At the end of 1863, the Detroit City Railway Company was operating four horsecar lines; Jefferson, Woodward, Gratiot and Michigan with all four lines converging at Woodward and Jefferson avenues. Because more of the population at the time was concentrated around the river, the Jefferson line soon became the company's main line, receiving the better equipment and provided the most frequent service. Although company officials were optimistic about the future of the company at the end of 1863, the first three years of operation were not profitable, forcing the owners in 1866 to lease all the company's routes to a George Hendrie and Thomas Cox, the former owners of an omnibus line, who were eventually able to stabilize the financial condition of the company. George Hendrie would later purchase the company and operate it until 1891.

Meanwhile, the Detroit City Railway had decided to forfeit its first-franchise rights to build along other streets. This now opened the door for other companies to seek franchise approval to build new lines within the city. The second company to be granted a streetcar franchise was the Fort Street and Elmwood Avenue Railway Company, which sought to build a new line along W. Fort Street. At 4 p.m., on Sept. 6, 1865, the Fort Street and Elmwood line began operations, and would become the first line to operate across the entire city from east to west. Upon its completion, the new 5-mile long line would operate from the city's western limits, just west of Porter Road (the present-day 24th St.), eastward along West Fort Street, through Michigan Grand Avenue (present-day Cadillac Square) to Randolph, then east along Croghan Street (present-day Monroe) to the Elmwood Cemetery at Elmwood Avenue. By 1866, the line had been extended westward into Springwells Township, via Fort Street, Clark, and the River Road (W. Jefferson), to the entrance of the Fort Wayne military reservation, near what later became Artillery Avenue (Livernois). In 1871, the company would be renamed the Fort Wayne and Elmwood Railway Company, and its streetcar line became the Fort Wayne and Elmwood line.

Soon, other routes would follow as other companies jumped on board, namely; Grand River (Grand River Street Railway,1868), Cass and Third (Central Market, Cass Avenue and Third Street Railway, 1873), Congress and Baker (Detroit and Grand Trunk Junction Street Railway, 1873), and Russell (Russell Street, St. Aubin and Detroit and Milwaukee Junction Street Railway, 1874). By 1874, six streetcar companies were operating nine car-lines within the city of Detroit. As the population continued to expand outward to the city limits, many of the routes were extended, such as Gratiot, to the Grand Trunk Railroad crossing along-side Dequindre Street, then later to Chene St; Grand River, from 7th Street to the Grand Trunk Depot at 17th Street; Michigan, from 12th Street to the city limits at 25th Street; and Woodward, to the Grand Trunk Depot, just south of what later became Baltimore Avenue.

Meanwhile, Detroit was quickly becoming a manufacturing boom town. After the construction of the Erie Canal in 1825 (a waterway that connected the eastern seaboard with the Great Lakes), settlers began to arrive in large numbers, most coming from the northeastern United States and Europe. From the time Michigan was granted statehood in 1837, the city's population more than doubled every ten years following 1840. By 1860, the city's narrow streets were becoming more and more congested, raising concerns that the city should begin seeking solutions to help move its people around town through the use of some form of public transportation. By that time, several major U.S. cities had already begun operating metal-wheeled cars (or carriages) that were pulled by horses along rails set into existing roadways. As a result, a number of the city's business leaders felt it was finally time for a similar type of service to operate here in Detroit.

In response, the Common Council of the City of Detroit passed an ordinance on Nov. 24, 1862, establishing the guidelines for obtaining a thirty-year franchise, with exclusive rights to build and operate streetcar lines within the city. The ordinance required the franchisee to construct and operate animal-powered cars on and through city streets such as Jefferson, Michigan and Woodward Avenues, Gratiot, Grand River and Fort Streets. It also included provisions that the cars not exceed six miles per hour, and prescribed the frequency (at least every 20 minutes) and hours of operation. It also stipulated a fare of five cents on each line and a franchise tax of $15 per car per year.

On Jan. 5, 1863, a $5,000 deposit was made to the city on behalf of a company backed by a group of investors based out of Syracuse, New York. On May 9, 1863, a thirty-year franchise was granted to a Cornelius S. Bushnell, et al., who organized the Detroit City Railway Company, which incorporated under that name on May 12, 1863.

Construction began on June 30, 1863, on Jefferson Avenue near Bates Street. The trackage was similar to that used on steam railroads and was laid within the middle of the street. The track rested on a two-inch bed of cinders, brought flush with the top of the rails to provide footing for the horses. The track gauge used was four feet seven inches. The first line to be constructed was along Jefferson Avenue, from the old Michigan Central Train Depot at Third Street (currently the location of Joe Louis Arena) eastward to the city limits at Mt. Elliott Avenue. The first two streetcars arrived from Troy, New York on July, 31, 1863, with city officials, a number of prominent citizens, and representatives of the press making that first trip over the line on August 1, 1863.

Shortly thereafter, the Detroit City Railway began operating service on other routes. On August 27, service would begin operating along Woodward Avenue, from Jefferson to Adams Avenue. By October, the service had been extended north to Alexandrine, near the vicinity of the original Harper Hospital. Gratiot Avenue service would soon follow on September 12, beginning at Woodward downtown, then via Monroe, Randolph and Gratiot to Russell. On Nov. 25, 1863, streetcar service would begin on Michigan Avenue, from Woodward downtown via Michigan Avenue to Chicago Road (Michigan Ave.) and Thompson Street (renamed 12th Street [today Rosa Parks Blvd.]).
[FOOTNOTE: Prior to 1867, Michigan Avenue was known as Chicago Road west of Eight Street]

The first horse-drawn cars to operate in Detroit were sixteen feet long, with low steps leading up to an open platform located at both ends. Entrance into the interior was through sliding doors leading to an interior finished in maple. Perimeter bench seating ran the car's entire length, with interior lighting being provided by oil lanterns. Since these cars provided no heat, straw had to be placed on the floor during the winter to help keep the passengers' feet warm. With increasing streetcar traffic along the streets of Detroit, the Common Council passed a resolution in August of 1864, which required each car to be equipped with a bell to warn pedestrians, after a man had been run down and bruised by an on-rushing streetcar. Although these horsecars were considered slow, even by that day's standards, the iron-rail right-of-way they rode upon provided a more smoother ride than the rough cobblestone or dirt roads used by the horse-drawn carriages and omnibuses of that day.

(1863 – 1890)
Horse-drawn rail-cars operated along the streets of Detroit for thirty years before the operation of the electric-powered
streetcar.  In the above photo, taken shortly before the arrival of the first electric cars, an enclosed horsecar can be seen
traveling east along Michigan Ave., passing Detroit's second City Hall, which opened in 1871 and was located on Woodward
between Michigan and Fort Street.  An open-air bench car also approaches heading south along Woodward Avenue.
(Photo source: courtesy of the Schramm Photo Collection)
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© 2006  (PAGE REVISED ON 06-04-10, 12-31-13 (addition 05-29-14))
The year was 1862. The American Civil War was already into its second year, as was the first term of the nation's 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. The U.S. Census conducted in 1860 ranked the city of Detroit as the nation's 18th largest city, with a population of 45,619 residents. The city's African-American population (today estimated to be nearly 82%) in 1860 was recorded at 1,402, which at that time was just 3% of the population.

During the 1860s, the city of Detroit covered a much smaller area than today. The city limits were roughly bounded by what today would be 25th Street on the west and Mt. Elliott Avenue on the east, while the northern boundaries followed the tracks of the Michigan Central and Grand Trunk Railroads, along with (and in the vicinity of) what today would be Milwaukee, Dubois, Leland, Elmwood and Gratiot streets. In total, the city's land area covered only 12.7 square miles. Even Detroit's famous island park, Belle Isle, was at the time still in the hands of private owners.

By the year 1926, Detroit's land area had reached 139.2
square miles, as depicted in the gray area in the above
map.  However, when horse-drawn streetcar service
began in 1863, the city's land area covered just 12.750
square miles — pictured above highlighted in white.
(click-on map for a more detailed version)
During the period of 1880 through 1890, a number of new horsecar lines were built.
One of the last horsecar lines to be constructed was the Chene Street line, built by
the Detroit City Railway in 1889.  The Chene line was also the last horsecar line to be
converted to electric power, on November 9, 1895.
(from D.S.R. photo files)
As Detroit's boundaries began to encompass the areas up to and around the vicinity of the developing Grand Boulevard, the streetcar companies tried to keep up by extending their lines into these new neighborhoods. However, the longer routes were becoming much more expensive to maintain using horses. Typically, a horse could only pull a streetcar for so many miles or hours on a given day, quite often requiring the need for ten horses per each horsecar. In addition, the housing, feeding and day-to-day care for each horse added to the expense. As a result, a cheaper and much faster alternative was desperately being sought to propel the cars. Meanwhile, experimentation would soon begin in the use of electricity, steam, and even storage batteries to power streetcars. But by the late-1880s, the street railway industry was turning its attention more toward the use of electric overhead power.

On Sept. 1, 1886, the first electric streetcars to begin operating within the city of Detroit began along Dix Avenue (now known as West Vernor), from 24th Street (where it connected with the Congress and Baker horsecar line) west to Livernois Avenue (which became the new western city limits in 1885). The line later continued westward into Springwells Township to Woodmere Cemetery. This new company, known as the Detroit Electric Railway Company, operated its cars by using an electrical system developed by a Detroit immigrant named Charles J. Van Depoele. The Van Depoele system, which utilized double overhead wires, was capable of pulling a train of up to three cars. Even though the system operated quite successfully across the country, it would meet opposition here in Detroit. Public fear, coupled with complaints over the objectionable rumbling noises and electric arching the system initially produced from its overhead connection, prompted the Detroit Common Council citing irregular service concerns to order the electric cars withdrawn in 1889. As a result, the city's first electric line had to be converted into a horsecar line. In 1892, the line would become part of the newly formed Detroit Suburban Railway Company, which was created by consolidating the area's suburban railway companies.

Around this same time, Detroit's second electric line began operations on Sept. 18, 1886, after Greenfield Township (along with the city of Detroit) granted a franchise to the Highland Park Railway Company. The route began at the six-mile-line marker within the then unincorporated village of Highland Park (just north of what is now Manchester), then traveled southward along the west side of Woodward Avenue through Greenfield Township; then across the Detroit border at Pallister Avenue to the Grand Trunk Railroad crossing just south of Baltimore Avenue in Detroit. There, passengers could make connections with the Woodward "horsecar" line. The Highland Park line initially operated utilizing a slotted third rail type system, but was later converted to an overhead trolley operation in 1889. The line later became part of the Detroit Suburban Railway Company in 1893.

Meanwhile, the technology in the use of overhead electric trolley operation would improve, and despite a reluctance by some, the use of electric power to propel streetcars in Detroit would prevail. On Aug. 22, 1892, the electric streetcars would finally begin on the city-based lines, with electric service beginning first along Jefferson Avenue. Conversion to electric power on other lines would eventually follow. The last of the horsecars would be removed in November of 1895. (see Part 2)

Although the novelty of the horse-drawn rail cars would lessen and become more of an established fact of life in the city, their usefulness was becoming more evident as ridership numbers continued to rise. In 1875, the Detroit City Railway Company alone carried 2,900,000 passengers on the four lines it operated within the city. Meanwhile, the years that followed would bring a number of improvements to the service, including faster headways, extended night service, new cars, and minor track and rolling stock improvements. Small coal stoves were also installed in the cars to provide heat. Interestingly, in 1879, the city council decided to grant the City Railway company a new thirty-year franchise, prior to the expiration of the old one. This soon-to-become controversial move would extend the Detroit City Railway franchise to 1909, instead of the original 1893 date. (see Part 2)

By 1880, the city's population had increased to 116,340, with Detroit now ranked as the nation's 17th largest city. The following years would again see the city's boarders expand, as portions of the surrounding townships were annexed to the city, increasing the city's land size to nearly 22.2 square miles. The 1880s would also usher in the launching of more franchise lines, along with the continued expansion of current routes. A number of smaller suburban lines were also built, making connections with city routes at the boarder. However, it was also during this period that a number of the smaller companies would find themselves being bought-out by the city's oldest and largest street railway company, the Detroit City Railway. Take-overs and buy-outs were so prevalent, that by 1892 only two city-based companies remained. (also see Part 2)

During the early years, the name of the line and company was painted along the sides of the car to identify the route the car
was assigned.  The two examples above show Detroit City Railway car #44
(left) assigned to the Woodward line, and Detroit
Citizens' Street Railway car #73
(right ) assigned to the Chene line.  This practice continued through the turn of the century.
(Photos courtesy of the Schramm Photo Collection)
See Part 2 for the beginning of the 30-Year War between City Hall and the Streetcar Companies.
The above article was compiled from information acquired from Detroit's Street Railways Vol.I (1863-1922) by Schramm/Henninig (Bulletin 117 CERA); A History of
The Detroit Street Railways by Graeme O'Geran; the Detroit Free Press publication: The Detroit Almanac 300 years of life in the Motor City; and other numerous
publications and online sources.
Car 81, seen here working the Congress and Baker Street line, typifies the
type of horse-drawn streetcars first used in 1863. The Detroit City Railway
took over this line from the Congress and Baker Street Railway in 1882.
(Photo source: from the D.S.R. photo files)
The unique website which takes a detailed look back at the History of Public Transportation in
and around the City of Detroit.
Although a few cobblestone streets and plank (wooden) roads could be found scattered around the city, most roads were either gravel or stone. With the passage of the General Plank Road Act of 1848 by the state legislature, many of the principal roadways radiating from Detroit were toll roads run by private companies chartered by the state. The upkeep of these roads were entirely the responsibility of the private companies as a means to improve road conditions statewide.

Meanwhile, public transportation in Detroit was minimal at best, consisting primarily of horse-powered cabs and buses that were used by hotels to connect with railroad depots and boat docks. Numerous attempts to operate a horse-drawn omnibus service along E. Jefferson and later along Woodward Avenue had been tried, with limited success, during the years following 1847. However, for the most part, foot-travel would continue as the primary means of transportation for most citizens at that time, since only the more wealthy could afford their own horse-drawn vehicle.

On Monday evening, Aug. 3, 1863, a historic event would occur that would forever impact the future of Detroit; as crowds of men, women and children gathered on Jefferson Avenue, between Woodward and Randolph, waiting with excited anticipation to climb aboard the four rail cars lined-up and ready to receive their first passengers. Free rides were offered that day to all, as the tiny horse-drawn cars bounced along Jefferson Avenue, from Randolph to Elmwood. The era of public transit in Detroit had just begun.

On August 4, regular service began with eight small horse-powered cars operating along Jefferson Avenue, initially providing service from the Michigan Central Train Depot at Third to Elmwood Avenue. On October 1, the service was extended to Mt. Elliott (the city's eastern limits). The fare was five cents or twenty-five tickets for a dollar.

Meanwhile, a major horse disease epidemic would strike Detroit on Oct. 25, 1872. As a result, no street railway service operated across the city for several days. The disadvantages of using horses was just beginning to become evident.

In addition to being rather slow, horses were susceptible to sicknesses, and the life expectancy of a streetcar horse was rather short. Having to contend with horse droppings along city streets was also a problem. In addition, the expanding Detroit boundaries would require a need for routes to be extended out, and horsepower would soon prove to be a hindrance to that cause.

For over thirty years, horse-drawn streetcars pulled passengers along Detroit's major roadways at a clippity-clop pace for five cents. The horsecars offered not speed, but comfort and safety. Instead of clattering along the stone and brick streets, metal wheels on steel rails set into the roadway transported riders with some form of relative calm. The streetcar made "all-weather" transportation a possibility for the first time along the city's mostly unpaved dirt roads. As streetcars became more dependable, they were credited with being major contributors to the development of the city's prosperity and instrumental in building up the outer portions of the city. This more than guaranteed that the clang! clang! clang! of the streetcar bell would continue on as part of Detroit's transit scene as the city entered the 1890s. Although major improvements in streetcar service would soon follow, big problems were on the horizon.
One of the last horsecar lines to operate in Detroit was the Myrtle line—originally launched in 1886 as a
branch off the Grand River line.  A horse-powered Myrtle car is seen here during the early 1890s while
traveling south along Woodward at Campus Martius, passing the original Detroit Opera House.
(Det News)
(Reformatted 12-31-13)
The third street railway company to begin operations in Detroit was the Grand River Street Railway, which operated between
1868 and 1891.  The company would also operate branch lines along Myrtle, Third, and Crawford (Hamilton) streets, and a
loop line along E. Fort and E. Congress streets.  Employees of the company pose in front of car #50 during the late 1880s.
(Photo image donated to website courtesy of Anthony J. Benedict)
During the early years of street railway operation in Detroit, most street railway lines converged
downtown at Woodward and Jefferson Avenues.  The above photo from the late-1880s shows
horse-drawn rail cars from various companies lined-up along Woodward, just south of Jefferson.
(Photo source: from the D.S.R. photo files)