Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Street and Trolley Cars

Mahoning & Shenango Railway and Light car #314 in Youngstown, Public Domain. They are boarding downtown passengers headed to Idora Park.

Do you know that there was a time when Youngstown had streetcars, and later on trolley cars, much like buses, running on tires rather than rails, but powered from overhead wires? Actually, the last trolleys were retired in 1959, within my lifetime. I do not have a memory of these, but I can’t help but believe I saw them.

The earliest streetcars in Youngstown were horse-drawn, the first dating to 1875 traveling along rails laid between Jefferson Street in Brier Hill and E. Federal Street in downtown Youngstown. It was operated by the Youngstown Street Railroad Company. Fares were less than 6 cents a ride. Later, the same company inaugurated the first electric streetcars in 1891 with routes from Brier Hill to Haselton, out Elm Street to Broadway, and on Mahoning Avenue to Belle Vista.

Several other companies formed in the 1890’s extending lines to other parts of Youngstown and surrounding areas. The Mahoning Valley Railway Company extended lines through East Youngstown and Struthers in 1899, and Lowellville in 1900. The Youngstown & Southern Railway Company ran a route from downtown to Columbiana and Leetonia. The South Side was rapidly growing and The Youngstown Park & Falls Street Railway was franchised to provide service from downtown to Terminal Park (which became Idora Park), beginning service May 30, 1899. It rapidly became the most traveled route in the area.

In 1906, all these companies except Youngstown & Southern merged to form the Mahoning & Shenango Railway & Light Company. In 1920, it became the Penn-Ohio Electric System. In 1921, there were 59 miles of streetcar lines in Youngstown and going between Youngstown and Girard, Niles and Warren (Ohio), and New Castle and Sharon and there were connections to interurban railroads to Cleveland and west to Chicago and other major cities. This map reflects the routes at that time:

Youngstown Streetcar and Interurban Map. The Youngstown & Southern route is in brown.

The next year, 1922, marked the introduction of the trolley car by the Youngstown Municipal Railway Co. They were enclosed rather than open and had leather seats rather than wooden benches and ran on tires rather than rails, still powered by overhead electric lines. By 1923 the Williamson street car line was terminated, and more and more lines were abandoned during the Depression. By 1940, trolleys had replaced the last streetcar. In 1942, the old tracks were torn up and sold for scrap. But this was also the zenith of the growth of trolley car lines. Expansion slowed during the war and post-war years. Between 1957 and 1959 buses replaced trolleys and the last trolley run was on June 10, 1959. Reflecting the change, the company changed its name to the Youngstown Transit Company in 1957 until it became the publicly owned Western Reserve Transit Authority in 1971.

If you want to take a walk down memory lane or see what the old trolleys were like, the Mahoning Valley Historical Society has uploaded a great video to YouTube that also features 1950’s downtown Youngstown. Take a few minutes and enjoy!

One wonders if we’ll see a new version of electric trolleys or light rail used once more in public transportation as we shift from carbon-based fuels. The big thing that has changed is the rise of the car, and electric-powered cars are growing in popularity. The one thing that is clear is that there was once a robust interurban transportation network in the Mahoning Valley and in most of our nation’s towns and cities. I’m kind of sorry I more or less missed it.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

6 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Street and Trolley Cars

  1. ah, what memories! Thanx Bob. Born in ’51, I remember being fascinated by the sparks at the connections of the overhead wires to the busses, especially when the bus driver had to reconnect them with (I believe) a wooden pole.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the story and great visualization. My Gr. Uncle was a streetcar driver in Youngstown (early 1900’s) but sadly died in 1905. Also, my Gr. grandmother would take streetcars from the eastside out to Girard when that line opened.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My fondest memories with my mom was riding those busses downtown at Christmas time and shopping. I don’t remember the electric ones but I do remember the smell of carbon in an already saturated air from the steel mills. Bring the electric back. The air is so much healthier now then then. My favorite thing about NYC is their subway system is genius. ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  4. My uncle was a city bus driver for years. When I was a kid (about 8 or 9) I would spend a few days with my grandparents on The North Side. He would pick me up at the bus stop on Fairgreen Ave. I would ride with him to the end of the line (which was near North Side Pool if I remember correctly) and back. Pretty big deal in the 50s.

    Liked by 1 person

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