Horse-Drawn Streetcars Once Plied Our Streets

William Gardiner Transportation Collection     This building stood at Atlantic Avenue and Webster Street. It served first as a carbarn and stables for Theodor Meetz’ horse-car lines and later as a power station when the lines were converted to electic-powered streetcars, like the one pictured.
William Gardiner Transportation Collection

Horse-Drawn Streetcars Once Plied Our Streets

Part one in a series

Mid-19th-century Alamedans did not have a convenient way to travel to Oakland. This was especially true for West Enders who had to travel — oftentimes walk— across the peninsula to catch J. P. Potter’s omnibus that ran from Park Street to Oakland.

That all changed on June 2, 1869, when the Oakland and Encinal Turnpike & Ferry Company began carrying passengers on a small ferry from the foot of Franklin Street in Oakland to what became the foot of the Webster Street Bridge in Alameda. They built a turnpike, likely of wood, across the marsh to Euclid Street

The Webster Street Bridge opened in March 1871, eliminating the need for the ferry. The following year, the City of Alameda paved the turnpike from the foot of the bridge, across the marsh to Euclid Street and Central Avenue. (In 1877, the city renamed Euclid Street to Webster Street to match the Oakland street and bridge names.)

The Oakland & Alameda Railroad hoped to make Oakland accessible to everyone in Alameda. They incorporated on Sept. 11, 1872. Just three weeks later on Oct. 1, H. F. Shepardson, Louis Fassking and Thaddeus F. Fitch formed the Oakland & Piedmont Railroad. These railroads hired Theodore Meetz to act as general manager.

They planned to build horse-car lines through Alameda, across the Webster Street Bridge and into the Oakland hills. Their $25,000 capitalization proved insufficient to accom¬plish this. On Feb. 7, 1873, they merged and formed the Alameda, Oakland & Piedmont (AO&P) Railroad. Their new capitalization of $100,000 also proved insufficient for their grandiose plans.

Alameda’s horse-car lines began to take shape on Feb. 20, 1875, when Meetz took control of AO&P and obtained a franchise to operate a line that focused on the East End.

His horse-drawn cars carried passengers by rail along Park Street from the Central Pacific Rail Road station (at the site of today’s Oil Changers where Tilden Way meets Park Street). The line traveled south on Park Street to Central Avenue, then east on Central to High Street and north on High to the city limits near today’s Fernside Boulevard.

Five weeks later, on April 2, 1875, Meetz began operating a second horse-car line. This one served the West End. Horses pulled the cars 11 times a day from the Central Pacific Railroad station at Seventh Street and Broadway in Oakland across the Webster Street Bridge to Santa Clara Avenue.

The line turned east on Santa Clara to Fassking’s Gardens at Grand Street. To accommodate his horses and cars, Meetz built a barn near today’s Atlantic Avenue and Webster. Street. Fassking’s also had stables on Grand Street.

On July 21, 1879, Meetz extended his second horse-car line to carry passengers further east along Santa Clara Avenue to Park Street. This move connected his second line with the first and created a circuit.

In 1886, Meetz received a franchise to build a third horse-car line from Santa Clara Avenue and Park Street into Oakland by way of today’s 23rd Avenue. This line carried passengers to a Southern Pacific Railroad station on the SP’s main line near Calcott Place and the California Cotton Mills, which had begun operating in 1883. Meetz met competition from J. P. Potter’s horse-drawn omnibus that was now carrying passengers from stops along Park Street to the same SP station.

The horse-car era was ending, however. On Aug. 31, 1892, two months before he completed his 23rd Avenue line, Meetz sold the company name and all three of his lines to W. M. Rank, E. S. Dennison and T. F. Scanlon. These men incorporated as the Alameda, Oakland & Piedmont Electric Railway Company (AO&P Electric).

Horse cars served the 23rd Avenue line for about seven more months. On May 6, 1893, this line became the first in Alameda to run on electricity. AO&P Electric also converted Meetz’ 3-foot-wide track to one 42-inches wide to accommodate larger electric streetcars.
By Oct. 6, 1894, AO&P Electric had extended the 23rd Avenue line to the SP train station at Seventh and Broadway in Oakland. This streetcar ran on a loop, using Oakland’s 12th Street on its westerly route and Eighth and 11th streets on its return to 23rd Avenue and back into Alameda.

On May 1, 1895, AO&P Electric began operating two more lines. The first carried passengers on a loop from Santa Clara Avenue, south on Park Street to San Jose Avenue, then east on San Jose to High Street. The line turned left on High to Santa Clara, then — using the line that Meetz had built 20 years earlier— turned left on Santa Clara to carry passengers back to Park Street.

The second electric line also ran on Park Street to San Jose. This loop carried passengers west on San Jose to Morton Street. The line then turned north on Morton to San Antonio Avenue and west on San Antonio to Ninth Street. It traveled on Ninth until it met Santa Clara Avenue, where it turned east to return to Park Street.

AO&P Electric converted Meetz’ stable and carbarn into a power station. They installed a pair of 150-horsepower steam engines that drove two 500-volt generators.

The company lost money, and its bondholders levied eight assessments against its shareholders. In 1897 A,O&P Electric sold its operations to Francis Marion “Borax” Smith. Six years later Smith formed the Key System. We’ll learn the fate of AO&P Electric in Smith’s new system in the next segment.

Much of this information was taken from Key System Streetcars by Vernon Sappers.

Contact Dennis Evanosky at