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Ann Arbor Yesterdays ~ From the Mailbox: Streetcars and Street Uses

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Ann Arbor Yesterdays

From the Mailbox: Streetcars and Street Uses

By Lela Duff

As I have told you before, one of the pleasantest features of conducting this column is the help I get through the mail, both from friends and from strangers. Today I am going to quote for you some passages from two letters, one from a witty friend of mine who insists on remaining anonymous; the other passed on to me by a city official after it had been lying in his files for years but written by a gentleman unknown to me who at the time of writing was in his 83rd year. Both might be classified in a “Do You Remember?” department and both recall former sights in our city streets.

“Do you remember the old car barns at the end of Lincoln,” my anonymous friend begins, “where the street cars turned around? We sure had a unique system in our town. The car stopped, the motorman climbed down the front steps and, with the necessary handles (I don’t know what else one would call the implements that hitched on to either end of the car and controlled it) reversed the trolley, then climbed into what had been the rear end of the car and we were off.

“Another feature of our street car system was that the only designations on the front of the cars were ‘North’ and ‘South,’ and a passenger who came in at the other end of the line—the M. C. depot—could reach his destination by boarding either car. That mystified a relative of mine from Chicago. 'What kind of a town is this?’ he asked. ‘Can’t it make up its mind where its street cars are going?' The explanation, of course, was that one car turned north and the other south when it reached State St. at William, both ending up at the car barns and taking the return trip in reverse. All one needed to do to reach his objective was just sit. And the whole ride cost only a nickel.

“The combination motorman-conductor,” the letter continues, “was often a real character. Probably the best known and liked was a man by the name of Jim Love. He was a hearty individual who greeted old patrons cheerfully, no matter what the weather, chatted, sometimes for the benefit of everyone in his car, and generously helped the infirm on or off, or passed packages out, and never failed to wish departing passengers a warm ‘Goodbye!’ ”

Another friend tells me that she and some companions were once riding home in the streetcar from a Halloween party, dressed in masquerade costumes, when a gang of students rushed across from near Hill Auditorium, lifted the car bodily off the tracks, dumped it on its side, and fled, leaving them to climb out the upturned windows.

Now for the other letter I told you of: The writer, Mr. J. E. Fischer, was brought up on a farm out W. Liberty Rd. The particular occasion recorded here, as you will see, took place in the year 1878—long before our complex motor traffic preempted the use of our thoroughfares.

“Nowadays,” he writes, “when marketable livestock is bought at the farms, it is loaded into a truck at the farm and taken to its destination in that way. In the earlier days, when I was a boy, the stockbuyer would come out to the farm, buy up the stock, and depend upon the farmer to make the delivery.

“I well remember one such instance when our folks brought some stock to the market, I being a party to it. One man would take the lead in front of the stock and another helper or two would bring up the rear. A rig would follow to take those on foot back home again after the delivery was made. We paraded right down through Main St. with our caravan. I remember in passing the Courthouse Square the present courthouse was in the course of construction.” (Our readers will understand that he is referring to the old brick courthouse that is now no more.) "They were then working on the dome which seemed to be completed up to about half of its final length. We paused for a few minutes to watch a dummy engine hoist a large square block-of stone that was fastened to the end of a cable up to that part of the unfinished dome. We then continued down N. Main St., over the Broadway bridge and east along the Huron River where there were then a number of slaughterhouses, where we corralled the animals into a pen.

“What fascinated me the most,” he continues, “was the big water-wheel that was driving the machinery in a flour mill that was then located just north of the Lower Town bridge. I tarried there for some time to watch it work.”

O blessed day of leisurely pace when a boy could saunter along and look his fill without even having to worry about his cows’ being butchered before they reached the slaughterhouse!”

Psychically enough, shortly after I received this letter, I had a phone call from Henry Wallace, who wanted to tell me that he remembered herds of cattle being driven down the full length of State St. when he was a boy, perhaps as late as 1920. When she saw them coming, his mother would quickly get the children into the house and close the door, not because she feared the cattle might injure them, although once an unruly creature did mount their front steps, but because she didn't want her little ones to hear the language of the drovers!

[image]:  This is one of Ann Arbor's streetcars which rolled through the city years ago. This picture was made in about 1900.