Despite the optimism engendered by the arrival of the railroad, and
early successes at modernizing the city, Tucson's population actually
declined to 5,150 by 1890. During the early years of that decade it
remained stagnant, no doubt abetted by the national financial panic of
By the time the street railway was established in 1897 the optimism was
back. The 1900 census showed 7,007 people within the city limits, making
Tucson the largest city in Arizona territory which then had 122,931
residents. By 1901 the newspapers were proclaiming the greatest growth the
city had ever experienced. Most of that probably occurred prior to the
economic recession in 1907 but is reflected in the 1910 census population
figure of 13,193.
Tucson of a hundred years ago was glowingly described in a promotional
book on Southern Arizona entitled Treasure Land. It was published
in July of 1897 and contains a chapter on Tucson which gives a good
picture of the city the year the Tucson Street Railway was established.
It reported that 200 new buildings had been erected the previous year.
J. Knox Corbett could supply Portland cement at $9 per barrel of 400
pounds, bricks at $8 per 1000 laid in the wall, and lumber - Oregon pine
at $27.50 per 1000 feet and California pine at $25 per 1000 feet.
Beans were 3 to 4 cents a pound. Canned goods averaged around $1.50 per
dozen. Coffee was 35 cents a pound and eggs 20 to 35 cents a dozen. Flour
in 50 pound sacks averaged around $1.60, and rice was 8 cents a pound. Ham
averaged Twelve and one-half cents a pound, and fish from Guaymas or Los
Angeles about the same. Prime cuts of alfalfa-fed beef were 10 cents per
Tucson boasted a fine public school, the Indian industrial school, and
St. Joseph's Academy, the Catholic school. It had a pubic library which
had been started in 1886. Music for entertainment and special events was
provided by the Club Filarmonico Tucsonense, formed by Fred Ronstadt,
which performed Spanish and Mexican music, and the militia band. There
were five churches and five fraternal organizations for residents to
choose from. Mention was also made of the new Opera House.
There were two daily papers published in English and two weekly papers
published in Spanish. And, under construction and expected to open in
August, was the Natatorium. These public baths were essential for
cleanliness in the days before indoor plumbing in residences.
It was noted by City Engineer L. D. Chillson that Tucson had eighteen
miles of curbed sidewalks and well-graded streets. Tucson was said to be a
good bicycle town. A spin of 15 or 20 miles before breakfast was no
unusual performance, even for ladies. High grade wheels could be obtained
from Frank E. Russell and M. E. Sheldon. Their firm also sold electric and
gas fixtures. It goes on to say:
For those who could not afford a buggy or even a wheel, for a nickel
there was the new street car line. On May 15, the Star pointed out
that the students no longer had to walk, and four days later said:
"There is no excuse now why the people of Tucson can not visit the
university as the famous horse street car line is now completed."
Apparently the people did just that, especially on weekends and in the
evening. The paper of May 22 announced that Sunday "...two cars will
be run in the afternoon for the benefit of those desiring to take an
airing", and the following Tuesday noted that "The street car
line did a large business Sunday, people passing to and from the
university all day long".
The "big two horse car"
In early June it was announced that "The street railway company
will arrange to make special trips to the University grounds for evening
promenades. The idea is a good one and should be encouraged". Later
that summer, on July 19th, it was reported that "The streetcar
company now run their big two horse car every evening between 6 o'clock
and 10 o'clock p. m. It is delightful to take a ride as far as the
University and back".
One place the street car did not go was to Carrillo's Gardens located
on Main Street between Simpson and 17th Street. It reopened that summer to
large and enthusiastic crowds after major improvements costing $5000 to
$6000. To get there, one had to walk or take a carry-all, which cost
substantially more than the streetcar (25 cents for a round trip -
Arizona Daily Star 7/4/99).
On May 21, the schedule of the line was published in the Star.
There were 17 trips a day with headways averaging around 45 minutes. The
article promised that in a few days there would be 2 cars running and the
headway would be dropped to 30 minutes. Apparently the reason for not
doing it sooner was a shortage of animal power as an article the next day
stated that Hoff was "negotiating for some extra horses". It
also urged the public to "Please report any inattention of employes
(sic) to the undersigned. Telephone No. 84. Chas. F. Hoff, Manager".
The schedule showed times for cars running from the S. P. depot to the
University only. No mention was made of service on West Pennington.
Apparently it was not being provided since the line to the University had
started operating, because on July 26 the Star said: "Why
should not the street railway track on Pennington street be taken up if
not used." That prompted the company to reply two days later that in
a few days two cars would be run "...continuously between the
university and the city and the depot and the Orndorff House." The
Orndorff House was one of the city's leading hotels located on Pennington
at Main Street. It was owned by Charles DeGroff mentioned earlier as the
operator of the Orndorff Bus. The article went on to say: "The second
car is being fitted out with new set of wheels and axles, and will be the
best car in use." It is surmised that the used cars purchased by Hoff
were found to need considerable work before being fully serviceable.
The same article also quoted Manager Hoff as saying the company was
contemplating the extension of the line to two different residential areas
of the city. As it turned out, the realization of that goal was more than
four years away. Other dreams such as electrification or use of some
motive power other than animals were even further away despite statements
such as that in the May 16 Star: "If present plans are carried
out, a small motor engine will replace the weary horse and make transit
between the city and the university quick and pleasant."
Blurred image of photo taken on North
Stone Aven near the carbarn
Smaller improvements were within immediate reach. The May 14
Star reported that "The street car conductors will come out
today gaily attired in neat grey (sic) uniforms, with caps to match".
Four days later the paper said that they "look quite jaunty".
Another improvement reported in Citizen of the 14th, was the
provision of a "station or waiting room" at the University end
of the line. It was described as "The old car that was worked some
time ago". On the surface that statement sounds like it was an old
street car, formerly used in Tucson. The first thought of the authors was
that perhaps there was a previous, by then defunct, street car line from
which one of the cars was still around, and was acquired by the Tucson
Street Railway for this purpose. Then the story of the first accident was
discovered in which a street car was said to be "badly" damaged.
Thus the more likely explanation is that the car was damaged beyond use on
the line, but could be repaired enough to be used as a shelter. It is
known that it remained in place until after December 15, 1898 when the
Star complained that "The car used as a waiting room at the
university is sadly in need of repairs". However, by the time the
streetcar photo reproduced on p. 13 was taken in October of 1901, it
appears to be gone. In addition, the 1902 photo looking down Third street
from the campus does not show it.
The second recorded accident on the system, and the first with injuries
occurred the evening of August 16, 1898. A man "reposed on the street
car track" was run over. The press did not speculate as to why he was
lying on the tracks.
Perhaps the biggest news story of 1898 was the early Sunday morning,
September 18, fire which destroyed the Radulovich building on the
northeast corner of Stone and Congress.
The 1897 book Treasure Land, describes the erection of the
building in the late 1880's thus:
"Prior to the erection of the Radulovich block, there
was only one two-story business building in Tucson, and when it was
rumored that Mr. L. G. Radulovich intended to erect another at the far end
of town, his friends tried to persuade him that it was a wild speculation.
He carried out his intention, however, and has made money by it. He
occupies one of the stores with a large stock of china, glass and
shelf-hardware, displayed in the most tasteful manner."
At the time of the fire, the building was occupied by some of Tucson's
principal businesses, including W. F. Kitt, ladies furnishings, Mrs.
Beggs' millinery store, Zeigler's candy and ice cream parlor, Wells, Fargo
& Co. express office, and the Western Union telegraph company. The
fire apparently started upstairs in the corner office of dentist, Dr. F.
A. Odermatt. Other professional offices suffering damage were those of Dr.
Jones, and attorney Colonel Herring who had a library of 1800 books, said
to be the best in the Territory. The corner room on the ground floor,
until recently occupied by the Post Office was vacant.
The Radulovich building before the
Most significant for the story of the Tucson Street Railway were the
losses suffered by Charles F. Hoff. The central telephone exchange was in
the room next to Dr. Odermatt's office. The Citizen reported that:
"Everything was destroyed, including a lot of material and some
personal effects of Manager Hoff." As a result most of the city was
without telephone service for over three weeks. What "material
and...personal effects" might have related to the founding and
construction of the street railway is unknown. It is possible that the
original accounting journals were lost, as the ones surviving a century
later are dated in 1899 and appear to recreate fare income and other
records from the early days of the operation. The Star did report
specifically that: "The street car company lost safe registers,
harness and supplies valued at about $250."
The fire likely had much more enduring consequences for the street
railway than the loss of records and supplies. It, along with other
events, seems to have conspired to turn Hoff's attention from a close
supervision and promotion of the company needed to make it successful.
Besides having to reconstruct his business life after the fire, and get
the telephone exchange back in operation, he was at the same time engaged
in having a new home designed and constructed in preparation for his
marriage which was planned for the following January. In addition, he was
nominated as a candidate to the Territorial Legislature in October. His
attention was further diverted in the summer of 1899 to the construction
of a long distance telephone system. This project caused him to be out of
the city for extended periods traveling throughout the Territory.
Tucson Street Railway car #2 turns the
corner off Congress onto Stone
In January of 1899, M. P. Freeman resigned as President of the Tucson
Street Railway. Dr. N. H. Matas, a native of Spain, who was one of the
city's leading physicians, became President.
The first known charter was reported on January 21 when the Star
noted that: "A Raymond & Whitcomb party passing through yesterday
bought the street railway for an hour, and in that 60 minutes they saw the
Indian school and the university, besides other attractions of
interest". In April a group from Benson made a similar trip.
Two interesting stories can be told dating from about this time period.
The Arizona Daily Star, published in the morning, then as now, was
in the habit of reporting on the status of the Southern Pacific passenger
train from California with a one line statement. One day the Arizona Daily
Citizen criticized its competitor for never following up with a
report on what happened to the train. The editor wrote:
"No. 10 arrived on time. This information is published
for the benefit of the readers of the morning paper who are invariably
informed that 'No. 10 is on time subject to change', but are left in the
dark as to whether the train ever arrived. The S.P. has requested that the
Citizen furnish this information to relieve a patient public and let all
know that the trains of the company get to Tucson even though the time is
infrequently 'subject to change'. "
Three days later they continued the verbal criticism with a tongue in
cheek "No. Two on time out of the car barn.", and then concluded
their assault a week later with:
"No. 10 which was 'on time out of Yuma' according to
the morning paper, it will be noted with sorrow, was about an hour and a
quarter behind time at Tucson. Folks will rejoice that the train got out
of Yuma on time. There are many fast males who have failed to do this.
Folks are always solicitous about the safe exit of the train from that
point. It may jump the track or burn up or get wrecked anywhere this side
of Yuma but when the public is informed that it has passed that point a
great generous sigh of relief goes up. Whether it gets here on time or not
is a matter of minor importance."
The other story, reported in a 1924 newspaper article on Charles Hoff
is as follows:
"Many stories are told of experiences with his first
car line, but the one I have in mind now is, that originally the line used
to run east on Congress street to Fifth avenue, north on Fifth avenue to
Toole, and ended right in front of the depot. The company had just bought
a big fine American horse, that was full of life. He became frightened
just before he reached the depot and ran away. He ran over the end of the
track north of Toole avenue to Alameda street, west on Alameda street to
Stone avenue, where he pulled the car onto the track
Of course, runaways with horses pulling wagons happened frequently,
sometimes with disastrous consequences. They were usually reported in the
paper, although in this case, the likelihood of the car being pulled that
far without rails, and especially being rerailed is practically
Without Hoff actively at the helm, the street car line seems to have
floundered. It plodded along with equipment growing old and patronage
declining. Records of ridership in the accompanying table show a low being
reached in August of 1899 when on two days only one fare was collected all
day long, and on the 20th of the month no one rode at all! Total revenue
for the whole month was $14.60, not even enough to feed the animals.
Likely in response to the dropping revenues, service was reduced. On
October 6, 1899, it was reported that the timetable had been changed so
that cars left the depot on the even hour and the University on the half
hour. This was a reduction in service regardless of whether the promised
30 minute headway had ever been instituted.
But it got even worse. The following August the revenue for the month
amounted to only $12.90. This situation simply couldn't be allowed to
continue. Besides the bad revenue report an unknown accident occurred
which caused the Citizen of the 20th to report: "The recent
accident in the street railway has caused a change in its conduct.
Hereafter the drivers will be men instead of children as heretofore."