St. Louis Trains & Trolleys

“Trains & Trolleys: Railroads and Streetcars in St. Louis,” by Molly Butterworth, Reedy Press, St. Louis, 2021. This 218-page coffee table hardback is loaded with photos and stories of St. Louis railroads and streetcars. Butterworth is curator of the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis County. She features their collection as well as photos from the Missouri Historical Society and some from the Washington University Local History Archives.

The book begins with the early history of railroads. St. Louis had been a leader due to steamboats and western trails. Railroads were seen as the future. Missouri’s first senator Thomas Hart Benton was an advocate for a transcontinental railroad from Missouri. St. Louis lost the bid for the 1847 convention to Chicago. John O’Fallon, James H. Lucas, and Daniel D. Page incorporated the Pacific Railroad in 1849. A cholera epidemic and the downtown fire in 1849 delayed construction until July 4, 1851. On November 1, 1855, a temporary bridge over the Gasconade River collapsed under an excursion train carrying 600 dignitaries to Jefferson City killing 30.

The heart of the book is the chapter about the railroads serving St. Louis. The Iron Mountain Line, Missouri Pacific, the MKT, the North Missouri Railroad (which became the Wabash and now Norfolk Southern), the Frisco, the Burlington, the Cotton Belt, the Rock Island, the Illinois Terminal Railroad (which built McKinley Bridge), and the Terminal Railroad Association are covered. Eads Bridge and Union Station are included. The book features biographical sketches of key players: Sterling Price, Jay Gould, John C. Fremont, John W. Barringer, III, William Tecumseh Sherman, John Scullin, and James Eads. We also read of the impact of the Civil War on Missouri’s railroads, especially Price’s attack on Pilot Knob.

The story of the streetcars of St. Louis begins with the first omnibus in 1843. Street railroads with horse (or mule) cars began in 1859. Erastus Wells was a central figure. He lived in Wellston; Wellston is named for him. Cable cars were developed in San Francisco in 1873, and soon adopted by other cities. A stationary steam engine was used to pull the cable avoiding the problem of steam locomotives frightening the horses. And they were more economical and faster than horsecars. St. Louis had cable cars from 1886 to 1901, a total of six lines. Cable cars first brought the public to Forest Park.

Electric streetcars were developed in 1888. They were less costly than cable cars and better suited to turning corners. Most street railways were electrified by 1901. Streetcars prospered especially after the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Gradually automobiles became more numerous; the population was less dependent on public transportation. Butterworth describes the decline as the numerous streetcar lines were consolidated under United Traction Company around 1900, then taken over by St. Louis Public Service Co. in 1927, to become Bi-State in 1963. The transition to buses began after World War II. The last streetcar in St. Louis ran on the Hodiamont line May 21, 1966.

St. Louis builders of rail equipment began with Palm & Robertson who built locomotives in St. Louis from 1853 to 1858. The list of companies making rail or streetcars in St. Louis is long. Best known is American Car & Foundry (ACF) which traces its origins to St. Charles Car Co. It built its last passenger railcar in St. Charles in 1959, but freight car construction and leasing continued. The company was acquired by Greenbrier in 2019. Anheuser-Busch created St. Louis Refrigerator Car Co to make ice cooled railcars in 1878. They merged into Manufacturer’s Railway Co. in 1918. St. Louis Car Co. became the last company making streetcars in St. Louis in 1903 when they acquired Laclede Car. Others had been Brownell Car Co., acquired by American Car Co. (1900) which was acquired by JG Brill in 1902. SLCC was a builder of the popular PCC streetcar from 1936 to 1951. They also built cars for the Chicago L and the New York Subway. SLCC was acquired by General Steel Industries and closed in 1973.

A section covers railroad buildings: Union Station, the Missouri Pacific building, the Frisco building, Missouri Pacific and Frisco hospitals, Delmar Station, the old Union Depot, a grain elevator and a watchman’s “shanty.” Surprisingly, the Railway Exchange Building is omitted. A few trolley stations are shown including Eads Bridge Trolley Station and the Delmar Loop.

Modern remains get attention. Featured is the Katy Trail, created from the MKT railroad route across Missouri and right of way from Union Pacific. The trail is now 240 miles especially running through Missouri’s wine country. Ted Jones of Edward Jones Co. was the leading advocate. The 144 mile Rock Island trail, still under development is also described. Ameren acquired the Rock Island line for an alternate route to its Labadie power plant served by Union Pacific. In 2019 a Trail Use Agreement was signed to permit development.

The history of the Museum of Transport in St. Louis County is also given. St. Louis Railway Enthusiasts came together to save an antique mule drawn streetcar in 1946. Missouri Pacific Railroad donated five acres for the museum near two tunnels that had been by-passed. In the mid-1980s St. Louis Steam Train Association undertook restoration of Frisco 1522, a passenger locomotive built by Baldwin Locomotive works. The Wabash, Frisco & Pacific 12-in live steam railroad in Glencoe and the St. Louis Zoo Train, another 12-in line, are included.

Restored stations include Tuxedo Park in Webster Groves and Kirkwood station, Meramec Highlands in Kirkwood, and the Frisco Station in Webster used by the Big Bend Model Railroad Club. The Iron Spike Railroad Museum in Washington, MO gets photos including the arrival of a Frisco caboose. Also the Ferguson Wabash train station now restored, the ACF plant in St. Charles, now a Foundry Arts Center, and the Loop Trolley connecting University City with Forest Park. Delmar Station is now vacant but is owned by Washington University and preserved. Finally a photo of Wellston Loop Station, once a busy place, now in sad condition.

This is an extensive collection of photos with much details on the rail systems of St. Louis. Readers will find it informative. One concern is the lack of references. Some of the subjects have been covered in greater detail elsewhere. This book can only provide an overview. References would be a service to those who would like to know more. Extensive photos. Index.

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But for the Civil War, St. Louis might be the 2nd or 3rd largest city in the country. In 1860 it was quite a bit larger than Chicago, and was perfectly poised to be the major transit hub of the country, with the Mississippi River and major rail lines converging at that one point.

But moguls at he packing companies were afraid Missouri might join the Confederacy, or that their shipments would be vulnerable even if it didn’t (it didn’t, by an overwhelming vote in the Missouri legislature).

But rail traffic to the mid-west and west started flowing through Chicago, instead (also a great port city in its day) and once the stockyards and meat plants were built there was no turning back, even after the war ended.

St. Louis grew, unquestionably, but Chicago exploded, and remains one of the country’s most important cities to this day.

Yes, i agree that Missouri being a slave state and potential for Civil War made railroad investors nervous. And that made it easier for Chicago to become the major midwestern rail center.

Of course illinois state legislature blocking acess to eastern rail connection was unsportsman like conduct. And St Louis fought vigorously at every opportunity. Access to caoitals was a major limitation.