jefferson, Monroe, and Buena Vista Streets.

In 1889 the City Electric Railway was incorporated, and constructed lines in the south-eastern part of the city on Front, Fillmore, South Market, and Peabody Streets, and Wharf Avenue, and built an extension to Mount Olivet and Mount Calvary cemeteries. The same year the South Nashville Street Railway Company converted its lines to electric railways, including Cherry and College Streets, Lindsley Avenue, University, Hazel, and Fain Streets. The electric lines were also extended over the street railways in Edgefield, or East Nashville, covering Woodland, Fatherland, Main Streets, and those in North Edgefield. The total length of electric street railway thus put in operation in Nashville is about fifty miles. The number of electric cars upon the entire system of street railways is now fifty-six, the electricity being developed by means of steam engines having an aggregate of fifteen hundred horse-power. Besides these, the company has twenty-two, tow cars.

The various separate street railway companies were consolidated February 26, 1890, and chartered under the name of the United Electric Railway. The capital stock of this organization is $1,000,000, and the officers are: T. W. Wrenne, President; Isaac T. Rhea, Vice-president; Frank M. Morrow, Secretary; and George W. Cunningham, Treasurer and General Manager. Toward the latter part of March, 1890, a system of transfer checks was put in operation, by means of which a passenger is enabled to ride from one side of the city to the other for one fare of five cents; which, together with the beauty, comfort, and rapidity of travel of the new electric cars, renders them of great use and popularity. There are few, if any, cities in the United States which, for their size, have a better street railway service than Nashville, and the value of real estate in the suburbs has been greatly enhanced by its perfection.

In addition to the above street railroad system there are two dummy railroad lines running out of Nashville. One is the Overland dummy line, running from the public square to Glendale Park, a distance of six miles, and the other from the north-east corner of the public square to West Nashville and Cherokee Park, a distance of about five miles.

Both were chartered in 1888, the capital stock of each is $100,000, each road is of the standard gauge, and is equipped with steel rails. Of the Overland Dummy Railroad Company Dr. William Morrow is President, Frank Morrow Treasurer, and S. C. Paine, Superintendent; and of the West Nashville Dummy Line Dr. William Morrow is President, and W. J. Freeman Treasurer.

 [source History of Nashville,Tenn., Published for H. W. Crew, Publishing House of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Barbee & Smith, Agents, Nashville, Tennessee. 1890]


  1. I remember growing up in Madison 40s/50s hearing older people talk about rideing the streetcars. I recall Leslie E. Jett when running for office in 1960 describeing his humble beginnings and his father being A streetcar conducter in the Charllote ave. area of West Nashville.
    Emory King.

  2. My daddy worked for Nashville City Transit in the 40's and 50's....I remember him talking about the trolley cars and how he directed them into the station...

  3. The Main Street & Lischey Avenue Street Car Line had, at least, one Baldwin Locomotive Works "Motor". Motor was a description used to define a steam locomotive that was covered to make it look like a street car - allegedly to keep from "scaring horses" It was numbered (2) and built 3/1888 and burned "coke" as a fuel

  4. Does anyone have a map of the old trolley stations in the 1920s?

  5. Does anyone know where to find a map of the locations of the old trolley stations, circa 1920?

    1. There was a transfer station downtown on the Public Square/ Third Ave. across from the market house, as shown on the map above. The street cars stopped, probably at most corners along the route, but I don't know of any other stations.

  6. Hi, my name is Rick Claxton. I want to thank you for this blog. My Great grandfather Howard was a Motorman in Nashville. I have a photo of him in front of the car he ran that says Belmont Heights. I'm looking for the company he worked for and possible routes he handled. Your blog has given me a good start! Thank you.

  7. Hi Rick. Metro Nashville Archives has an MTA Metro Transit Authority collection. There are photos, clippings, map, etc. You should contact them or go there if you are local. Phone number is 615-862-5880.

  8. I'm not local but my uncle is. I'll try to visit early next year. Thank you for the info.

  9. I rode the street car to town many times in the 40's and 50's. You could go to a movie,popcorn, etc. eat at the Krystal, and still have change from .50cts.
    Bob Moore

  10. I loved this blog. Thank you. I’m not native to Nashville but very interested in its history. I bought a lunch pail from a lady here who said it was her husbands who was a policeman in downtown. I’m assuming it was in the 50s or 60s. She told me at that time downtown along Broad was called Uptown and the policemen were called Walking Men because they patrolled on foot. I think she said he rode the streetcar to work and carried his lunch in the tin box I bought from her that day. Can anyone confirm the info she gave me? That old lunchbox means a lot to me and I’d love to know more. My email is janieg510@gmail. Com if anyone had time to write to me.

    1. The last street car ran in September 1941. I hope someone can answer your questions.

  11. Amazing. I had a great great uncle who was a streetcar operator before the war, lived through the entire war, then when he returned was hit and killed by a streetcar a day after he got back to Nashville.

  12. Two things: My great-grandfather was a streetcar operator in Nashville in the early part of the 20th century - I have his little coin changer he wore on his belt! I also have some pictures somewhere of a group of operators that he worked alongside.
    Also, there is a picture above of Robert Wray, who was a streetcar operator, did he go on to become a city bus driver?


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