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Take a Ride Aboard the Trolleys of Southwest Minneapolis

On June 19, 1954, the last of the Twin Cities lemon-yellow streetcars rumbled into their station and marked the end of the era of streetcars in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the surrounding metro. The trolley was gone forever, with the city officials reassuring that the conversion to buses was a good thing for the city and its residents. Buses were heralded as providing more efficient transportation, being more adaptable to service needs than the streetcars. Having greater maneuverability in traffic and being more economically operated, the bus was toted as providing greater convenience than their noisy, yellow counterparts. With the conversion to buses, the city felt that its farewell to the partnership of tracks and trolley wires would be an aesthetic improvement upon the city.


The streetcars proudly served Minneapolis for nearly 75 years. President of the Minneapolis Streetcar Co., later to become Twin Cities Rapid Transit, Thomas Lowry, oversaw the early growth of the streetcar lines across Minneapolis and St. Paul. Lowry's vision for the streetcar system essentially gave way to land for zoning. Residential neighborhoods could be planned near parkland and lakes. Whereas businesses, factories, and manufacturers could be nearer to transportation centers by railway and along the Mississippi River. Residential neighborhoods and industrial centers would be connected by streetcar. Where streetcar track was laid, neighborhoods and businesses would follow.


Streetcar lines would adopt either the name of the road it traveled or a nearby landmark. Streetcars were known to bring neighborhoods and people of different ethnicities together to shared common spaces, unlike the interstates that were later constructed specifically to segregate neighborhoods and peoples. The streetcars of Minneapolis served citizens of all ages, occupations, genders, ethnicities and creeds.


Simply put, streetcars could get you anywhere in Minneapolis. On summer evenings, passengers could ride the Como-Harriet line to enjoy a concert at the Lake Harriet Pavilion. On gameday, fans rode the Nicollet or Lake Street line to watch the Minneapolis Millers play at Nicollet Park. Over crisp autumn weekends, ridership soared on the Bryant-Penn line as passengers traveled to Lynnhurst Park and Minnehaha Creek for picnics. Shoppers would travel the crosstown Lake Street line that served the commercial and business districts through south-central Minneapolis.


In its heyday, 41 distinct streetcar lines served all neighborhoods of Minneapolis. Several of these streetcar lines were dedicated to serving neighborhoods and residents of Southwest Minneapolis. Some lines, such as the Como-Harriet, were much more significant than others due to the places they served and the number of passengers that rode them. The relative significance of a streetcar line is attributed to the contextual history and photographs that remain of said lines. Some lines have thousands of photographs and witness accounts, whereas others were much less influential and therefore have little historical context remaining.


The sections below analyze all major streetcar lines that once served the many neighborhoods of Southwest Minneapolis in order of significance to the communities that called this slice of our city home.


1948 map of Southwest Minneapolis Streetcar Lines

The Como-Harriet Line


The stretch of track south of Lake Street on the Como-Harriet and Oak-Harriet lines may not have been the world's loveliest trolley ride. But on a warm summer day, it surely was a close contender for that honor. This line entered Southwest Minneapolis just past the Basilica of Saint Mary. The yellow trolleys passed through the iconically miserable bottleneck where Lyndale and Hennepin merge. With Loring Park's picturesque 36 acres of parkland to the east, and the Walker Art Center anchoring the western side of the avenues; there was little room for the onslaught of cars to maneuver past the streetcars at this converging of avenues.


Exiting the bottleneck traveling south, the trolleys climbed up Hennepin Avenue into the Lowry Hill neighborhood. Taking a commanding spot in the middle of Hennepin Avenue, the streetcars passed many business districts and brownstone apartments along the East Isles and Lowry Hill East neighborhoods.


The streetcars continued south down Hennepin entering the uptown business district at Lagoon & Hennepin. The St. Louis Park line connected to the Como-Harriet line at Lagoon & Hennepin up until its abandonment in 1938.


Hennepin & Lagoon, Uptown 1954. Note the Uptown Theater in the background

One block further south at Hennepin & Lake, the streetcar met another junction with the Selby-Lake interurban line that headed east all the way across the Mississippi River to downtown St. Paul. The Selby-Lake line also connected to the Bryant-Penn, Grand, and Nicollet lines in Southwest Minneapolis.


Heading south yet another block, the Como-Harriet line passed the old Dodge dealership (now Magers & Quinn Booksellers), made a jog to the west and exited the Uptown business district onto 31st Street. The streetcar line strolled down 31st Street for three blocks until the streetcar turned south through private right-of-way in the alley between Irving and James Avenue. The photo below depicts a streetcar exiting the alley-right-of-way, turning east onto 31st Street. The home in the background is still there to this day.


31st & Irving, Uptown 1954.

From 31st Street, the streetcar curved between alleys and gardens in the East Bde Maka Ska neighborhood, exiting the alley at 34th Street. From here, the Como-Harriet line topped a bluff on the east side of Bde Maka Ska (behind St. Mary's Greek Orthodox Church, you can still see the streetcar rails beneath the dirt and debris here), coming into full view of the lake at the 36th Street viaduct, stopping at the green lawns and gentle slopes of Lakewood Cemetery. The streetcar continued south passing along gracefully wooded areas of William Berry park at 45 miles per hour, buzzing by the once used Cottage City station underneath William Berry Parkway, and making an important stop at 42nd Street near the Lake Harriet Pavilion.


Lakewood Cemetery stop, approximately 1907.

The 42nd Street Station was specifically built for passengers visiting Lake Harriet and its pavilions. Designed by Harry Wild Jones (who also designed two of Lake Harriet's pavilions), the 42nd Street Station operated a dining room, candy store, and a jail cell in the basement for the Minneapolis Park Police. This station stood until the end of streetcar service in 1954. The depot operated by the Minnesota Streetcar Museum at this location now is a replica of the early 1900s depot that was replaced by the Harry Wild Jones structure in 1912.


As an aside, of the many buildings designed and constructed by Harry Wild Jones on the northwest shore of Lake Harriet, only the bathrooms built in 1892 remain. These structures can be found just to the north of the Lake Harriet Bandshell just off the Grand Rounds bike path.


42nd Street Station, 1948.

Heading south from Lake Harriet, The Como-Harriet streetcar climbed a small hill away from the lake turning west paralleling 44th Street. The streetcar made another stop beneath Linden Hills Boulevard where the present day Minnesota Streetcar Museum Car Barn is located.


The next major stop on the Como-Harriet line was in the heart of the Linden Hills business district between 43rd and 44th Street and Upton Avenue. Known as "The Loop", this section of track was endearingly named because the line once terminated here via a circular track in the early 1900s. By 1905, the streetcar was extended westward beyond Upton Avenue, the loop continued to be used as a turnaround here until its dismantling in 1939.


West of Upton Avenue, the Como-Harriet line had a dedicated right-of-way paralleled by 44th Street. This right-of-way merged with 44th Street at Beard Avenue near present day Turtle Bread Bakery and Café Ceres.


At the major intersection of 44th & France, there was a T-shaped intersection of track. From here, several of the Como-Harriet streetcars turned back around at another circular loop of track in the present-day parking lot of France 44 Wine & Spirits. Some streetcars went southbound on France Avenue through the T-intersection down to 54th & France to serve the Fulton neighborhood, and other streetcars continued through the T intersection into the Village of Morningside (now Edina).


The section of streetcar line down France Avenue was first opened in the mid 1920s, remaining in operation until 1952 when the line was closed due to neglected maintenance of the tracks.


50th & France, 1925.

In full, the Como-Harriet line operated a passenger service from the 1880s through 1954 when the city nixed the streetcars.


The Oak-Harriet Line


The Como-Harriet and Oak-Harriet lines shared many miles of track until they separated at 44th & Xerxes in the Linden Hills neighborhood. Here the Oak-Harriet line diverged south. This line headed south down Xerxes' hills until it reached 50th Street. The intersection at 50th & Xerxes has a small business district owing to the fact that this was a once heavily travelled streetcar junction.


At 50th Street, the Oak-Harriet line turned east towards Penn Avenue. Completed in 1913, This section of track was later met by the Bryant-Penn line which joined the 50th & Penn intersection in 1927.


Oak-Harriet streetcar at 50th Street and Penn Avenue, 1954.

The Bryant-Penn Line

Electrified in 1890, the Bryant-Penn line was successful in serving the prosperous middle-class neighborhoods of East Harriet, Lynnhurst, Kenny, and Armatage. First connecting downtown Minneapolis to 38th & Bryant, the line was quickly expanded further south. In 1892, the Bryant-Penn line terminated at 40th Street. By 1903, the Bryant-Penn line extended six blocks further south to 46th Street. In 1911, the line again was expanded to 50th & Bryant. Over the next several years, the line was eventually extended west along 50th to Penn Avenue. At 50th & Penn, the line made an L-turn down Penn to its terminus at 54th & Penn, serving the Armatage neighborhood. The small business districts at 50th & Penn as well as 54th & Penn are largely due to these intersections once being popular streetcar hubs.


Dismantled Bryant-Penn streetcar rails at W. 46th and Bryant, July 2022.

A concrete bridge dedicated for streetcar use was built across Minnehaha Creek at Bryant Avenue in 1931. This extension connected the Bryant-Penn line to the Kenny neighborhood, terminating at 56th & Bryant. This bridge no longer exists, however, a pedestrian bridge that paralleled the streetcar bridge remains as a connection between Lynnhurst and Kenny neighborhoods.


At the cost of roughly $60,000 per mile of laid track, the extension of the Bryant-Penn line was relatively a small price to pay for increased accessible transportation and urbanization of the East Harriet, Lynnhurst, Kenny, and Armatage neighborhoods. With the extension of the Bryant-Penn line came the development of many brownstone apartment buildings alongside Bryant Avenue and single family homes along surrounding blocks throughout the twentieth century.


As previously stated, development was not just reserved for housing, as businesses began to gain traction on larger streetcar intersections. 50th & Bryant was an intersection that saw modest business development in the late 1920s to early 1930s. One particular building of interest is the Herman Bachman (of the famed Bachman's Floral & Garden) building at 50th & Bryant. Erected in 1919, this two-story brick building once housed a drugstore and bakery.


The Nicollet Line


This line of Twin Cities Rapid Transit was one of the more heavily trafficked streetcars in Southwest Minneapolis. Operating from 1879 to 1954, the Nicollet line provided a constant stream of ridership service to Loring Park, Stevens Square, Whittier, Lyndale, Kingfield, Tangletown, and Windom neighborhoods. Several business districts popped up along Nicollet at major crossroads such as 26th, Lake, 38th, 43rd, 46th, 48th, 54th, and 58th streets. In addition to these nodes of business, many brownstone apartments were erected along Nicollet and surrounding streets as a result of the easily accessible yellow trolleys.


One of the busiest intersections in Southwest Minneapolis was at Lake & Nicollet. This transfer point was the main stop for Nicollet Park, home to the Minneapolis Millers baseball team from 1896 through 1954.


Trolleys lined outside Nicollet Park, approximately 1913.

The Nicollet line was one of the last streetcar lines to see an extension of its track. First reaching 50th & Nicollet by 1890, additions to the line were dormant until a 1911 extension over Nicollet hill and across Minnehaha Creek connected the Windom neighborhood to the streetcars at 54th & Nicollet. 17 years later in 1928, the Nicollet line again was extended four blocks further south to 58th & Nicollet. In 1947, just seven years before the closure of the streetcar service the Nicollet line was extended to the Richfield border at 62nd & Nicollet.


The Grand Avenue Extension


Operating from 1907 - 1952, the Grand Avenue line of streetcars was relatively a late arrival compared to the rest of the Twin Cities Rapid Transit operations. The construction of the Grand Avenue extension was an accommodation for residents in the Lyndale, Kingfield, and Tangletown neighborhoods between Lyndale and Nicollet Avenues. Prior to the construction of this line, passengers in these neighborhoods faced a long stroll to either the Bryant-Penn or the Nicollet line.


Immediately, there were operational problems with the Grand Avenue extension. Firstly, the Grand Avenue line cannibalized ridership for the nearby Nicollet line. Secondly, Grand Avenue is narrow, and in the winter months parked vehicles caused difficulty for the streetcars trying to pass by. The Grand Avenue line ended at 48th Street and Grand, where the streetcar made a wye-turn, heading back north up Grand.


Several business districts popped up along the Grand Avenue extension, including districts at 38th & Grand, 42nd & Grand, 46th & Grand, and at 48th & Grand.


The Kenwood Line


In operation from 1890 through 1938, the Kenwood line ran through Douglas Avenue, turning south at Oliver Avenue, then heading one block further south to its terminus at 21st & Penn. The neighborhoods to the north of Lake of the Isles were home to the most elite of Minneapolis, including the Twin Cities Rapid Transit president, Thomas Lowry. Many residents of the Kenwood neighborhood had automobiles, and did not typically ride the streetcar. However, their housekeepers, gardeners, and maids certainly did. By 1938, the Kenwood line was abandoned and a bus route took its place to serve the Lowry Hill and Kenwood neighborhoods.


Bryn-Mawr Line


First constructed in the 1880s as a horse-drawn omnibus, the line was later electrified offering limited service to the Bryn-Mawr neighborhood as the line was mostly single-track. Bryn-Mawr remained a relatively rural area of Minneapolis until the neighborhood began to fill in during the 1920s population boom. This line operated from 1880 until its abandonment in 1939. A new bus route was established to replace the streetcar line. The decision to replace the streetcar with a bus route was decided as the Bryn-Mawr line was connected to downtown Minneapolis via a long viaduct that spanned over the Great Northern Railway's Lyndale Yards. By the 1930s, the viaduct was in poor condition and deemed unsafe for passenger service.


Dupont Avenue Extension


The Dupont Avenue line existed for just a few short years between 1884 - 1887. Horse-drawn omnibuses used Lyndale Avenue south to 27th Street. From here, the line turned to go down Dupont Avenue between 27th and 45th Street. The Dupont extension to 45th Street on present-day Kings Highway was abandoned in 1887 as this area had not yet developed and there was relatively low ridership. The line along Lyndale was later electrified in the 1890s and new track was placed down Lyndale to 31st Street, turning at 31st to Bryant Avenue, creating the Bryant-Penn Line.


An End to the Age of Streetcars


Now I'm not the type to put on my tinfoil hat and believe in conspiracy theories, but bear with me here... Mix one part gangster business moguls, a dollop of General Motor Company and Firestone Tire lobbyists, a dash of a criminal attorney, and a sprinkle of corrupt Twin Cities Rapid Transit executives and Voila! You get the demise of trolley service in the Twin Cities.


The Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company was publicly traded stock, and several gangster racketeers invested in TCRT stock to the point where they became majority stakeholders of the company. These racketeers were assisted by a notorious criminal attorney who helped assist the gangsters in a hostile takeover of the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company.


Once in control, the corrupt leaders drastically cut funding to all areas of the TRCT business, closing several lines of service, and almost completely scrapped standard maintenance service to the lines. Lawsuits and a few indictments followed, but the writing was already on the wall for TCRT.


Preying on the crippling TRCT, enter stage left General Motors Company. General Motors supplied TCRT with an eye watering deal for over 500 new city buses to fill the void that the streetcars were leaving. General Motors, along with Firestone tires also created a subsidiary company with the purpose of purchasing ailing streetcar lines and converting the lines to paved roads for bus rapid transit. By 1952, buses began to replace several streetcar services. Two years later in 1954, the entirety of the streetcar service phased out in lieu of the new General Motors buses.


All of this collusion happened in plain sight of the media and citizens. However, TCRT's streetcar demise was not the sole responsibility of these corrupt executives. At the same time vehicle ownership was rapidly on the rise, and the suburbanization of the Twin Cities was in full swing. The already-declining revenue of TCRT resulted in outdated equipment, a lack of adequate maintenance, and incompetent leadership with a reluctance for change.


The fact is that Twin Cities Rapid Transit's monopoly on transportation in the Twin Cities weakened with the increased prominence of personal vehicles. The effects of a drastic drop in ridership resulted in a deficit to the company's coffers by the late 1940s. TCRT could have closed its lower-ridership lines, and kept its focus on improving service for its busiest service lines. But TCRT attempted to keep its sails aloft by servicing all of its 41 lines up until the hostile takeover, serving nearly 500 miles despite a tanking decline in ridership. The last streetcar serviced the Como-Harriet line in June, 1954. Ironically, citizens of Minneapolis and St. Paul loved their yellow trolleys, it's just that they weren't riding them.


Sources:


Diers, John W, and Aaron Isaacs. Twin Cities by Trolley. University of Minnesota Press, 2007.


Transportation Guide to the Twin Cities & Vicinity: Showing Street Car and Bus Routes. June 1, 1948, Twin Cities Rapid Transit. https://trolleyride.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/1948-TCRT-Bus-and-Streetcar-Lines-small.jpg


"City Trolleys Come to End of the Line" The Minneapolis Star, June 19, 1954, p. 9


Nelson, Edwin. Streetcar in Uptown, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 1954. Minnesota Streetcar Museum, collection.mndigital.org/catalog/msn:341 Accessed 15 July 2022.


Nelson, Edwin. Streetcar at 31st Street and Irving Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 1954. Minnesota Streetcar Museum, collection.mndigital.org/catalog/msn:2577 Accessed 15 July 2022.


Advertisement for Lake Harriet Pavilion, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 1888-07. Minnesota Streetcar Museum, collection.mndigital.org/catalog/msn:2381 Accessed 16 July 2022.


Entrance Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 1907?. Minnesota Streetcar Museum, collection.mndigital.org/catalog/msn:1218 Accessed 16 July 2022.


Streetcar on Harriet right of way at 42nd Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 1948-08. Minnesota Streetcar Museum, collection.mndigital.org/catalog/msn:2466 Accessed 16 July 2022.


"A 1950s Trip on the Como Harriet Line" Minnesota Streetcar Line, uploaded to YouTube, July 8, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcAxs1Sawag


Langdon, Vernon. Oak-Harriet streetcar at 50th Street and Penn Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 1954. Minnesota Streetcar Museum, collection.mndigital.org/catalog/msn:761 Accessed 17 July 2022.


Rakieten, Maxwell. "Bryant Ave Streetcar Line" History at Normandale, May 14, 2019, https://historyatnormandale.wordpress.com/2019/05/14/bryant-ave-streetcar-line/


"Bryant Avenue Streetcar Line" History at Normandale, December 20, 2018, https://historyatnormandale.wordpress.com/2018/12/20/bryant-avenue-streetcar-line/

Morse-Kahn, Deborah. "Lynnhursts 50th & Bryant: Once a Streetcar Corner" Southwest Journal, March 3, 2010, http://www.southwestjournal.com/news/2010/03/lynnhursts-50th-bryant-once-a-streetcar-corner/, Accessed 17 July, 2022.


After the game at Nicollet Park, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 1912 - 1915. Minnesota Streetcar Museum, collection.mndigital.org/catalog/msn:2735 Accessed 17 July 2022.

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