On January 1, 1889, the Rev. J. L. "Father" Parrish,
last survivor of Salem's missionary founders, seized a broadaxe
that had known the hand of Jason Lee, wound himself up and
hammered home the first spike for Salem's first streetcar
line. On April 16, 1868, Father Parrish had driven, in East
Portland, the first spike for the Oregon and California Railroad.
Streetcars for Salem were not a new thought. The City Directory
for 1871 states that a company had been incorporated for conveying
people from one part of the city to another with safety and
Seventeen years later on October 31, 1888, a number of prominent
Salem business men met in parlors of the Capitol National
Bank to discuss realistically proposals for building a streetcar
line in Salem. H. W. Cottle was named president, C. B. Moores,
secretary, and J. J. Shaw, Squire Farrar, and C. B. Moores,
committeemen, to prepare articles of incorporation. Capital
stock was authorized to the amount of $20,000 for building
a horse car line.
Oregon's legislative session convened in mid-January of 1889.
The state capitol under construction for nearly twenty years
was yet incomplete; a stately dome that would give the structure
distinction had not been built. Promoters of the horse car
line were disposed to believe that legislators, soon to arrive,
should be duly impressed by the Capitol City's progressiveness
in way of transportation from the depot to the capitol and
downtown streets. Then, surely, they would favor appropriations
for building a dome and completing the State House. (Construction
of the dome did not begin until 1892.)
November 3, 1888, saw articles of incorporation filed
and on November 5, stock books were opened. Within four days
an amount necessary for the company to organize had been pledged.
On November 8, t. H. Hubbard, J. H. Albert, C. B. Moores,
H. W. Cottle, and R. J. Hendricks were named directors. On
that same evening R. J. Hendricks was chosen president for
Salem Street Railway Company, t. H. Hubbard, vice-president,
C. B. Moores, secretary, and J. H. Albert, treasurer.
New officials authorized construction without delay. On November
22, a contract for building the carline was let to O'Connor,
Barr, and Horrigan. They agreed to build nearly 1½
miles of track and furnish all materials for $6,595. On December
27, two horse cars manufactured by Brownell and Wight, St.
Louis car founders and builders, arrived in Salem. Contractors
said, on December 28, that they were expecting railroad iron
in a day or two and then work would be pushed. Next, in a
more or less impromptu ceremony, elated citizens saw Father
Parrish spike the first rail to the first tie on January 1,
Came January 10, 1889, and construction crews working around
the clock were grading and placing track at State and Commercial
streets. Work however, had started in front of the State Insurance
Building, now the Star Exchange at 311 Commercial Street,
N.E. This was the downtown terminal for the horse car line.
The first regular trips over a half-mile of track started
during the afternoon of January 16, and reached the State
House. Delays in delivery of certain supplies retarded progress,
and regular trips to the Oregon & California depot, set
for January 26. Few incoming legislators remained to be impressed.
City ordinance No. 183 granted Salem Street Railway Company
a thirty-year franchise to operate on Center Street, Commercial
northward to the city limits, on State Street from Liberty
to Eighteenth, on Twelfth from State to the city limits, on
Winter from Court to the city limits and on State west of
Liberty. Fare was not to exceed five cents a person, and 15-minute
schedules were set from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and 20-minute intervals
from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Horse cars were double-ended, closed and broad gauge but mounted
on narrow gauge trucks. Seating capacity was sixteen passengers.
Each car bore a name that was its destination: Depot, State
House, and commercial Street. The total cost was $7,500. Two
additional summer cars were ordered on May 27, 1889.
Salem's horse car line reached the fairgrounds via Commercial
Street during the summer of 1889, and in the autumn of that
year an extension was laid up Center Street to the East School
(now the site of Safeway's store at Twelfth and Center streets.)
Hoover and mass transit
J. J. Tichenor, who lived at 2833 N.E. Flanders Street, Portland,
in 1950, informed this writer that he was the third driver
employed by Salem Street Railway Company. Henry "Frosty"
Price was the first and James Penland the second. Drivers
were paid $2 for a day that started at 6 a.m. and ended at
9 p.m. Each driver worked his horses in three-hour shifts
and, all in all, the animals got the breaks.
Each car was equipped with a built-in fare box into which
the passenger dropped his fare. Honesty of drivers was not
questioned: it was simply too much to expect a man handling
the lines, watching out for passengers and movement of the
car to accept or make change.
Tichenor recalled that Herbert Hoover, then a ward of his
uncle, Dr. Henry J. Minthorn, line official, never regularly
drove a horse car. Rather, he was engaged in office work to
earn money to finance his studies in mining engineering at
Stanford University. ("In 1889-91 Herbert Hoover, as
a young boy dressed in uniform, worked as a conductor on both
of these cars. Hoover's uncle, Dr. Henry J. Minthorn, was
President of the Oregon Land Company which owned the horse-drawn
streetcar line." Stations West, The Story of the Oregon
Railways. Culp. 1972. Editor's note: Included in this book
is a letter from Herbert Hoover attesting to the fact that
he worked as a streetcar conductor around 1889-91, editor.)
Twenty years ago this writer was directed to an old Salem
horse car in use as a chicken house at the rear of the W.
H. Burger residence, 1745 Chemeketa Street. Faded letters
identified it as the Commercial Streetcar. The coach measured
ten feet in length and six wide. A well-preserved sign admonished
A report published on January 3, 1890, states that the Salem
Street Railway Company was operating over five miles of track
(and) had five cars and seventeen head of horses. Between
eight and nine men were regularly employed. The total investment
amounted to $40,000.
A little more than a year after its inception, when Dr. Henry
J. Minthorn, president, was the Oregon Land Company principal
stockholder, the horse car line was in financial distress.
Generous financial assistance, ten more horses, and three
new cars were deemed essential to keep the line in operation.
Reorganization followed, giving the line a new name: Salem
Motor Railway Company. On August 6, 1892, the company was
allowed a thirty-day interval of suspension to complete electrification
of its system.
In 1897, the Salem Motor Railway Company passed to the Salem
Suburban Railway Company at a receiver's sale. But before
the line lost its identity, tracks had been extended into
Highland Addition where Dr. Minthorn was promoting a real
estate development and a polytechnic school.
Capital City Railway Company, the electric line that outmoded
and embarrassed the horse car system, was organized on November
19, 1889. Sponsors were Rev. P. S. Knight, David Simpson,
George W. Webb, Otto Krausse, W. T. Gray, M. C. Chamberlin,
and Louis Kuhn. Ordinance No. 188 granted the electric company
authority to build its lines on Liberty Street, Chemeketa,
State to the penitentiary, on eighteenth between Chemeketa
and State, on Capitol and on Court Street. The purpose of
this line, with a thirty-year franchise, was to bring property
in East Salem into closer contact with the downtown area.
An initial stock subscription amounted to $25,000, but the
amount was later increased to $50,000.
A power house provided with a steam and water-powered dynamo
was built on State Street near the site of the old oat meal
mill (at the junction with North Mill Creek). Later a car
barn was built nearby. (Editor's note: "This barn appears
as the Salem Light and Traction Company's Car House at the
Duck Inn site in the 1895 index to the Sanborn maps. It was
located on a half-block along the millrace east of the main
channel. Large concrete piers from this building were discovered
when excavating for the Duck Inn." From Marion County
History, Volume XV. P. 90, Lloyd Chapman. )
On May 27, 1890, a Capital Journal reporter was invited to
ride on an initial, shake-down run over about 2½ miles
of track extending up Chemeketa Street to Eighteenth, thence
to State and eastward to the penitentiary. He reported the
cars as moving off smoothly, a characteristic not associated
with the horse cars. A motor of 15-horsepower operated the
car at a rate of about twelve miles an hour. But when it came
to explaining just how electricity made the car run the reporter
A few days later the reporter was invited to ride the electric
car from downtown Salem to Rural Cemetery. He was gratified
the way the car walked right up Gaiety Hill with a full load
and then made the 1600-foot grade beyond with a rise of 60
feet, in two minutes. May 31, 1892, was excursion day for
the electric system with cars running from the penitentiary
to Rural Cemetery, a distance computed as five miles, for
a fare of three cents.
Expansion of the lines
Early in the 1890's Salem was embarrassed by an excess of
street rail transportation. The Motor Railway was laying track
up State Street and on grade as ordered by the Council. On
the lower end it was two feet above the street surface and
two feet below on the upper end. Capital City's new track,
being laid on the same street, was on actual grade. One track
was in the center of the street, the other on the north side.
Street car tracks had taken half of this important street
for their own use.
At best, the Capital Journal reported, this street was poor
enough when wagons could pick the easy part of it to travel
over. Now it was in horrible condition, to say the least.
Business interests and the good name of our city should demand
that State Street be made passable.
Extension of Capital City lines into various sections of the
city went on apace during early years of the Company's existence.
A Seventeenth Street extension to the Fairgrounds began operating
during June of 1891. Through service to the Fairgrounds via
this street was discontinued in 1894 with the terminal a Garden
Road (Market Street - Ed.). Then, in 1899, this extension
from Asylum Avenue to Garden Road was discontinued and operations
were not resumed until October 6, 1904.
A gold medal
On September 8, 1890, a Salem newspaper told of a new trailing
car under construction by Salem Iron Works for the electric
company. The Company offered the first woman who obtained
a seat in the new car on its first run a gold medal. John
g. Wright, Salem pioneer merchant, nudged shy, thirteen-year-old
Clara Churchill into making a run for it. She won the handsome
medal made by W. W. Martin, Salem's leading jeweler in 1890.
On November 29, 1897, F. R. Anson, receiver for the Salem
Electric Railway notified the public that the cars would leave
Willamette Hotel (now the Marion) for the Southern Pacific
depot via the State House, for the Insane Asylum with a transfer
to Garden Road available and to South Salem. Cars left the
Methodist Church on State Street for Morningside and the Fairgrounds.
Cars operated on twenty- and thirty-minute schedules.
A streetcar funeral
Davis Cooley, Salem nonagenarian now residing at 1175 Capitol
Street, told the writer that a funeral in the early 1890's
used a summer car on the Capital City line as a hearse. The
casket was placed crosswise on a seat and pallbearers accompanied
the casket to Rural Cemetery. From the car they carried the
casket uphill to the grave site.
The decline and end of streetcars
About this same time a young lady new in Salem wrote her dear
mama to say that the city's streetcars took people to the
Asylum, Penitentiary, and the Cemetery.
Depression times in the 1890's brought consolidations, receiverships,
and a labyrinth of litigation for Salem's streetcar systems.
After 1895 there was little or no extension of lines for a
decade to come. In 1900 about twelve miles were in operation.
In 1896, F. R. Anson and associates acquired control, if not
ownership of the city's rail transportation system. In 1903,
Joseph J. Henry of Denver had a controlling interest, in 1907
Portland General Electric company, and in 1912 Portland electric
Power Company. Last known owner was Southern Pacific.
In 1905 a contract was signed for construction of a carline
from the South Commercial Street terminal to Liberty. Service
was promised after January 1, 1906. Early in 1910, Portland,
Eugene & Eastern had extended their carline over six blocks
on Center and Summer streets. This line was projected to the
Fairgrounds but dead-ended in a field before reaching that
A newspaper story published on May 19, 1921 credits T. L.
Billingsley, superintendent of Salem's streetcar system, with
telling the Marion County Realtors' Association that "the
city's street railways have not paid in 30 years." He
went on to say that he had been associated with the city's
carlines since 1912 and that since that time the Company had
not received even operating expenses. He pointed out that
the investment in Salem's street rail transportation was $458,000
and that total loss to the operating company in 1920 was $43,000.
Street buses replaced carline service on the Seventeenth Street
extension on November 24, 1924. On July 29, 1927, Salem newspapers
told of busses operating on State Street. On August 4, 1927,
Superintendent Billingsley reported that there had been no
hitch at all in Salem's complete switch-over from streetcars
By Ben Maxwell, Compiled by Clarence Pugh
Marion County History, Volume XV, SESNA Development, Trolleys.
Salem's First Streetcar Line. Ben Maxwell