Down Memory Lane

The Original Galveston Trolley SystemThough tracks remain in the streets today, not many people know much about the old Galveston trolley system. The original ‘street railway’ started with one line in 1866 and was known as the Galveston Street Railway Company. The Railway Company, including cars and track, cost $33,000. The closed cars slowly made their way down Market Street — the first line of the new railway — on February 1, 1867. Mules were the source of locomotion.   

Flake’s Bulletin, Galveston’s newspaper, in the Feb. 3, 1867, edition reported in its own words, “The completion of the first City Railroad will, we hope inaugurate an era of municipal enterprise and general go aheaditveness that will speedily develop our resources and hasten the time when we shall become a great city. The city cars are running full, fuller, fullest; crammed, inside, outside, steps, platforms and all are alive with joyous juveniles.”  

“Street Railroads,” Evolution of the Street Car in Galveston from 1866,” recalls that riders of the original trolleys had to somewhat curb their exuberance. Inside each car was a sign that read, “Profane language, intoxicated persons, dogs and smoking in the cars or on the platform will not be permitted.”  Tickets were 12 for a dollar or 10 cents each, however it didn’t take long before some riders were complaining the cost was exorbitant. One rider voiced that the Galveston routes were shorter than any other railroad in the U.S. They were cheap to build, but the fare was double of what New Orleans charged to ride on their trolleys. The routes had grown from the original Market Street to Center Street to the beach, and later lines running east and west on Broadway came into being. The Galveston Street Railway Company later dropped the fare to 5 cents.  

The mule-power of the trolleys was slow, but generally reliable. The driver held a whip instead of a controller handle. Trolley riders needed patience to reach their destination. The mule followed the path in the center of the track without guidance from the driver. The whip got the mule going. No other enticements were used to keep the mule steadily plodding along. Stopping was accomplished by the driver applying the hand brake on the car. At the end of the line, the conductor unhitched the mule, led him to the other end of the car and re-hitched him. There is a story told of one particular mule that made three trips a day and then quit. His day was over no matter how much he was urged to keep working.
Pulling trolleys ruined a mule for any other type of work. Stopping was never accomplished by a pull on the reins. “Street Railroads” recalls that one could yell “whoa!” at them forever and they never heededThe mule-pulled Galveston trolleys were replaced by electric driven cars after 1900. Galveston trolleys have come a long way from the original trolley put into use in 1867.   Even though the trolleys are not running because of damage sustained by Hurricane Ike, money has been promised for rebuilding the system. It won’t be trolleys pulled by mules down Market Street, but wouldn’t it be nice if a mule pulled just one car…just so memories of Galveston’s past could live on into the next generations.   

More information about the history of the Galveston trolley cars can be found at the Rosenberg Library, 2310 Sealy Street, Galveston, TX 77550 or by calling 409-763-8854. 

Leave a Reply