The following story, “The Interurban-Its Boom and Bust”, was presented by Jack F. Stark for the Fort Wayne Quest Club on February 17, 1984. Members of Fort Wayne’s Quest Club gave many witty, informative and colorful lectures between the years 1945-1994 that covered a variety of topics all of which are pertinent parts of Fort Wayne’s history. Sixteen of these lectures were later selected by the club and compiled into a book, “The Quest for Fort Wayne,” published in 1994; an Anthology of Papers about Fort Wayne.
The late Jack F. Stark served on many local boards of directors including the Fort Wayne Mental Health Association. If you say “antimacassar” instead of “chair doilly”; if you can correctly identify many of the items in the reliquary of the Fort Wayne Historical Museum; if some of the old cars at the Auburn Cord-Dusenberg Museum don’t look all that old, and if you are at an age when nothing works and everything hurts, you will remember the interurban. To people younger than fifty-years of age, however, the interurban, the electrified masterpiece of inexpensive, dependable and quiet transportation is as ancient and archaic as the surrey with the fringe on top, the stagecoach and the Wells Fargo wagon.
By today’s standards, the interurban had one of the shortest life spans of any form of so-called modern transportation. It was conceived, went through an unprecedented metamorphosis and met an untimely demise within a fifty-year period starting in the last decade of the 19th century. Yet it had a phenomenal and lasting impact on Fort Wayne’s society and the growth and development of our state.
The genesis of the interurban was the street railway system. Capitalizing on the proven principle of reduced friction with steel wheels rolling on steel rails, entrepreneurs in the late nineteenth century started constructing transit systems using horse or mule-drawn rail cars. These systems provided practical, economical transportation over the unpaved streets and were a welcome innovation. Although by no means the first city to get into the act, Fort Wayne had such a system, the Citizen’s Street Railroad, founded in 1871 by John Bass, Samuel Hanna, Stephen Bond and A.E. Bursley.
As in any new business venture there were problems, many of which were caused by the type and motive of power. Mules were cantankerous; and horses could only be worked four or five hours a day but had to be cared for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Draft animals were expensive too: a good horse cost between $125 and $200, they consumed over thirty pounds of hay and grain each day, whether or not they were worked and they produced huge piles of manure that caused a pollution problem.
The average tour of duty for the horses was about five years if they could be kept healthy, which wasn’t easy. In 1872 a wide spread epidemic of horse-influenza struck stables everywhere. It was euphemistically called the “Great Epizootic” and it took its toll here in Fort Wayne. The terrible loss of horse-power was one of the contributing factors that eventually forced the “Citizens Street Railroad Company” (CSRC) into receivership in 1873.
Assets of the CSRC were sold in 1887 “at the courthouse door” to John Bass, Steven Bond and Frank DeHaas Robinson who reorganized the company as the Fort Wayne Street Railroad. During the same year, another well-known Fort Wayne citizen, C.L. Centlivre, also entered the street railroad business. To be continued.
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