The foundations of public transit in Tucson
A streetcar line for Tucson was a long time coming-over 17 years. March
20, 1880 was one of the most significant dates in Tucson's history, for
on that day the first train arrived on the Southern Pacific Railroad, linking
Tucson to the outside world. This event assured Tucson's continued existence
and growth in a sparsely settled United States territory where many efforts
at settlement ended up as "ghost towns".
When the railroad arrived, Tucson was the largest settlement between
the West Coast and San Antonio with a population of 7,007. With the availability
of "eastern" building materials and techniques, it was gradually
transformed from a dusty, adobe "pueblo", to a modern U. S. city.
The railroad brought great civic pride and the feeling that Tucson ought
to have all the conveniences of other cities, so the citizens of Tucson
banded together to acquire them. The Sisters of St. Joseph opened St. Mary's
Hospital the year the railroad arrived. 1881 brought a system of street
naming and address numbering. The next year brought gas street lighting,
followed by electric lights in 1883. And in 1885, the territorial legislature
authorized the state university for Tucson.
Although not for lack of trying, one thing which eluded Tucson was a
street railway. There were no less than seven attempts before the establishment
of the Tucson Street Railway in 1897. The first attempt was launched four
days before the arrival of the railroad. After two further attempts in
1881, Tucson's civic leaders settled for public transportation in the form
of a herdic line.
The Tucson Land and Herdic Coach Company was formed and began scheduled
service through the city on November 16, 1881. Herdics were a form of omnibus.
Both were often called carry-alls. All were horsedrawn carriages characterized
by a rear entrance and longitudinal seats on either side of a center isle.
Service was provided on a loop south of the city center.
It is not known exactly how long a period the herdics made their trips
through the town, but it is likely that the cessation of regular service
is what led to the next attempt to build a street railway in 1891. Newspaper
research has failed to turn up any evidence that this attempt ever got
beyond the organizational stage.
Part of the problem was the lack of a significant traffic generator
at some distance from the city. Most cities which were successful in establishing
streetcar lines possessed some kind of a distant attraction. In Douglas
it was the smelters, in Bisbee and Warren it was the mines, in Prescott
it was Fort Whipple, and in Tucson it would be the University of Arizona.
Old Main, University of Arizona, 1897
Even though the legislature authorized a university for Tucson in 1885,
the first classes were not held until October 1, 1891. The university was
the stimulus for serious, permanent, public transportation. Initially, it
was provided by the University Hack Line and the Orndorff Passenger Work,
later called the Orndorff Bus. In fact, the Orndorff Bus continued to
operate after the establishment of the streetcar line and is known to have
been serving the public as late as September 1901.
By 1895, the University of Arizona and the city had grown enough that
additional attempts were made to establish a car line, although the first
of these did not envision serving the University. In March of that year
the City council granted a franchise to John M. Ormsby and Associates.
They proposed a line on West Pennington and East Congress. The Arizona
Daily Star hailed the effort by stating: "With a street railway,
Tucson will look as if she was alive."
By the end of the month it was reported that more than half the stock
had been subscribed to, and by May 11 that "all but 25 of the shares
of the street railway stock have been taken". Those last 25 shares
must have been impossible to sell, as that is the last reference to the
Ormsby effort. On January 25, 1896 the Weekly Citizen reported:
project is being agitated of building a street railroad from town to the
university." The proposed route was to begin at the Post Office which
at that time was near Main and Congress, proceed up Congress to Sixth
Avenue, north on Sixth Avenue "...to the street leading to the Indian
School, and thence to the Indian School and the University." This
latter street could have been either Fifth Street or Third Street (now
University Blvd.). This route was only then becoming possible as a bridge
was just being constructed on Sixth Avenue over the arroyo north of the
Thought to be William D. Ganzhorn's surrey
In early February, Miss Lulu May Nelson purchased 105 acres of land
adjoining the university. The Citizen announced her intention to
a splendid residence addition to the city", and "To build a car
line from the city to the property". The proposed subdivision, including
the route of the streetcar, was laid out and recorded late that year. In
the meantime in mid March the Weekly Citizen reported that Mr. Charles
F. Hoff left for San Francisco "...to investigate matters relative
to obtaining streetcars...in case he and others should be granted a franchise
to operate a car line..." On April 6 the City Council granted the
franchise to Miss Nelson. It required that the first line be started within
One would assume that no construction ever took place as yet another
franchise was granted on October 2 to William P. Woods and Associates.
This time the newspaper reported that "...all the money required for
the building of the portion of the line in immediate contemplation is now
available. Work on the line to the university will begin very shortly."
Again the media was overly optimistic as no record of any construction
can be found.
This tie from the Tucson Street Railway is well-worn by the hooves
of the equine team which drew the streetcar. It was saved by Joe Whallen
who worked as a mechanic for Tucson Rapid Transit from 1928 to 1946. The
tie was photographed when the author interviewed him in 1974.
Continue with Chapter III The Line At Last!