Remembering the Tram Period in Downtown Jacksonville – The Coastal

Before buses and long before the Skyway, streetcars were the heart of public transportation in the urban core of Jacksonville.

The very first Jacksonville tram line went into service in the mid-1880s, traveling up and down Main Street from downtown to Springfield. It was originally “powered” by mules that would pull the cars, but when the system was expanded it was mostly electric.

At the turn of the 20th century, several different tram companies emerged that resulted in a tram system that ran through downtown to various suburbs and stretched to Ortega in the west, San Jose in the south, and Panama Park in the north.

By the early 1910s, these various companies had merged into one giant, the Jacksonville Traction Company, and created a vast network that stretched for miles across the urban core and suburban communities. It was the most extensive tram network in the state. Tram travel was the most convenient way to get around the city, and the city’s tram system served millions of passengers. Many neighborhoods and business corridors have been developed around tram lines and train stations.

Photo via Florida State Archives

However, by the 1930s, the tram’s popularity began to wane – both in Jax and across the country. Bus and car rides took over, with both options usually being cheaper for commuters. And as the city expanded outward, expanding the tram lines became less practical than using buses. Parts of the system were gradually switched off and cars taken out of service until only a few were left in service.

In 1936 the Jacksonville Traction Company closed its streetcar operations. The company was bought by National City Lines, a conglomerate of oil and auto companies under the leadership of General Motors, which bought many other tram systems across the country to use for assets. The roads were gradually paved, hiding the railway lines that once ran through main roads.

In recent years, trams have made a comeback in North America. Cities like Boston and New Orleans that kept their original systems restored and expanded them. Others who didn’t have a tram system, like Tucson and Detroit, added them.

It is unlikely that trams will ever return to Jax. JTA is instead working on an autonomous system that may serve the same purpose a tram system would.

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