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Streetcar Suburbs, 1888 to 1928 [†]


Lexington NC Historic District
Photo: City of York, York County Pennsylvania — Northwest York Historic District.

Late 19th & early 20th century Streetcar Suburbs.
  1. 9th Street West Historic District, Huntington City, WV
  2. Ashland Place Historic District, Mobile City, AL
  3. Avondale East Historic District, Houston City, TX
  4. Avondale West Historic District, Houston City, TX
  5. Ballentine Place Historic District, Norfolk City, VA
  6. Barton Heights, Richmond City, VA
  7. Bitting Historic District, Wichita City, KS
  8. Bloomsbury Historic District, Raleigh City, NC
  9. Breezedale Historic District, Lawrence City, KS
  10. Broad Avenue Historic District, Altoona City, PA
  11. Cameron Park, Raleigh City, NC
  12. Carolina Heights Historic District, Wilmington City, NC
  13. Carolina Place Historic District, Wilmington City, NC
  14. Chestnut Hill-Plateau Historic District, Richmond City, VA
  15. Cleveland Park Historic District, City of Washington, DC
  16. Colonial Place Historic District, Norfolk City, VA
  17. Dilworth Historic District, Charlotte City, NC
  18. Elizabeth Historic District, Charlotte City, NC
  19. Ellis Street Graded School Historic District, Salisbury City, NC
  20. First Montrose Commons Historic District, Houston City, TX
  21. Forest Park Southeast District, St Louis City, MO
  22. Fulton Heights Historic District, Salisbury City, NC
  23. Garvan-Carroll Historic District, East Hartford Town, CT
  24. Ginter Park Terrace, Richmond City, VA
  25. Grandview Terrace Boulevard Historic District, Hartford City, CT
  26. Harvard-Belmont Historic District, Seattle City, WA
  27. Hermitage Road Historic District, Richmond City, VA
  28. Highland Park, Montgomery City, AL
  29. Highland Park Plaza Historic District, Richmond City, VA
  30. Hilltop Historic District, Lafayette City, IN
  31. Jefferson Street-Fountain Avenue Residential District, Paducah City, KY
  32. Laburnum Park Historic District, Richmond City, VA
  33. Lafayette Residence Park Historic District, Norfolk City, VA
  34. Lakewood Park Historic District, Durham City, NC
  35. Leinkauf Historic District, Mobile City, AL
  36. Livingston Manor Historic District, Highland Park Boro, NJ
  37. Llyswen, Altoona City, PA
  38. Myers Park Historic District, Charlotte City, NC
  39. North University Park Historic District, Los Angeles City, CA
  40. Northwest York Historic District, York City, PA
  41. Norwood Boulevard Historic District, Birmingham City, AL
  42. Oaklette Historic District, Chesapeake City, VA
  43. Owen Park Historic District, Tulsa City, OK
  44. Proximity Park Historic District, Asheville City, NC
  45. Quaker Hill Historic District, Waterford Town, CT
  46. Roosevelt Neighborhood, Phoenix City, AZ
  47. School Lane Hills Historic District, Lancaster Twp, PA
  48. South Norfolk Historic District, Chesapeake City, VA
  49. Springdale Historic District, York City, PA
  50. Sunnyside-Central Terrace Historic District, Winston-Salem City, NC
  51. Sunset Park Historic District, Wilmington City, NC
  52. Tiffany Neighborhood District, St Louis City, MO
  53. Upper Albany Historic District, Hartford City, CT
  54. Washington Park Historic District, Winston-Salem City, NC
  55. Waughtown-Belview Historic District, Winston-Salem City, NC
  56. West End, Providence City, RI
  57. West End Historic District, Winston-Salem City, NC
  58. West Raleigh Historic District, Raleigh City, NC
  59. Westbrook-Ardmore Historic District, Wilmington City, NC
  60. Westmoreland Place Historic District, Salt Lake City, UT
  61. Winona Historic District, Norfolk City, VA
See Also


The introduction of the first electric-powered streetcar system in Richmond, Virginia, in 1887 by Frank J. Sprague ushered in a new period of suburbanization. The electric streetcar, or trolley, allowed people to travel in 10 minutes as far they could walk in 30 minutes. It was quickly adopted in cities from Boston to Los Angeles. By 1902, 22,000 miles of streetcar tracks served American cities; from 1890 to 1907, this distance increased from 5,783 to 34,404 miles.[1]

By 1890, streetcar lines began to foster a tremendous expansion of suburban growth in cities of all sizes. In older cities, electric streetcars quickly replaced horse-drawn cars, making it possible to extend transportation lines outward and greatly expanding the availability of land for residential development. Growth occurred first in outlying rural villages that were now interconnected by streetcar lines, and, second, along the new residential corridors created along the streetcar routes.

In cities of the Midwest and West, such as Indianapolis and Des Moines, streetcar lines formed the skeleton of the emerging metropolis and influenced the initial pattern of suburban development.[2] Socio-economically, streetcar suburbs attracted a wide range of people from the working to upper-middle class, with the great majority being middle class. By keeping fares low in cost and offering a flat fare with free transfers, streetcar operators encouraged households to move to the suburban periphery, where the cost of land and a new home was cheaper. In many places, especially the Midwest and West, the streetcar became the primary means of transportation for all income groups.[3]

As streetcar systems evolved, cross-town lines made it possible to travel from one suburban center to another, and interurban lines connected outlying towns to the central city and to each other. Between the late 1880s and World War I, a number of industrial suburbs appeared outside major cities, including Gary, "Indiana, outside Chicago, and Homestead and Vandergrift, both outside Pittsburgh.[4]

Concentrated along radial streetcar lines, streetcar suburbs extended outward from the city, sometimes giving the growing metropolitan area a star shape. Unlike railroad suburbs which grew in nodes around rail stations, streetcar suburbs formed continuous corridors. Because the streetcar made numerous stops spaced at short intervals, developers platted rectilinear subdivisions where homes, generally on small lots, were built within a five- or 10-minute walk of the streetcar line. Often the streets were extensions of the gridiron that characterized the plan of the older city.

Neighborhood oriented commercial facilities, such as grocery stores, bakeries, and drugstores, clustered at the intersections of streetcar lines or along the more heavily traveled routes. Multiple story apartment houses also appeared at these locations, designed either to front directly on the street or to form a u-shaped enclosure around a recessed entrance court and garden.

In many places the development of real estate closely followed the introduction of streetcar lines, sometimes being financed by a single operator or developer. East of Cleveland, Ohio, the community of Shaker Village took form after 1904 when O. P. and M. J. van Sweringen set out to create a residential community for middle- and upper-income families. To ensure the fastest and most direct service for home owners they eventually purchased a right-of-way and installed a high-speed electric streetcar to downtown Cleveland. By 1911, the community of Shaker Village was incorporated, establishing a system of local government that would ensure the community's development as a residential suburb for decades to come.[5]

Streetcar use continued to increase until 1923 when patronage reached 15.7 billion and thereafter slowly declined. There was no distinct break between streetcar and automobile use from 1910 to 1930. As cities continued to grow and the demand for transportation increased, the automobile was adopted by increasing numbers of upper-middle to upper-income households, while streetcars continued to serve the middle and working class population. Streetcar companies, however, in the 1920s remained confident about their industry's future. By the 1930s, many became mass transit companies, adding buses and trackless trolleys to their fleets to make their routes more flexible. In a few cities — Boston, Chicago, New York, and Detroit — mass transit included elevated trains and subways.[6]

By the 1940s, streetcar ridership had dropped precipitously. The vast increase in automobile ownership and decentralization of industry to locations outside the central city after World War II brought an end to the role of the streetcar as a determinant of American urban form.

Endnotes

  1. Paul L. Knox, Urbanization (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1994), 89; Joel A. Tarr and Josef W. Konvitz, "Patterns in the Development of Urban Infrastructure," in American Urbanism, ed. Howard Gillette Jr. and Zane L. Miller (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1987), 204.
  2. Jackson, 118-120. See also Sam Bass Warner Jr., Streetcar Suburbs (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962); Paul H. Mattingly, Suburban Landscapes (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001).
  3. Jackson, 119.
  4. Foster, 16.
  5. See Stilgoe, 239-51; Eric Johannesen, et.al, Shaker Square and Shaker Village H.D. NRHP Nominations, Ohio SHPO, July 1, 1976, and May 31, 1984, and Boundary Increases, December 9, 1983, and January 5, 2001.
  6. Foster, 49, 52.

National Register of Historic Places, Historic Residential Suburbs in the United States 1830-1960, National Park Service, Washington D.C., 2002

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The Gombach Group • Morrisville, PA • 215-295-6555