History Between the Lines

Old-Dallas-streetcar1When the Dallas Streetcar opened for business last April, it seemed like a novelty, a brand-new concept for the city. But with the much-anticipated second phase to Bishop Arts District opening in a little over a week, it’s worth remembering that once upon a time, the streets of Dallas were lined with streetcar tracks. In fact, what is now the Bishop Arts District was built as a streetcar hub – an early forerunner of what we now call “transit-oriented development.”

The Dallas of the late 18th and early 19th centuries grew up around streetcar lines. Places like Bishop Arts were part of a national trend now dubbed “streetcar suburbs,” where neighborhood-oriented commercial facilities, such as grocery stores, bakeries, and drugstores clustered at regular intervals along the streetcar lines.

Beginning in 1872, streetcar service began booming in Dallas, with several operators vying for riders. There also was the fabled Interurban Railway, which provided passenger service to outlying towns such as Denison and Waco. For a fascinating look at the history of the Interurban, catch the Red Line up to Downtown Plano Station and check out the Interurban Railway Museum. It’s located in Haggard Park, right next to the station.

Streetcar use began dwindling after World War II, as the age of the auto took hold. Service was discontinued altogether in 1956 – not to be seen again until 2015, when the Dallas Streetcar began its run between Union Station and Dallas Methodist Medical Center. Stay tuned for the story behind the first streetcars in Dallas in more than a half century.

If you’re interested, an enterprising Google Maps user has created a map of all the streetcar lines that crisscrossed Dallas in the old days. We can’t vouch for its accuracy, but it’s interesting and thought-provoking.

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3 Responses to History Between the Lines

  1. Lee Owens says:

    “The Dallas of the late 18th and early 19th centuries grew up around streetcar lines.” I believe this should read “of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.” The 18th century was the 1700’s not the 1800’s. Common mistake.

  2. Lee Owens says:

    Also, “Service was discontinued altogether in 1956 – not to be seen again until 2015.” What about the M-Line. I know it is labelled a “trolley” but isn’t it the same streetcar design of the earlier period?

    • Linda Webb-Manon says:

      That’s a good point! As a “heritage streetcar system,” the M-Line Trolley was conceived in 1989 more or less as a tourist attraction. Founders Ed Landrum and Phil Cobb wanted to enliven the restaurant and entertainment district now called Uptown. The trolley was more a novelty than an everyday mode of transit, although that has certainly changed over the years. The M-Line is now going gangbusters, breaking all previous ridership numbers handily, and connecting deeper into the central business district. Cars are air-conditioned, and the fleet continues to grow. Hopes are high that in the future, the M-Line and Dallas Streetcar will connect, meaning you could ride a streetcar form Cityplace all the way to Oak Cliff.

      So your point is well-taken. In many ways, the M-Line may have paved the way for the Dallas Streetcar, and it would fair to say that streetcar service was discontinued from 1956 to 1989.

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