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Twin Ports by Trolley

The Streetcar Era in Duluth–Superior

2014
Author:

Aaron Isaacs

Twin Ports by Trolley

The lost era of the streetcar in the Twin Ports comes to life in this detailed, richly illustrated history

Following the rails as horse-drawn cars gave way to electric trolleys, Aaron Isaacs takes us into the workings of the Duluth–Superior streetcars. A rich evocation of a fascinating historical era, this tour of the Twin Ports includes a wealth of interviews and newspaper features, maps and photographs illustrating routes and landmarks and picturing those who made the rails hum.

Duluth is blessed with the rich history of a town built on the northern frontier by the strength of American manufacturing, heavy industry, and shipping. Twin Ports by Trolley shapes a wonderful narrative of the challenges and potential of that era through the lens of the trolley system that climbed the hills on the shores of the world’s greatest lake. I love reading about Duluth’s history, and this book is a real treat.

Don Ness, Mayor of Duluth

An international seaport and an industrial powerhouse, Duluth was a natural for streetcar service, but making it successful was a challenge. The city, some twenty-five miles long yet only three miles wide in most places, has the tallest and steepest hills in Minnesota and a harbor separating it from its sister city, Superior, Wisconsin. Twin Ports by Trolley charts the history of the streetcar system that met the unique difficulties posed by Duluth, from the Interstate Bridge that crossed the harbor to the Incline Railway that carried travelers more than five hundred feet above Lake Superior.

Following the rails as horse-drawn cars gave way to electric trolleys, Aaron Isaacs takes us into the workings of the Duluth–Superior streetcars: politics and corporate maneuvers, engineering and maintenance, scheduling and setting routes, running and riding the trolleys. Along the way we meet motormen and conductors (including twenty-one women who stepped in during World War I) and learn what it’s like to run a streetcar through obstacles ranging from heavy snowstorms to Halloween pranks to the heroism of evacuating a burning neighborhood. Then we ride the rails in a typical car, with a floor of varnished wood and seats of cushioned rattan, and a not-so-typical luxury car, outfitted to the nines with velvet curtains and a bar for lucrative “streetcar parties.” We experience the ride, whether buying a token or braving the smokers on the rear platform when boarding, and we learn the routes as the streetcars deliver, along with passengers, mail pouches and newspapers, dogs, and, in the case of the Park Point funeral car, corpses and mourners. Isaacs traces traffic patterns and geographic features for each line and describes imaginary trips on three of the most interesting routes.

The book is, ultimately, a tour of the Twin Ports over time, with a wealth of maps and photographs illustrating routes and landmarks and picturing the people who made the rails hum. Interviews and newspaper features, “day-after reports” and management memos, stories told by employees and onlookers—all contribute to a rich evocation of a fascinating historical era. The streetcars are long gone from Duluth and Superior, but remnants survive if one knows where to look—and this street-level exploration points the way.

Twin Ports by Trolley

Aaron Isaacs is the coauthor of Twin Cities by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul (Minnesota, 2007). He edits Tourist Railroads and Railway Museums magazine and is also the author of Trackside around the Twin Cities and The Como–Harriet Streetcar Line.

Twin Ports by Trolley

Duluth is blessed with the rich history of a town built on the northern frontier by the strength of American manufacturing, heavy industry, and shipping. Twin Ports by Trolley shapes a wonderful narrative of the challenges and potential of that era through the lens of the trolley system that climbed the hills on the shores of the world’s greatest lake. I love reading about Duluth’s history, and this book is a real treat.

Don Ness, Mayor of Duluth

Twin Ports by Trolley covers an important chapter in Duluth-Superior history, the development and operation of the local transit system. This is a topic that is often overlooked by other historians despite being a significant aspect of local economic and urban development. A welcome addition to the historical literature about Duluth and Superior.

Lawrence Sommer, Former Director/CEO, Lake Superior Railroad Museum

It’s both relevant and a wistful look at what we had not so long ago, before the auto industry took over and we tore up all the tracks.

Rochester Post-Bulletin

Aaron Isaacs packs his informative book with fascinating anecdotes.

Star Tribune

A gorgeous collection of early Duluth and Superior street scene photographs.

Duluth News Tribune

Chock full of marvelous photographs.

Lavender Magazine

A very well-written and entertaining tome.

Railfan & Railroad Magazine

This outstanding book captures the flavor of this unique street railway system, from its incline operation on 7th Avenue West to its one-of-a-kind fire fighting equipped streetcar used on Park Point.

Michigan Railfan Magazine

Twin Ports by Trolley

Contents

Preface
Glossary of Streetcar Terms

The Duluth Street Railway Company System

1. From Horses to Horsepower: The Dawn of the Streetcar Era

2. A Public Conveyance: Streetcars and Daily Life

3. Trainmen and Starters: Running the Cars

4. Keeping the Wheels Turning: Behind the Scenes

5. Twin Ports by Trolley: A Tour of the City

The Duluth Lines
Downtown Duluth’s Superior Street
Lester Park
Crosley
Woodland
Aerial Bridge
Park Point
East 4th Street
West 4th Street
East 8th Street
Kenwood
7th Avenue Incline and Highland
Piedmont
West Duluth via Oneota
West Duluth via 3rd Street and Grand
Morgan Park and Gary–New Duluth

The Superior Lines
Interstate
Tower Avenue
South Superior
Billings Park and Broadway
East End–Allouez
Lines Never Built

6. Intruders: Jitneys, Buses, and the End of an Era

Postscript: Survivors and Remnants

Appendixes
A. System Ridership by Year and Mode
B. Car Miles by Hour and by City
C. Trips by Street, 1925
D. Duluth Street Railway Track Miles
E. Streetcar Ridership by Hour and Day of Week, 1925
F. Routing, Headway, Speed, and Number of Cars Scheduled
G. Interstate Riders
H. Streetcar Ridership versus Automobile Registration
I. Passengers by Route Segment, 1925
J. Rosters Appendix
K. Bus Route Changes, 1924–1939
L. Duluth Street Railway Organization Chart

Further Reading

Index

Twin Ports by Trolley

UMP blog: The making of the book.

Initially, I wasn’t intending to give Duluth-Superior the same treatment as the Twin Cities in Twin Cities by Trolley. That all changed in 2009 during a trip to Duluth to give a streetcar history talk to the National Railway Historical Society’s annual convention.